Posts Tagged ‘Cuda

10
Jan
16

Phantasm (1979): All that we see or seem…

phantasm-poster

a Primal Root written review

“First he took Mom and Dad, then he took Jody, now he’s after me.” – Mike, Phantasm

I never planned on writing a review for Phantasm. However, with today’s passing of the beloved horror icon, Angus Scrimm, who breathed life into one of my all time favorite cinematic boogeymen, I felt compelled to take a look back at not only of the most enduring and admired horror films, but one I hold very dear to my heart.

Let me start off by stating that there is no real way to create a summary of Phantasm that honestly does the film any justice. It’s the kind of film that takes place inside between the conscious world and that of the subconscious, the the realm of primal, deep, dark human emotions, and at that, from the perspective of a young boy in his early teens who has lost so much he’s having trouble coming to terms with it. Well, Hell, okay…at least let me TRY to tell you what the film’s about.

Young Michael (Michael Baldwin) is living with his older, adult brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) after the untimely death of their parents. Michael is already having trouble coping with the sudden lose of his parents, when he comes to the realization this Jody is considering leaving town and handing custody of Mike over to their Aunt and Uncle. The thought of not only losing his parents, but being a burden on his older brother, who is thinking of leaving him behind, is adding to Mike’s pain and turmoil. There’s a fantastic, heart breaking sequence where Jody rides his bike down the street as Mike chases after him on foot unbeknownst to his old brother. Mike can’t keep up and eventually, begrudgingly, gives up. It’s a pitch perfect moment that visualizes the dreaded feeling of abandonment and the inevitability of change.

To make matters worse, Mike witnesses some very strange goings-ons at the local Morningside Cemetery and Funeral Home. At the funeral of one of Jody and Mike’s friends, Tommy,  Mike witnesses a shadowy, sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, Rest in Peace) lift up up Tommy’s corpse filled coffin all by his lonesome…and load it back into the hearse rather than lowering it into it’s grave.

phantasm

As young Mike investigates further he discovers there seems to be a sudden infestation of tiny, brown robbed creatures haunting the cemetery, a knife wielding blonde, big breasted seductress intent on poking every man she can lure into the cemetery to death and the mortuary is guarded by brain sucking, high velocity flying killer spheres. And who looks to be behind it all? The black suited Tall Man who has set his evil sights on Mike.

It takes quite a bit of convincing to get Jody to believe that what is happening over at Morningside is true. With the crazy stories Mike keeps spouting, who can blame the guy for chocking it up to a kid’s imagination? But when Mike comes home with a living, moving, nasty little momento from his last encounter with The Tall Man, Jody hops on board as does their ice cream selling buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister). The three lay siege to Morningside cemetery int he hopes of uncovering The Tall Man’s true purpose in their small town and send him back to whatever Hell this monstrous being came from. However, as is the case in Phantasm, nothing is exactly as it seems…And the final revelation of Phantasm is devastating, beautiful and deeply disturbing.

**** SPOILERS AHEAD ****

Okay, I am going to discuss the film a bit and I recommend you see Phantasm first before reading further.

One of Phantasm‘s greatest strengths is it’s respect for a child’s perspective. To try and make sense of what is happening int he world around you. It plays almost like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? that pulls no punches. There is something evil and sinister happening in their small town, and it is up to Mike to convince his older brother and for them to solve this horrible problem. There’s a great since of mystery and wonderment as well as mounting dread and tension, but it’s all handled with a real sentimentality and heart that is hard to find in most popular horror cinema of the 70’s era.

