Time to dig into a phantastic release; The Phantasm Phive…err 5 Movie DVD Collection. This one is going to be phun my phiends…what the phuck is wrong with me…
Let’s do the flicks (phooled you there didn’t I?!!) one by one shall we (with a rating for each film, and one for the overall set)…
Phantasm (1979) – Since his parents died, young Mike spends his days tear-assing around on his dirt bike, hanging with his ‘Cuda driving, guitar strumming older brother Jody (and his ice cream man pal Reggie…played with laid-back charm by Reggie Bannister), getting his fortune told by a blind, mute seer, and trying to figure out just what the deal is with the preternaturally strong, and endlessly weird local undertaker. After a little snooping, Mike discovers that the mortician (which he nicknames “The Tall Man”) is actually a pan-dimensional being with yellow blood whose severed digits can become mutant flies who controls an army of robed dwarves created from corpses, and possesses a killer silver sphere which he uses to drill through people’s heads. Bet he didn’t see that coming (I mean who in the shit could really?)! Oh, and just for shits; the Tall Man can also turn into a hot blonde woman which he does to seduce men and kill them (just one of about a thousand times you will say “What the Fuck?” during the course of this series). Soon it’s up to Mike, Jody, and Reggie…the most unlikeliest of heroes, to thwart the machinations of the Tall Man!
To this day, Phantasm is one of the most unique, surreal, and flat-out entertaining fright flicks ever created. Sure it’s low budget shows at time (there are instances where events occur off screen and are talked about later), and characters are introduced that go absolutely nowhere (the maid Myrtle springs to mind)…but it’s steadfast adherence to nightmare logic, off-the-wall visuals and top-shelf world building make it an absolute classic of the horror biz.
As for this presentation of the film, Well Go USA has went with a remastered version of the flick, and it looks great with a clean image and colors that really pop. Adding to the experience, this disc also contains a commentary track featuring Writer/Director Don Coscarelli, Actors Michael Baldwin (Mike), Bill Thornbury (Jody), and Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man). It’s packed to the gills with anecdotes and details of the film’s production and remains engaging throughout. Also included are: a segment from some such bullshit called Graveyard Carz where a replica of the Phantasm ‘Cuda is made (it’s stagy, ridiculous, and kinda obnoxious…but sorta fun), an archival interview with Coscarelli and Scrimm from the late ’70’s, a handful of deleted scenes, and a pair of trailers.
Phantasm II (1988) – The first sequel to Phantasm begins the only way it could…with some stock footage. But after that we are treated to a truly awesome sequence of Reggie confronting the Tall Man and his dwarf army before blowing up his house and saving mike from the clutches of evil. Flash forward a decade, and Mike (this time played by James Le Gros) is just being released from Ye Olde Loony Bin, where he has convinced the Doctors that the events of the first film were just a delusion. Soon Mike is back in cahoots with Reggie to chase down the Tall Man and end his reign of evil once and for all (this is after he blows up Reggie’s Aunt’s house…yeah, Phantasm II has two exploding houses in under ten minutes of run time). Anyway our heroes pack major heat (including a chainsaw, flame thrower and a god damned four barreled shotgun!) and embark on an epic road trip (lead by Mike’s psychic dream visions) that includes stops at every creepy ass mortuary and graveyard along the way (all of which bear the mark of the Tall Man’s evil). Before long the silver ball is back a-flyin’, yellow goop is squirtin’ everywhere, and our heroes stand their ground against ol’ T.M. and his troops!
Phantasm II is an extremely worthy follow up to the first picture, but as you can tell from that description above, it is by no means a re-tread of what has come before. While Phantasm was a filmed fever-dream, part two is a horror-action, buddies on a road trip (albeit one packed with never ending terror) flick with the trademarked nightmarish imagery thrown in to put a cherry on top. It’s also packed with gore, creatures, and the supremely malevolent presence of Angus Scrimm’s performance of the Tall Man all up against Reggie Bannister…the most perfectly every-man, unlikely hero since Ashley J. Williams took on the Evil Dead! This is how you do a sequel folks!!
