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Reviewed December 17th, 2001 by Brett Coon


I first became interested in Phantasm many years ago, when the deluxe autographed laserdisc edition was released at a price of more than $100. The movie had long been on my list of films to see, and the existence of such a deluxe edition dramatically increased my curiosity. I couldn't bring myself to spend $100 on the movie without seeing it first, so I was really pleased when I found it available for rent at a local video store. I rented it, with the plan of watching the movie and then skimming the extras before returning it the following day. I ended up spending most of the night watching all of the extras, including the full-length audio commentary. It's not that I really liked the movie that much, but simply that the extras were wonderful. Though I never did get around to buying the laserdisc, it remains my favorite special edition laserdisc on the strength of the extras alone.

Now flash forward to this year. I was wandering the DVD aisles at a local electronics store when I saw “Phantasm: Special Edition” on sale for less than $15. I checked the cover to see what extras were included, and was thrilled to see that all the extras I remembered from the laserdisc appeared to have been included. Furthermore, the DVD sports a new multi-channel digital soundtrack. That was all I needed to read, so I immediately bought the DVD and patted myself on the back for saving $100 years ago. It's times like this when I really love DVDs.

The basic story of “Phantasm” involves 13-year-old Mike and his older brother Jody. Mike notices some strange things happening at the local cemetery, investigates, and the next thing he and Jody know, they're battling The Tall Man, vicious metal spheres, and some little gnome-like creatures that scurry around causing trouble. Along the way there's a fair amount of bloodshed and some good scares, so even if not everything makes sense in the story, at least it's entertaining. People seem to vary pretty widely on whether or not they like the movie, and I've known many who insist it's one of the scariest films they've ever seen. I'm not in that camp, but I did enjoy it. I'm pretty sure most horror fan would enjoy it, too.

The DVD is presented with both the original mono and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I found the new soundtrack to be excellent, and prefer it over the original mono. The sound is clean and has good dynamic range for a such a low-budget film. Subtitles are available in English and French.

The picture quality is also very good. The film is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, leaving room at the bottom for the subtitles. On the extras, the director comments about spending the money that was necessary to get top-quality cameras, and it certainly appears from the DVD that he got his money's worth. As is expected, the extras are of generally lower video quality, though not to the point of being distracting.

In my mind, the extras are what makes this DVD so extraordinary. The film opens with a little greeting from Angus Scrimm, the actor who plays the Tall Man. While Mr. Scrimm seems to take himself and his character a little too seriously, the intro is somewhat amusing, and sets the tone for what follows. In addition to this, the selection of extras includes a full-length audio commentary by the director and several cast members, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, some television and radio spots, still photos, and of course the original theatrical trailer. A small 8-page “Behind the Scenes” booklet is also included, which features a letter from the director, notes about the making of the film, and a listing of all 32 chapter stops.

While I won't go into detail on all of these extras, I do want to say that the audio commentary is one of the best I have heard. The directory, Don Coscarelli, relates numerous amusing anecdotes about the making of the film, and the other commentators also prove to be interesting speakers. The behind-the-scenes footage is narrated as well, and again I found it fascinating. The comments and stories will be of interest to fans of the film, as well as to those interested in the challenges of making a film on a tiny budget.

All things considered, this DVD is an amazing deal for the price, especially considering how much the seemingly-identical laserdisc sold for a few years back. While there are better horror movies available, the plentiful extras make this one of the best DVDs. I recommend it highly to fans of horror films and aspiring filmmakers.


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