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39 Things We Learned from the ‘Phantasm’ Commentary

Before ‘The Beastmaster’ and ‘Bubba Ho-Tep,’ Don Coscarelli gave the world ‘Phantasm.’
By  · Published on March 31st, 2012

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Kate Erbland enters another dimension filled with little creatures and a tall man. That’s right, she’s listening to Don Coscarelli’s commentary on his cult horror hit, Phantasm.

Experiencing Don Coscarelli’s latest, John Dies at the End, was a trip at South by Southwest. Actually, experiencing any of Coscarelli’s films are a trip of one kind or another, and the guy is such a pleasant film maker you can’t help but want to hear him talk about his earlier works. That’s why we’ve chosen Phantasm this week. One of his earliest works, it was this horror film that landed Coscarelli on the industry map, turning its success into a full-fledged career that continues to this day. It’s also his scariest and arguably his best to date.

But, as interesting as it is to hear Coscarelli speak, it’s good to have friends, and he’s brought three of them along for this commentary track. The DVD box boasts Reggie Banister, who plays the guitar-wielding ice cream guy, Reggie – Pretty sure the part was written for him – but he doesn’t appear on the commentary. Instead, it features the other two leads, Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury, and the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, who isn’t even listed on the box.

Regardless, we’ve got the writer/director on board and three of the film’s main actors, so grab a seat and check out all the things we learned from hearing these men talk about Phantasm. It’s the commentary that’s got balls. If you haven’t seen the film, I regret the euphemism already.

Phantasm (1979)

Commentators: Don Coscarelli (writer, director), Michael Baldwin (actor), Angus Scrimm (actor), Bill Thornbury (actor), lots of Dos Equis

Best in Commentary

“It’s the American way of death. Something that I was always disgusted with and fascinated with was the fact that we, as Americans, when somebody dies, we hide them away. We don’t have anything to do with it. We turn it over to this mortician or undertaker, and that’s why people are freaked out by death and freaked out by morticians.” – Don Coscarelli on the idea that began Phantasm.

Final Thoughts

Lots of insight as well as camaraderie is brought out in this commentary track. This film was clearly a labor of love for all four of these men, and Coscarelli is just as pleasant to listen to as ever. He provides more than enough information regarding the production of Phantasm, even if there isn’t a lot of talk about where the ideas for the film came from or what theories there are about it. Those are left for the audience to sift through and decide for themselves, probably a conscious decision on Coscarelli’s part.

Phantasm isn’t one of the best horror films of all time, and this commentary track isn’t among the best, either. However, the commentary, just like the film itself, gets in, gets out, and does its job satisfactorily. It’s a commendable effort from all of the commentators involved, and, at less than 90 minutes, it doesn’t even take up a large chunk of your time.

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