The specs for all the movies will, as usual, be covered at the end of the review, but if you want plot regarding Phantasm (1979) and Phantasm: Ravager (2016) go here and here. I reviewed the blu-rays a year ago and don’t feel like repeating myself here. This particular review will cover the plots of Phantasm II, III and IV only. Okay, so, let’s get into this. . . honestly, the first two movies are the best and Phantasm II (1988) literally picks up where the first one left off, but it’s existence kind of makes the “dream-logic” of the first one illogical. Then again the final scene itself in Phantasm makes the rest of that movie seem illogical, since up to then it’s revealed everything you’ve just seen was a bad dream, but then in a final-final twist the Tall Man appears and Mike is pulled through his full length closet mirror by his dwarves telling us, okay, even though it was clearly a dream, it also wasn’t? So, could Part II be a dream within a dream? Food for thought.
In this first sequel the Tall Man’s (the late Angus Scrimm) M.O. is opened up revealing he’s slowly making his way through the U.S. plundering the graveyard’s of small towns and turning the bodies into those cloaked dwarves he so loves to use against humanity. Something we saw in the first Phantasm, but now it’s gotten worse. He’s killing the residents of these small towns as well, and converting them into dwarves too. Well, not all of them, there are other “nameless goons” in his employ commonly known as “gravers;” regular-looking humans donned in nondescript coveralls who wear gas masks, dig up graves and do other sundry and sinister activities for the Tall Man. Perigord, Oregon is the latest small town about to fall to the Tall Man and it’s here where Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (James LeGros) have their “final confrontation” with him.
Like I said the movie picks up where Phantasm (’79) left off, with Reggie finally understanding Mike’s dream of the Tall Man was real and combating the dwarves in the only way he knows how with sheer violence. Reggie rescues him but ends up sacrificing Mike’s house as he blows it up with the rest of the Tall Man’s goon squad inside.
Fire and explosions is a motif in this flick. Mike uses a makeshift flamethrower throughout; various “things” are set a blaze; another house explodes, and so does their trademark hemicuda car, but it’s all good because it’s Phantasm II, bro!! Woo-hoo!
Anyway, Mike is sent to a psychiatric hospital for the next seven years and by the time we see him again he’s being portrayed by actor James LeGros, apparently Universal had a problem with Director Don Coscarelli wanting to use original stars A. Michael Baldwin (Mike) and Reggie Bannister (Reggie) again. In the end Coscarelli managed to secure Bannister, but not Baldwin. Incidentally, Baldwin comes back as Mike for the rest of the franchise after this one. Nineteen year old Mike has some rudimentary psychic abilities now and it connects him to this chick named Liz (Paula Irvine) living in Perigord. She too has rudimentary psychic abilities and is in the process of confronting the Tall Man herself, but needs Mike to help her. They eventually meet up later.
The Tall Man repays the fiery death of his dwarves once Mike gets out by blowing up Reggie’s house and killing his family too. This cements his resolve to go after him. Some of this flick is a road movie as both men track the Tall Man from town to town hoping to finally find him. It’s a six month trek before it all comes to an end in Perigord, Oregon.
Thrown into the mix is another chick by the name of Alchemy (Samantha Philips), whose origin is dubious at best. The Tall Man likes games and he leaves a little “something” behind in each decimated town for the two to find. The latest is a copy of Liz with a messed up back and a Tall Man headed worm coming out of it that taunts them. In that same building Mike comes across a recently autopsied chick on a table in the morgue, but the the moment he looks away from her she’s suddenly gone.
More mindfuckery from the Tall Man?
Alchemy then shows up as a hitchhiker that Reggie picks up when Mike’s asleep, but Mike was just dreaming about her. This can’t be good. She actually is a mole for the Tall Man, but she doesn’t show her true colors until the very end during the getaway in the hearse she jacked. She pulls part of her hair off revealing she was a corpse all along. Phantasm II ends in another freaky ending where it appears Reggie is killed, again, and Mike and Liz in the back trying to tell each other this is all a dream. The Tall Man appears stating, “No, it’s not!” before the two are yanked out the back window.
