Note: The original “Phantasm” opened March 28, 1979. The film will grace theaters once again on “Art House Day” (September 24) in its newly remastered condition. If you haven’t watched it yet, be warned, this article does contain spoilers!
“Phantasm” is one of the greatest cinematic works of all time. No, it is not some lumbering behemoth fueled by pretentious drivel and an exaggerated sense of self-worth that scholarly types tend to espouse as brilliant. And, It doesn’t need an extra hour of trudging to lull you into a false sense of epic-ness – “Wow, that film was 180 minutes long. It must be good.” Those kinds of films suffer from “the bigger the gun” syndrome – you know, excessive grandioseness in one area masking the inadequacy of another, aka overcompensation.
In the movie world, this legerdemain is not used to direct your focus away from some Trump-sized anatomy, it is a play to help ensure something like the absence of a truly innovative storyline isn’t discovered. A dozen disgruntled jurors debating a verdict might be intellectually engaging to some extent, but where are the battalions of reanimated and compacted corpse dwarf slaves that can toil for eternity in the hostile environment of another world? How about the severed finger oozing gelatinous mustard that turns into a killer buzzy thing? Just think of how much more exciting “Gone with the Wind” could have been if Miss O’Hara would have had an army of telepathically controlled silver spheres at her command! Totally different ending I’m betting. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a… Ahhhhh!” If you think the swear word was a shocker in 1939, imagine a drill to the brain pumping out enough blood to make even Norman Bates a little queasy. Now that would have been a great ending! Scarlett standing triumphant over the still twitching body of Rhett Butler. Not only would that final scene have provided a sinister origin story for a female psychopath who kills whenever she can’t have exactly what she wants, but it likely would have spawned more sequels than “Friday the 13th!”
“Phantasm” is storytelling at its zenith. The original is filled with unforgettable characters, over-the-top action, outrageous humor, carefully calculated jump scares, a seemingly indestructible villain who terrifies you down to your core, and a storyline that we’re all still trying to figure out almost four decades later. It’s a genuine classic woven with a multitude of vibrant threads. To celebrate this film’s total awesomeness, here are the 13 most important lines of dialogue in “Phantasm.” [Note: These lines are not necessarily listed in the order they appear in the movie.]
“Grandmother wants to play a little game.”
This line, spoken very early on in the film by a young blonde girl who apparently lives alone with her psychic grandmother, is one of the first pieces of the epic “Phantasm” puzzle. Is it merely a coincidence that grandmother wants to play a game with Mike and The Tall Man also happens to call his pursuit of Mike a game?
“That tall man picked up Tommy’s coffin all by himself.”
In one of the many scenes when Mike tries to get Jody to believe that there is something strange going on at Morningside Mortuary, he blurts, “That tall man picked up Tommy’s coffin all by himself.” This line establishes The Tall Man as a formidable foe – anyone who can pick up a corpse-filled coffin and toss it into the back of a hearse like it was little more than a schoolboy’s backpack is pretty freaking strong.
“Put your hand in the box.”
Spoken by the fortuneteller’s granddaughter, “Put your hand in the box,” might sound innocuous enough, but it brilliantly reveals Mike’s driving character trait — no matter how frightened or unsure he is, he will always forge ahead into the unknown. If he wasn’t brave enough to stick his hand into that tiny box of pain, there’s little chance he’d venture out to Morningside Mortuary alone in the middle of the night to face a superhumanly strong menace.
“Hey, this guy’s not going to leak all over my ice cream, is he?”
Reggie at his finest. The more stressful and disgusting the scene, the more vital the comic relief. “Phantasm” wouldn’t have become the timeless cult classic it is today without the counterbalance of lines like this.
“They’re using’ ‘em for slaves.”
“Phantasm” may have received a great many accolades for its ambiguity, but the viewer needs at least a few of the basics answered so he or she can firmly plant at least one foot in the surreal nightmare world of The Tall Man. For instance, why is this happening? Why does The Tall Man raid graves and reanimate corpses? Simple. He needs slaves!
“And they got to crush ‘em ‘cause of gravity. And the heat.”
Why else would you need to turn the undead into dwarfs? Duh!
“And this is the door to their planet.”
We find out later in the series that this line lies to us a little bit. It is correct as far as what the characters know in that moment, but that knowledge turns out to be but a shard of the truth. This line represents the way the series plays with us, letting us think that we have the answers we seek, only to blindside us with a bigger picture just when we think we’ve got it all figured out.
“There’s an old mine shaft… Way down by the end of Singer’s Creek. A thousand feet straight down.”
He’s invincible and apparently he regenerates. How can you possibly stop a creature like that? Trapping him at the bottom of a mine shaft should do the trick. Our heroes are smart. They’ve thought this through. It’s a plan that makes a surprising amount of sense for a couple of brothers who previously only seem capable of foolhardy midnight escapades.
“You play a good game boy… But the game is finished. Now you die!”
Yay! The bad guy finally gets a few lines of dialogue. Cocky, trash-talking dialogue, yes, but that’s what villains do.
You know that thing that happens at the beginning of the movie… and you promptly forget about it because it doesn’t really seem all that important? That bit of dialogue that comes back at a pivotal moment in the film’s climax and proves to be just what the hero needs to get out of an impossible situation? Yep, that blonde-haired girl said this line, too. She really played such a key role in “Phantasm.” Do you even remember what happened to her?
“Jody died in a car wreck.”
What? I’m confused. Didn’t we just have a whole different ending?
“I know those rocks aren’t going to hold him.”
Good one, Mike. Why didn’t you just say, “I’ll be right back,” like your brother did earlier in the movie? Oh wait, now it makes sense why he’s dead.
We knew it was coming, but it still made us wet our pants… Because we spilled our soda when we jumped! Sheesh, what were you thinking? That one bellowing word, however, did end up giving everyone who saw the original “Phantasm” nightmares for the rest of his or her life.