Don Coscarelli rented all of the filming equipment used to make this movie, always on Fridays so he could use it all weekend and return it on Mondays, all the while only actually having to pay one day's rental on the equipment.
The genesis of the story came to Don Coscarelli in a dream. One night, being in his late teens, he dreamed of fleeing down endlessly long marble corridors, pursued by a chrome sphere intent on penetrating his skull with a wicked needle. There was also a quite futuristic "sphere dispenser" out of which the orbs would emerge and begin chase.
Although being very tall, standing at 6ft4, Angus Scrimm wore suits several sizes smaller and boots with lifts inside that added 3 inches to his height making him 6'6
The spheres were designed by craftsman Willard Green who charged the production a little over $1,100 for his services. Sadly, he died just after production completed at the end of 1977, and never saw his work on the big screen.
Don Coscarelli took the title "Phantasm" from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It is a term frequently used by Poe in his writings.
The stone-looking interior of the mausoleum was actually constructed of plywood and marble-colored plastic contact paper.
Don Coscarelli got the idea of The Tall Man's living severed finger while drinking from a styrofoam cup. He punched his finger through the bottom and started moving it. He loved the visual effect of it and decided to include it in the story.
The "ball" scenes were simple special effects. The sphere was thrown from behind the camera by a baseball pitcher and then the shot was printed in reverse. The ball attaching itself to the man's head was filmed by sticking it on his head, then pulling it off, and printing the shot in reverse.
(at around 23 mins) The iconic bed nightmare sequence was number 25 on the cable channel Bravo's list of the "100 Scariest Movie Moments".
This film's original running time was more than three hours, but writer/ director Don Coscarelli decided that that was far too long for it to hold people's attention and made numerous cuts to the film. Some of the unused footage was located in the late 1990s and became the framework for Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). The rest of the footage is believed to be lost.
The mansion used for the exterior shots of the mausoleum was also seen Burnt Offerings (1976) and A View to a Kill (1985).
Don Coscarelli's and Reggie Bannister's parents can all be seen as extras in the funeral scene.
Co-Producer Paul Pepperman approached Angus Scrimm at a sneak preview of Kenny & Company (1976) and told him that Don Coscarelli had written a role for him in his next production. When informed that he would be playing an alien, Scrimm became very excited and immediately asked to know what country his character would hail from. Pepperman said: "He's not from another country, he's from another world."
Don Coscarelli's mother, novelist Kate Coscarelli, held several titles on the production and even used two aliases, "S. Tyler" and "Shirley Mae", for production design and make up/costume design respectively. She also wrote a novel adaptation based on the film. It was published in 2002 and only 500 copies were produced.
(at around 8 mins) The coffin that Mike sees the Tall Man lift by himself and shove back into the hearse was made out of balsa wood, empty, and had a rope on the side facing away from the camera to make it easier to handle. The rope can be briefly seen as the Tall Man lifts up the coffin.
(at around 5 mins) In the scene before the funeral, when Jody is confronted by The Tall Man for the first time, Bill Thornbury proved to be nearly as tall as Angus Scrimm, so Scrimm had to perform the scene standing on an apple crate.
(at around 15 mins) The song played on the front porch by Reggie and Jody, 'Sittin' Here At Midnight', was actually composed by Bill Thornbury himself.
The song, "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead was released the year after this film and is reported to have its origins in the film. At a New York screening of the movie Lemmy was heard to have muttered that Mike's head looked like the ace of spades and then spent much of the rest of the film writing out the lyrics in a notepad. He used the pencil that had been given to him earlier that day by David Soul.
To get the inspiration needed, Don Coscarelli spent a couple of weeks in an isolated cabin in the mountains outside Los Angeles while writing the script.
The alien dwarves bear a strong resemblance to the Jawas of Star Wars, but the design for the dwarves was already completed before Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) was released.
J.J. Abrams, co-writer and director of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015), revealed in an interview published in Entertainment Weekly that he came up with the name of the Captain Phasma character after seeing its chrome design: "It reminded me of the ball in Phantasm."
There are several references to Frank Herbert's Dune, including a bar named "Dune" and a scene where Mike is forced to insert his hand into a black box that inflicts pain as part of a test.