The franchise’s trademark silver spheres have “evolved” some too. There are three and we finally see where they come from, or where they’re stored before being triggered, in this almost coffin-like box on this “shrine” inside the mausoleum. They slide out when triggered and off they go a killin’. They still have the double forks and the drill, but one of them sports a three-pronged buzz saw like implement that takes off a priest’s (Kenneth Tigar) ear before coming around and killing him. Another comes equipped with a laser that blows up a rat, and a spike that can burn through metal doors. The gory eye candy on this particular sphere is when it activates a series of spikes and turns into a spinning ball of death that drills up inside one of the Tall Man’s goons and tries to exit through his mouth. Nasty looking stuff, man.
Phantasm III (1994), in my opinion, is where the franchise starts to go off the rails. Like the last one it picks up right where Phantasm II left off, and since Coscarelli isn’t beholden to a major studio now he can cast who he wants, and that meant getting A. Michael Baldwin back as Mike, and putting his deceased brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), back into the mix too. The former was a sight for sore eyes, but the latter’s appearance didn’t make a a lick of sense to me. Coscarelli reshot some of the ending of Part II replacing LeGros with Baldwin so the two flicks merge better. Reggie was not killed, but Mike’s chick, Liz, was. Not sure how she died. The hearse crashes, but there’s a dwarf found over and to me it looked like it was eating her, or something. At any rate we get a close-up of her bashed in face that tells us she ‘s permanently down for the count. Too bad, she was real hot.
Again the mythos of what the Tall Man is gets pushed forward yet again and even though he was indeed killed at the end of last movie, another Tall Man steps out from the interdimensional portal to his world and tosses the body of the dead one through it. Okay, so, these “aliens” might be clones, or something akin to ants or bees. His spheres are evolving yet again and one of the few things I liked about this installment is a scene where it shows how they’re created. In taking a human and crushing it down to dwarf size, the brain is shrunk as well. the Tall Man then takes out this brain and puts it inside a sphere, making his balls of death kind of cyborgish now. One of the spheres sports an eyestalk and is used for spying, but in a subplot that just doesn’t work for me Jody is brought back in the form of a sphere gone rogue. Given they’re now revealed to have brains inside them, I guess we can interpret this as Jody at some point was turned into a dwarf and his brain put into a sphere. In this form he can change from a human to sphere at will, and can interact with Mike and Reggie this way, or through dreams in sphere form.
There are a couple of scenes involving dreams that merge with reality that just didn’t work for me either, but I can understand why Coscarelli went this route since the first movie does have a dream-logic vibe to it before we get the ‘it’s-all-a-dream-or-is-it’ twist at the end. I guess he wanted to take that one step further, but it’s all too weird for me to the point I just couldn’t fully suspend my disbelief to get into the story. Time and location doesn’t make a lot of sense in this installment either. After Mike is taken out of the movie for a bit by being in a coma from the hearse accident, we never get how much time that was. Regardless, both men are back on the road again until the Tall Man invades Reggie’s home. They’re supposed to still be in Oregon, so how does Reggie have a house as indicated by a random line about his hallway getting messed up? The Tall Man kidnaps Mike and now Reggie needs to find others to help him, enter supporting characters, Tim (Kevin Connors), a little kid, and Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), the requisite chick Reggie needs to have around to hit on. Both of these characters annoyed the hell out of me. Tim is found living alone in a house he somehow booby trapped even though he’s a small kid who would have a hard time lifting and arranging the traps as they’re presented in the movie, and Rocky is ex-military who seems to think she can battle a sphere with a pair of nunchucks. Those scenes were laughable. And then when she loses them, she takes up a stance like she’s going to go hand-to-hand with it. I will say, however, she lives at the end of the movie, just driving away in a hearse.
Reggie, Tim and Rocky go from decimated town to decimated town looking for the Tall Man, while we learn somehow Mike had a sphere implanted in his skull, and that’s where that insufferable revelation is left at the end of the movie. The final scene is again in line with the ending’s of the previous two movies as we think the Tall Man was killed (put into a freezer, but his skull erupted into a sphere that attacked the rest of the characters). Reggie is cornered, literally, by a swarm of spheres, uttering, “It’s over,” to Tim as he looks on in horror. The Tall Man comes walking out uttering “It’s never over,” as a pair of random arms pull Tim through a window, despite the fact he wasn’t standing anywhere near a window.