Now, before I start making this film sound like the ultimate bummer, Phtasm also has an excellent sense of adventure and fun on it’s surface. Jody, Mike and Reggie are a damn funny trio and their reactions to the ludicrous happenings around town and pricless. Darkly hysterical moments like Michael finding an enourmous flesh eating bug tangled in his hair, Jody asking Mike is the strange breathing sounds he heard was the “retard” up the street and, my personal favorite, when Mike is confronted inside the mortuary by The Tall Man who stands several passes down the hall from him, Mike, speechless utters in complete My-Goose-Is-Cooked fashion, “Oh, shit…” Phantasm is a damn good time about one darkly sobering mother fucking subject matter.

phant_2

Phantasm is a horror movie about the sad but honest fact that everyone we love will die. That those closest to us will have to eventually leave us one day and that no matter how hard we fight, or try to hold on, or battle against it, we will ALWAYS lose. I understand the notion that we carry these people with us forever in our hearts and memories, that they live on forever in the tales we tell of them and the ways that they’ve touched us. But we will never get to sit down and hold their hand, feel the comfort of their presence of enjoy a glass of whiskey with them ever again. They are gone. Gone. And so shall we be. And that’s something we all must face.

At the end of Phantasm Michael and Jody do battle with The Tall Man and end up trapping him in an abandoned mine shaft and dropping a dozen or so gigantic boulders on top of the sucker. Our last glimpse of Jody is from onto of a high hill from where he rolled the boulders on top of The Tall Man, sealing his fate. Mike sees his brother, bathed in light with his arms held high over his head in triumph. Mike and Jody have one. Then the film reverses on Mike and he awakes in his bedroom. He is comforted beside the living room fireplace by he and Jody’s good friend Reggie. Reggie explains that not only are Mike’s parents dead, but Jody is also dead, killed in a car accident.

phantasm-horror-review-sphere-13

This is a moment of true horror, a devastating moment that still breaks my heart just thinking about it. And this is where Phantasm succeeds so well, in making us care for the characters that are part of this tale. You can sense the brotherly love between Jody and Mike, their sense of camaraderie and their shared feelings of grief and confusion over the loss of their parents and the prospect of both their uncertain futures. To find out that Mike has lost the entirety of his immediate family, the people he has known and loved since birth, is a crushing blow.

Phantasm is a horror film that dwells in the dark, most assuredly, but it also has a great deal of heart and warmth to it, which as I stated above, is something of a hard commodity to come across in 1970’s era horror cinema. Just look at Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. It was a bloody horrifying decade for horror. Phantasm, too, explores the shadows of human nature. But, as odd as it might sound, Phantasm reminds us of what makes life worth living and that life is fleeting and serves as a reminder that we must cherish each moment of happiness we have. To show those we hold close that we love them, that we care and that we are here for them. Because one day, as we all know, they will be gone and we will never get that opportunity to hold them near and tell them we love them again.

phantasm7

Phantasm is a masterpiece, plain and simple. From it’s unique story penned and directed by a very young Don Coscarelli, it’s unforgettable, dreamlike score by Fred Myrow, and it’s natural, engaging performances by everyone involved,  Phantasm is a type of dark fairy tale about the inevitability of  change and loss which digs deep into our most horrifying childhood fears about death. It takes us right back to the time when we were children and had to make sense of this adult world, a real world we were just beginning to become acquainted with. Phantasm is an audacious film which dares to take a trip through the mental landscape of a deeply scarred, traumatized child. By film’s end, Mike and Reggie decide they must leave their small town and find a new start. Mike begins packing his bag so that they can hit the road and head into a new day, a new future where they can begin to come to terms with their pain. Mike closes his closet door revealing The Tall Man in his mirror. “BOOOOOOOOY!” The Tall Man growls…and Michael is caught. Pulled through the mirror and into darkness.

One day you and I will face Death. Inevitably, as The Tall Man says, “The Game is finished. Now, you die.” And when that day comes, that unavoidable day when we reach our ultimate fate, we can only hope that in death we will fine peace and comfort. Not a brutal Hell made up of our most nightmarish childhood fears.

Phantasm and it’s iconic boogeyman, The Tall Man, would live on with many colorful, imaginative, bonkers sequels that pick up and continue the story admirably well. But, if you were to ask me, the tale begins and ends with the original 1979 classic Phantasm. One of the most poetic and lovely horror stories ever told.

