"The first movie that you see that really freaks you out or scares you, it's like a first crush. It sticks with you for the rest of your life."
Director Don Coscarelli was explaining to Crave at SXSW why J.J. Abrams, of all people, loved his 1979 cult horror Phantasm enough to restore it to glowing health.
Abrams adores the movie. He even named Captain Phasma the "Chrome Trooper" after it in The Force Awakens, telling EW that the metallic costume design of the female stormtrooper commander reminded him of the horror's lethal ball.
Phantasm is about a malevolent undertaker named simply the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who is armed with a head-draining billiard ball. He can also resurrect the dead as dwarf zombies. It may have been a sneaky early viewing for Abrams, who would have been a tender 12 the year it was released.
Watch the terrifying trailer:
Around the time of production for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in winter 2014, Abrams telephoned Coscarelli and asked him for a copy of the iconic movie for a staff screening over at his production company, Bad Robot. Coscarelli explained:
"I told him that the only choice he really had was my scratched-up old 35mm print, or the standard-def DVD. Those weren't really great choices, so he said: 'Oh, we gotta fix that!' So he put [me] in touch with their head of post-production, a guy named Ben Rosenblatt, and he came up with this plan as to how to restore the movie efficiently."
The two had been long-distance pals for about 12 years at this point. As Coscarelli said: "It started a loooong long time ago in a graveyard far, far away," when he was finishing mystery drama Bubba Ho-Tep. Abrams called him out of the blue to tell him he was a massive Phantasm fan, as you can if you're J.J. Abrams. This was before he had become household name — Coscarelli had never even heard of him.
Being the righteous dude he is however, Coscarelli invited Abrams over to hang out. Coscarelli even introduced him to the morbid star of Phantasm, Angus Scrimm, who Abrams liked so much he put him in his TV series Alias.
Bad Robot has been dusting off the old reels and coloring in all the right bits to make the movie beautiful again. As well as rendering it in 4k, taking out some of the flaws like visible fishing wire, and sharpening one mysterious special effect, there is a 5.1 audio soundtrack. Here's a preview still from AIC against the original, showing how well it's cleaned up:
"There was a lot of negative damage that we were able to clean up. And dirt. And also, I was able to adjust framing, so the frame was properly composed. And able to erase errors. For instance, there was a yellow bucket in that white mausoleum left behind by a crew person. I was able to get that erased.
There was a Phantasm fan working over at Bad Robot working in their audio department, and he did a complete audio restoration... it's never sounded better. Now there's a depth and a richness to it that's just wonderful. It's so exciting. And I think it's going to be so much fun to talk to these devoted fans who have watched the film 10, 20 and 30 times to see what it looks like now."
Abrams and Coscarelli were just two guys who really liked a movie, updating it to make it even weirder and better.