Phantasm III is a hot mess with moments of creativity, but not enough to make me a total fan however. Now we come to Phantasm IV (1998), the only Phantasm flick I’ve never seen all the way through. I remember catching it on cable back in the late 90s, but checked out at the ten minute mark due to utter boredom, this will be the first time I’ll have seen it through to the end, and I’m kind of dreading it. I’ve seen the final film, Ravager, which as of this sentence I’m writing right here is the worst of the franchise, so I can assume IV is worse than III, but not as abysmal as V.
Am I right?
Yes, I am.
Part IV makes III looked downright coherent. I still love Coscarelli starting each flick at the end of the one before it. Tim, isn’t even accounted for in this one though, a body isn’t even shown, it’s like he never even existed. We cut right to the Tall Man confronting Reggie as he’s being held down in the corner by all those spheres, and what does he do? He lets the man go! I think Coscarelli wrote himself into a corner (literally) with this face off, because logic dictates the Tall Man should have killed Reg right there, but if we’ve learned anything from this series up to this point it’s that illogic and dream logic rule the day.
Most of this flick is centered on Mike being driven into the desert and going on a “spiritual walkabout” thanks to that sphere inside his skull, which seems to give him some of the abilities the Tall Man has. At one point it almost looks like he’s grooming the guy to take his place. Time travel is introduced into the series with this installment that leads to a not totally explained “origin tale” for the Tall Man. Apparently, he used to be a human named, Jebediah Morningside, that lived in the eighteen-hundreds and experimented with traveling to other realms, or something like that. But it’s never fully shown how he went from Jebediah to the Tall Man the moment he walked through that portal.
There’s another chick (Heidi Marnhout, if she looked familiar, she was Callie from Bubba Ho-Tep) Reggie meets to torture him with her hotness and her refusal to have sex with him, but like Alchemy from Part III, she’s kind of a mole, with two spheres hiding inside her tits! Speaking of moles Jody turns out to be one too! The movie is laced with flashbacks to the original Phantasm (scenes that never made into the movie) that I thought was a good way to link both films. In these flashbacks it’s revealed the Tall Man got Jody at some point! So, my theory was right?!
I don’t know what to make of the ending. The Tall Man succeeds in pulling that sphere out of Mike’s head and Reggie follows him back through the portal. The final scene is Mike and Jody from a Phantasm outtake driving into the dark in his Ice Cream truck. Okay?
You know not once in these flicks did I ever see anyone eat or drink anything. Sleep they got, but did anyone get hungry or thirsty? Mike’s out in the desert there for what looks like some time, and not once did I ever see the man thirsty, or sweaty, or even showing signs he needed anything to munch on.
This DVD collection kind of feels like an afterthought. The cover art is as basic as basic can be and the movies are collected together under one large center hub you have to work at to get them loose. The blu-ray set Well Go USA released last year was a limited edition, and is now out of print. If you haven’t gone blu, I suppose this collection will make you happy, especially if you’re a fan of every movie! It streets on the 12th. You can buy it here on Amazon.
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Phantasm/Phantasm III/ Phantasm IV/Phantasm V): 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—2.o English Dolby Digital (mono & stereo), 5.1 English Dolby Digital—English subs only
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Phantasm II): 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen—2.o English Dolby Digital, 5.1 English Dolby Digital—English subs only
The transfers are adequate.
- Audio Commentary features Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury
- Interviews from 1979 (1080p; 28:04) is an older tv show with Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm.
- Graveyard Carz Episode (11:23)
- Deleted Scenes: (10:04)
- Phantasm 1979 Trailer
Phantasm II Extras:
- Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Actors Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister
- The Ball is Back (46:38)
- The Gory Days (22:01)
- Deleted Scenes (6:51)
- Workprint Scenes (18:58)
- TV Spots
- Behind the Scenes: (Makeup and Effects—9:12; On the Set—9:08)
- Still Galleries: (Behind the Scenes—4:17; Makeup and Effects—3:12; Posters and Stills—5:17)
- Rare Short Film Featuring Rory Guy (18:40)
Phantasm III Extras:
- Audio Commentary with Stars A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm
- Balls of Steel: Bob Ivy’s Stunt for the Ages ( 9:38)
Phantasm IV Extras:
- Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Actors Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm
- Phantasm IV: Behind the Scenes (10:48)
Phantasm V Extras:
- Audio Commentary features Don Coscarelli and David Hartman
- Behind the Scenes (5:07)
- Deleted Scenes (7:25)
- Phantasm: Bloopers and Outtakes (8:35)