Phantasm: Remastered is a loving restoration of the Don Coscarelli horror classic from 1979, supervised by J.J. Abrams. The fish-wires have been removed, but its jaw-dropping bizarreness still remains.
So I’ve got to the point of my life where I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. So much so that it’s getting to the point that I’m beginning to exhaust the classics.
As a fan of horror I’ve had to face up to the fact that the number of genuinely great horror films is limited, even when you generously broaden your allowance of what makes a movie great, there’s a finitude that cannot be escaped.
When yet another ‘greatest horror movie ever’ list gets published and others get excited at the number they can cross off, I get a touch maudlin that I’ve already seen 90% of them. It’s for this reason that I find myself putting off watching the few remaining classics, like the survivor of a zombie apocalypse grimly clinging on to the last few bullets in their gun.
Phantasm was one of the few bullets left in my chamber. I had obviously heard of it, read plenty about it in fact; Phantasm comes up again and again as a yardstick for superb 80s horror. The VHS poster is one of many that burned its image into my brain when I was a child with a penchant for wandering in to the wrong corners of video stores. The tagline, ‘If this doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead’ was a potent one, nobody hopes to be scared as a child but I really hoped that if I ever found myself watching it I’d be scared shitless otherwise I’d be truly fucked.
Of course I’m not holding off watching these things forever, just waiting for the right moment to truly savour them, and Phantasm’s moment came with London Film Festival‘s decision to show the brand new 4K restoration, backed by cinema’s biggest exponent of ‘let’s make old stuff awesome again‘ J.J. Abrams.
The excitement in the air at the screening was palpable, indeed programmer Michael Blyth appeared to be on his third trouser change of the night as he giddily squealed his way through an introduction. All the excitement of course justified because Phantasm is excellent.
The film manages to tick every box of the late 70s/early 80s trash cinema checklist and then some. Untimely deaths? Check. Ill advised sexual encounters? In a fucking graveyard, total check. Involvement of a child who must face off against evil? Check. Crazed sudden leftfield swing into sci-fi abstracts? I didn’t even ask for this one, but check! An ice cream man prone to random guitar duets? YOU GUYS HAVE THOUGHT OF EVERYTHING, CHECK!
And although the big screen makes the myriad of Phantasm’s budgetary limitations crystal clear it’s also the best place to see that kind of thing get smacked down by the forcefulness of sheer invention. All the hallmarks of Phantasm that every horror fan is aware of; the silver ball, the tall man, the crazed dwarves all ably live up to the retrospective hype that now accompanies them.
So that’s another one of the finite quality horrors off the list and I’m glad I saw it. Phantasm: Remastered was by far the most fun I had in a screen at this year’s London Film Festival, the only caveat being I wasn’t scared but then i guess by now the child who read that poster tagline is dead, replaced by an adult grateful at being able to enjoy Phantasm for the first time on such a massive screen.