I award Phantasm FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

24
Sep
14

George Romero’s Martin (1976) Reality Bites

martin_poster_02

a Primal Root written review

“Do you believe God’s whole world runs by the laws of the few sciences we have been able to discover? Oh, no, Christine, there is more. But people are satisfied. They know so much, they think they know all. And that makes it easy for Nosferatu. That makes it easy for all the devils.” -Cuda, Martin

 

George Romero’s name immediately conjures up images of his iconic shambling, flesh eating “shoot ’em in the head” zombies, and it’s no wonder. Hell, the man’s spent the better part of a career spanning over forty years devoted to these walking dead flesh eaters who changed the landscape of horror cinema forever with movies like Night of the Living Dead (!968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2004) among many other “Of the Dead” films and follow ups spawning countless unofficial ineffective sequels and lukewarm, forgettable remakes and also saturated the market for the past decade influencing everything in pop culture to the point I wish someone would just put a bullet in my head and end the unimaginative, cash-in, living dead hysteria that won’t seem to ever fucking wind down and die.

But to concentrate on the man’s most popular and commercially successful ventures is to ignore the bold and creative films he is lesser known for. Films like The Crazies, Knightriders, Creepshow,The Dark Half, etc. The man has made some phenomenal films outside the living dead canon he’s most known for, and I’d like to focus on what I consider to be among his most intriguing and underrated works, the independent vampire flick, Martin. 

Martinpic

Martin tells the tale of a shy, quiet, troubled teenage boy who believes himself to be a vampire, in fact, he comes from a lineage of his family that other relatives believe is cursed with hereditary vampirisim.  We’re introduced to Martin (John Amplas) as he stalks a fellow female passenger on an overnight train to Braddock, Pennsylvania. As he stalks this average young woman back to her overnight cabin aboard the train, we watch as Martin imagines her waiting for him behind the locked door in a revealing neglige, seduced by his vampire charms, lusting for him and embraces Martin with open arms, allowing him to feast on her warm red blood.  What Martin imagines is presented in grainy black and white, like the classic Universal monster movies of the 30’s and 40’s, like Dracula or Frankenstein, before cutting back to the bright, technicolor of reality where Martin attacks the young woman in her cramped cabin. The reality is far from Martin’s dream scenario. He walks in to the sound of her flushing the toilet before she steps out with her hair up in a towel, wearing a well loved bathrobe, her face caked in beauty cream as she blows a huge snot rocket into a wad of toilet paper. When Martin attacks her, intent on doping her up with a well placed prick of his syringe, she fights back with everything she has, hurling obscenities like “FREAK! RAPIST! ASSHOLE!”  athim while struggling against his clutches. Honestly, Martin is a shrimpy looking dude, and I have a feeling she would probably kick his ass normally, but the drugs take hold and she passes out, thus, allowing Martin to slice her arm open with a straight razor and dine on her blood. That’s right, Martin has no fangs.

When the train reaches it’s destination Martin meets his new caretaker, his elderly cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel). Cuda is a devoutly religious and highly superstitious  man,  and believes completely in the old family legend that some members are cursed with vampirisim. Cuda takes the boy in with the hopes of saving Martin’s eternal soul before destroying the creature of the night for all time. As you might guess, Cuda has nothing but contempt for young Martin, addressing him as Nosferatu and even threatening to put a stake through Martin’s heart, killing Martin without salvation, if Martin harms anyone in his city. But it’s not long before Martin ignores these warnings, and sneaks off into the night to hunt and feed.

martin7721

From the very first frame, Romero, with the help of a haunting, beautiful score from Don Rubinstein and utilizing the fading landscape of Braddock Pennsylvania, imbues his film with a sad, bleak, disturbing atmosphere, one where the American Dream has run dry and the world is left to rot and decay. The mills have alls hut down, the local economy has crumbled, and everyone left is struggling just to survive. The tone is one of desperation as a population holds on to the dying old ways of their lives and existing in denial.

As Martin stalks and ambushes his victims, it becomes apparent that sex is not his concern at all. In fact, when he is propositioned by a female shopper he befriends at Cuda’s grocery store, he has no idea how to respond. Turns out, Martin’s still a virgin after all these years and has no idea what to make of this. The lure of sex seems to hang all about Martin, and his response to it comes off as confused, sad and out of place. When he finally does give in to the seduction, he comes away unfulfilled. This is not your typical lustful vampire.

