Phantasm Exhumed – Dustin McNeill

3 out of 5

There is clearly passion, and plenty of effort, behind Dustin McNeill’s ‘Phantasm Exhumed,’ an unauthorized runthrough of the path leading to Don Coscarelli’s and crew’s first landmark horror film – Phantasm – and then the day-to-day operations behind and in front of the camera of that film and its, at time of publishing, four sequels.

There is also too much of a good thing. And in this case, that means a pretty loose editorial hand when it came to deciding what information was worthwhile to include in this 250 page document. While ins and out of special effects, and reading about budget and casting issues and etcetera are surely of interest, reading excerpts from Angus Scrimm’s archival diary entries – while conceptually cool, to get that inside peek – doesn’t ultimately add much, and the same goes for a seemingly endless run of crew snippets that amount to, “yeah, it was a tough shoot.” It’s kinda like the DVD extras after the main making-of featurette, that are just repurposed footage from that initial extra.

McNeill, first and foremost, though, affects a good tone throughout the book. The excessiveness of the content aside, this is probably one of the harder things to nail in such a tome, as, surely, something like this – which, again, is undeniably deeply research and collated – is made by a fan (er, “phan”), and trying not to either wink too hard at your also-fans audience, or insert too much of one’s own opinion, is quite difficult. McNeill certainly isn’t above making some jokes here and there, keeping the tone light, and this is all written from the general perspective of these movies being good things, but there’s much appreciable restraint – particular entries aren’t knocked or praised over others; they all get a very similar – exhaustive – treatment.

To that aspect of things that I keep criticizing, it’s also worth bearing in mind that ‘unauthorized’ tag. There’s a notable lack of Coscarelli in this thing – we hear about him, but not from him – and part of what makes some sections drag is the disconnect between the photos and the text. McNeill does a good job of trying to break up the layout with consistent photos, but, similar to the rather random interview snippets (and in-the-trenches stuff that’s interesting at first but wears thin – i.e. logging transporting of materials and the weather on any given day), I’d guess the inability to leverage stills from the flicks or shots somehow belonging to one of the films’ owners means a lot of the content is just matched to shots of someone waving to the camera. And that someone might not even be who’s mentioned on that page.

Is it worth a read? For a fan, absolutely. Even having read several other Phantasm-centric exposes, nothing else goes into all of the first five movies – and Coscarelli’s career before and between – to this extent. And just participating in something produced by someone of equal (or greater) fandom – someone who can put a competent book together, that is – is worthwhile. But to casual readers, there are surely more condensed reads out there, and the amount of what could be considered filler in the book makes it something that I likely won’t reread cover to cover.