Saturday, March 30, 2013

Memories of A Red Planet - Phantasm 1979 Commentary For Your Old School Horror Campaigns

There are a few films that have changed my life forever. Hellraiser I & II respectively and the Phantasm movies.
 I saw Phantasm when I was nine years old and it was during the same year as Star Wars. It was pretty vicious for its time and remains a favorite of mine.
Wiki describes it ever so subtly - It introduced the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), a supernatural and malevolent undertaker who turns the dead into dwarf zombies to do his bidding and take over the world.   Actually their used as exploited slave workers in another dimensional local referred to as The Red Planet. 

Major Spoilers AHEAD!
Here 's The Plot according to Wiki: 
Following the death of his parents and brother, 24-year-old musician Jody Pearson raises his 13-year-old brother Mike in a small town disturbed by the mysterious deaths of its citizens. Reggie, a family man and ice cream vendor, joins the brothers in their suspicions that the local mortician, dubbed the Tall Man, is responsible for the deaths. Mike relays his fears to a fortune teller and her granddaughter about the possibility of Jody departing and leaving him in the care of his aunt, along with his suspicions about the Tall Man. Mike is shown a small black box and told to put his hand into it. After the box grips his hand, Mike is told not to be afraid and as the panic subsides, the box relaxes its grip. The notion of fear itself as the killer is established and is what propels Mike toward his final confrontation in the film with the Tall Man.
Mike is pursued by minions of the Tall Man, alien dwarves (which are kept in a small room that houses a gateway device between the two worlds), who are made from the bodies of the recently deceased, and tries to convince his brother of what is happening.
After convincing Mike and Reggie, they find a strange white room with containers in the mausoleum; a gateway to another planet is also there that Mike enters briefly where he sees the alien dwarves that have hunted him being used as slaves. While trying to escape the Tall Man, Reggie is stabbed and appears to die while Mike and Jody barely escape. They devise a plan to lure the Tall Man into a local deserted mine shaft and trap him inside. After doing so successfully, Mike wakes with a start in his house, lying by the fireplace with Reggie sitting next to him.
Reggie tells Mike he was simply having a bad dream, something that has been a common occurrence since Jody died in a car crash. Mike goes into his room where the Tall Man is waiting and an alien dwarf pulls Mike through his bedroom mirror.

The Mega Dungeons of Morningside 

I used to pop this movie into the VCR up in Boston quite often. Often enough to drive the girlfriend of the time up the wall or the crew in the video store. Phantasm has become another "thought exercise" campaign.  The way I see it Phantasm is a coming of age story with horror, misery, grave robbing, the Tall Man, and puberty.
The world of Phantasm isn't our world at all. It's an alternative universe at the start of a Lovecraft alien invasion from another dimension.
This is a world on the razor's edge where the worlds of the dead, dreams, and power are colliding. This is a world on fire and its happening out in the middle of the Midwest. Right in the middle of Everytown USA and the implication is that this is only the beginning. 
 We get our first glimpse of psionic witchcraft with  the fortune teller and her granddaughter.There are overtones of "Dune" like psionics and its our first glimpse of such. It won't be our last in this movie. Countless times I've used the "Order of The Blue Star" in games. A spiritualist like movement that teaches the opening of the invisible eye the gate way to psionic or psychic powers. They usually use a blue star tattoo in the middle of their forehead or on their cheek.

The Morning Side Mega Dungeon  

The Morning side funeral home and cemetery boast a boatload of possibilities. This isn't simply one small dwarf infested funeral home with a space gate.  There might be an underground dwarf processing plant that we never got to see.
The whole of Morning side is covered by the "Tall Man's influence" and the psychic effects of them. He might me anywhere watching at any time.  
Another aspect that we don't get in any other movies is the succubus like "Lavender Lady" a demonic minion or aspect of the "Tall Man" collecting and seducing especially juicy mortals for "processing" or worse.
 The whole of Morningside wasn't explored at all in the film per say. There might be crypts of yellow blooded undead. Zombies, mutant things, and weird tech just waiting down in those vaults. 

Then there's the aspect that never really gets explained. What happened to Mike's cousin and the other girls at the end of the movie? Could they have warned the other locals before the shadow of the Tall Man engulfs them all? 

As I stated earlier the veil between dream and reality of this world is very thin and like all of the fiction of HP Lovecraft and the other pulp greats. The Tall man uses the collective human unconsciousness as a gate way to the past, present, and future.  Anyone messing with the Tall man should be send horrific dreams. And might even wind up in his clutches psychically. 

"After convincing Mike and Reggie, they find a strange white room with containers in the mausoleum; a gateway to another planet is also there that Mike enters briefly where he sees the alien dwarves that have hunted him being used as slaves. While trying to escape the Tall Man" 
Well the heart and "soul" of the cemetery of Morning Side is going to be the Space Gate.
 The Spheres guard it and they will come for anyone trying to break into the place.

Playing In A Version Of The Phantasm Universe 
I've been using this movie for years and the best source for a phantastic timeline of events from the movie is Phantasm Movie Archive. 
Francisco Gabaldón (aka The Spanish Phan) has valiantly written a broad chronicle of Phantasm history to help make sense of it all.Continue reading to traverse his completed timeline. You can find it right over Here

Alright gaming in the first movie universe is going to require a game like Call of Cthulhu or simply a game of "Mutant Future"with all human PC's.
The locals are just starting to wake up to the Tall Man's influence and are forming cells. You can expect a very high body count with PC's as well.
It has been suggested that for a game like Dark Conspiracy that the Tall Man is simply another alien Dark Lord of tremendous power.  In Torg I've used him as a Highlord of incredibly psionic potential who uses telekinesis throughout the film.
In Kult he's a forgotten god hell bent on taking back his  own portion of the illusion.
With D&D I've made him a death god in his own right and given him some psionic abilities. I also had him connected with the Mi Go as a god of theirs.
 Recently ,The Field Guide To Doomsday blog had a phan write up of the spheres In The Mutant Future Supplement Spawn of Devastation Drive In. A free download available right over HERE.

I'd like to thank The Phantasm Archives for their awesome site.
Right HERE
And of course The Official Phantasm site right HERE

This blog entry is for entertainment purposes and as phan discussion only. This is not meant as a challenge to the trade mark or copyright of the phantasm movies or their trademark holders. Opinions expressed are the authors.
Thank you. 


  1. Good stuff once again! With its extra-dimensional connection, Morningside could be a nexus between pre-apocalyptic visions of the usual campaigns, with setting appropriate reflections of the Tall Man in each.

  2. The Tall Man casts a very long shadow in these games. There have been an infinite number of Tall Men in my games.There's a cosmic connection that exists in a number of campaigns. I've got more thoughts concerning multiple dimensional planes and post apocalyptic Earths coming up.
    Thanks for the great insight and comments.