What Romero has sought out to do with Martin is, much like he did for zombies in his 1968 horror milestone Night of the Living Dead , is to deconstruct the vampire legend and all of the conventions we as an audience hold to be law. Martin is Romero’s treatise that examines the myth of the vampire, (featured in black and white, either as fantasy or long ago memories of how being a vampire once was, this point is left ambiguous) and reality (shot in bright, bold, 1970’s color) de-romanticizing the vampire legend. Also being tackled here is religion and superstitious belief.

martin7710

Martin cannot stomach the reality he exists in, and instead, creates intricate fantasies (presented in grainy black and white) where he visualizes himself sneaking into a grand castle rather than some  sleazy 70’s bachelor pad, or striding into the arms of an eager lover rather than holding down a shrieking victim who just took a huge dump in the adjoining bathroom. He imagines himself into the romantic Hollywood reality of the movie vampire, the one that is so alluring. which might be why he’s so quick to state “There’s no magic. There’s no real magic ever.” several times in the film. Crucifixes, garlic, holy water, sunlight, the classic rules do not apply in reality. Martin has no fangs, he uses a straight razor. He has no powers of seduction, he must use dope to keep his victims from breaking him in half. This is not a world of magic and super human power, this is stone cold, un-romantic reality.

Still, Martin believes he is actually a vampire and must feed on the blood of the living in order to survive, just as Christians believe utterly and completely in the resurrection, Heaven, Hell, and the power of the holy spirit. Martin still places an importance in the canned icons of his belief system, “The Hollywood Vampire” but is intelligent enough to know he is only humoring himself with these fantasies and delusions. After one startling moment in the film where Martin scares the living shit out of Cuda by stepping out the darkness  wearing a cape, bares fangs and has a pallid complexion only to finally laugh at the old man and reassure him, “It’s only a costume.” Martin has been told all his life what he is and has come to believe what’s been drilled into his head from birth.  Martin longs to be one thing, but he knows he is something else and this knowledge is the essence of the film.

Martin also takes dead aim at organized religion, portraying it in vapid, empty terms. Romero himself plays a hip priest who insults the shitty wine his church serves at communion, doesn’t believe in angels or demons and loves the movie The Exorcist. And when Cuda calls upon an old school priest to ambush Martin and perform an exorcism of their own, it comes off as an old useless ritual and Martin simply walks away as the priest blubbers on reading from the holy text. But more disheartening than any of this is Cuda himself, a man so blinded by his own faith that he believes it is his divine right to wield life or death over his own flesh and blood. Cuda believes the vampiric curse and that it is his duty to destroy the evil, to murder his own relative in the name of God. This is the same mentality in religious hysteria that leads followers to murder doctors who perform abortion and claim to be pro-life but support capital punishment, to commit atrocious acts of violence in the name of your own personal lord and savior. It’s sick, it’s twisted and it’s wrong.

"It's only a costume."

“It’s only a costume.”

In the end, Martin is a film about the lies we tell ourself and the delusions we live every day. Those that we have been taught by those closest to us and those we tell ourselves simply to get by. Martin wants so badly to be a vampire he is willing to kill others. Martin admires the lore and power of vampires. How they are loved, feared and lusted after, all things that the shy, timid misfit feels he can never obtain.

Martin is a singular, gorgeous, and poetic take on the vampire horror film and it’s Hollywood lore. To date, I have never seen a more thoroughly unique and sweetly sad vampire tale.  This is the rarest of horror movies, one not about a horrible other, or even about the creature next door. No, this is subtle, ambiguous look at what makes monsters of us all. A look into the heart of the horror in our everyday human existence and the evils we are capable of inflicting on one another. Not only through physical acts, but through the power of ideas, belief and control.

I give Martin FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets. If you ask me, this is Romero’s absolute masterpiece.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 




Dumpster Diving

Categories