The idea to create the film came about when Reggie Bannister approached Don Coscarelli with the idea to adapt Ray Bradbury's novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), which was to star A. Michael Baldwin and Dan McCann from Kenny & Company (1976). However, the two learned that very week that Bradbury had sold the novel's rights to Disney, and so Coscarelli sought an idea for a similar type of project.
A body double, Laura Mann, was used in the opening scene in the cemetery. The lady in lavender, Kathy Lester, did not wish to be filmed topless.
The theme song is played by death metal band Entombed at the 3:50 mark of the title track of their debut album, 'Left Hand Path' (1990), before the solos.
Title was changed to "The Never Dead" for Australian audiences as not to confuse it with the popular Aussie sex comedy World of Sexual Fantasy (1976), which was also known as Fantasma.
A significant deleted subplot involved the character of Jody working in the family bank after he had inherited the job from his father, his clashes with the stuffy manager, and had a bigger role for his girlfriend, played by Susan Harper, who was one of the tellers. These scenes were ultimately cut for time. Ralph Richmond. Who was cast as a bank guard in these scenes, was later recast in the smaller role of the Bartender.
Filmed at the same mansion as So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993). Dunsmuir House & Gardens in Oakland, CA.
Mary Ellen Shaw was cast at the last minute as the grandmother fortune teller. The original actress cast declined the role when she realized they'd be shooting on the day of her nephew's birthday party.
(at around 1h 22 mins) In the final scene where the Tall Man says the line "Boooy" his hair is cut significantly shorter than it was previously in the film.
The 1971 Plymouth Barracuda was chosen because Don Coscarelli remembered a guy in high school had one, and was a little envious of him. A Barracuda was made to look like the Hemi 'Cuda. Though in one scene you can see the designation of 440-6 on the hood. Indicating the car had a 440, with a "six pack" (3 two-barrel carburetors).Bill Thornbury then took the car to a friend of his and had it custom striped so it felt like it was really his car. The true purpose of the car was so the brothers Mike and Jody could have a means of bonding. In fact, A. Michael Baldwin learned to drive in that car, he was only 14 at the time! After the movie was finished, the car was sold, and to this day nobody is sure what really happened to it. As a result the black Hemi 'Cuda became just as much of a hallmark to the series as the chrome spheres.
Although released in 1979, the copyright date shown during the closing credits of this film says MCMLXXVII (1977).
In the Fortune Teller's house, right behind Mike is a copy of the famous painting "The Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh.
The role of Jody Pearson was originally intended for performer Gregory Harrison who played the title role in Don Coscarelli's first feature Jim, the World's Greatest (1975)
The Spanish distributors for the movie decided, instead of translating the title, to simply add an "a" at the end, making it "Phantasma," a pun "Fantasma" (Ghost).
A piece of dialogue is used at the beginning of the song "Guilty Of Being Tight" included in the "Municipal Waste" album "Hazardous Mutation" (2005).
The line "The funeral is about to begin, sir" was also used as an introduction to the song 'Maggot Sermon' by the band Splatterhouse from their split with Gruesome Stuff Relish.
Performers A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, Terrie Kalbus, Mary Ellen Shaw and Kenneth V. Jones had all appeared in one of Don Coscarelli's previous two movies, Jim, the World's Greatest (1975) and Kenny & Company (1976). Reggie Bannister is the only actor in the cast to have appeared in both features.
In the cemetery, a headstone that is featured prominently in two separate scenes is that of "Cecelia Weiss". It is a recreation of the headstone of Harry Houdini's mother, with most of the actual inscription included. Houdini was born Erik Weisz, later Americanized to "Ehrich Weiss".
(at around 5 mins) The line of dialogue "The funeral is about to begin, Sir" was used by black metal band "Marduk" in their track 'Hearse', from the album 'World Funeral' (2003), and also by the death metal band 'The Ravenous' in a track from their first album "Assembled in Blasphemy" (2000). Death Metal Band Mortician used it as the Intro for the Song "Mortician" on their Album "Hacked Up For Barbeque"
The theme song is also played by the Hungarian black metal/thrash band "Tormentor", in the title track "introduction" of their album, released in August 1988.