Like the first disc, this one is filled with features as well! For starters we get a commentary track featuring Writer/Director Coscarelli, Actor Bannister, and Actor Angus Scrimm’s cousin Angus Scrumm…just F’n with ya, it’s Scrimm, but the typo in the menu screen may lead you to believe otherwise. This track is equal parts production anecdotes and fun banter among good friends, and an all around great listen. Following that we get: a forty six minute “making of” featurette that covers the film’s production from conception to it’s release and subsequent legacy, a twenty minute piece on he film’s extensive effects pieces, a collection of deleted and workprint scenes, a handful of TV spots, and some behind the scenes videos featuring the film’s FX, and a fly on the wall view of some of the flick’s key sequences being filmed. Finishing out the extras are trailers for Phantasm I – III, multiple still galleries, and a (very) vintage short film starring Rory Guy…a.k.a. Angus Scrimm himself (playing honest Abe Lincoln no freakin’ less), and let me tell you, this threw me for a loop…I just assumed Scrimm was pushing sixty when he was born, but he’s actually a spry young dude in this and it’s just bizarre to see.
Following that is…
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – Picking up immediately after the events of the last film, Phantasm III begins with Reggie and Mike (once more played by Baldwin) facing off against the Tall Man and his minions on a deserted country road. The skirmish ends in a stalemate, and the Tall Man retreats for now. After a gore filled confrontation with a nurse who isn’t what she seems, Mike and Reggie hit the road once more in their quest to end the Tall Man once and for all. As they venture forth, mike is plagued by visions of his brother Jody (played by Bill Thornbury from the first Phantasm) who in actuality has been turned into one of the dreaded silver spheres. Before long the Tall Man abducts Mike, and it’s up to Reggie to travel the ever more desolate and dilapidated landscape (thanks to T.M.’s influence) to bring his friend home. Along the way R-man teams up with a homicidal orphan and an ex-military badass to take down all manner of nasty customers from the surreal nightmare land the Tall Man calls home before squaring off with our beloved baddie himself!
Phantasm III marks a return to the more off-the-wall, dreamscape reality of the first film as the Tall Man uses his powers to make any number of hellish visions a reality (not to mention the absolutely bonkers decision to make Jody a sphere). While the surreal aesthetic is strong, the road trip aspect of the second film returns as well though definitely taking a back seat to the fever dream material (no doubt a result of this film being a return to the independent roots of the first flick which negated the studio mandates placed on the second picture by financier Universal Studios). Speaking of “returning”, the return of Michael Baldwin as Mike to the series was a nice touch, and definitely added a certain “something” that Le Gros’ portrayal of the character lacked.
Like the previous two discs, this one has some nice bonus material as well (though definitely not nearly as much). Chief among them is an audio commentary once again featuring Coscarelli who is joined by editor Norman Buckley. Like the others, this is a lively and frank discussion of just what it takes to bring this true “labor of love” series to the screen. After that comes: a featurette on Bob Ivy’s stunt work on the car chase segment of the film, and the film’s trailer.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) – The fourth entry in the series begins with Mike (who is slowly becoming some sort of human/sphere hybrid) hitting the open road and abandoning Reggie to the mercy of the Tall Man and his battalion of spheres. As Mike drives on he thinks back to happier times (realized mainly through clever use of unused footage from the first film), while the Tall Man let’s Reggie go in order to play one last “game”. Before long, Reggie is convinced by Jody to go in search of his brother who is falling ever more under the sway of our diabolical antagonist. This leads to a skirmish with a demon cop, a tryst with a lady that possesses a killer rack…literally, and Mike discovering the hidden origins of the Tall Man himself! Before long our heroes are hoping between space and time heading full on into another deadly confrontation with the Tall Man!
Phantasm IV is once again a direct continuation of the events of it’s predecessor (basically when you view the film’s together it’s all just one big narrative (unlike some of the other multi-sequel havin’ fright flicks out there), and it’s simply astounding the amount of mythology and world building Coscarelli provides over the breadth of the series (and believe me, the tiniest on minutiae comes in to play from film to film). Why am I bringing up the over-all narrative of the film’s instead of talking specifics…well, this flick contains a sequence that I find equal parts fascinating and infuriating (that may be too harsh…maybe unnecessary is more accurate)…namely, the origin of the Tall Man. The story as told explains how a normal man with a lust for science ends up becoming the dude we all know and fear. The whole affair has a fantastic steampunk aesthetic, but man we simply did not need to know how the Tall Man came to be…his nightmarish presence and air of the completely strange and unknown is what makes him such an effective character (and to be fair, the origin itself isn’t lame or anything, it just wasn’t needed in my not so humble opinion).
Anyway, as usual we get some bonus content here including the now standard audio commentary with Coscarelli (joined here by Bannister and Scrimm as well). This is my favorite of the commentaries because Phantasm IV was made for next to no money, and the stories of how the film came to be should be mandatory listening to those that want to make their own low budget shockers. After that comes a thirty minute “behind the scenes” featurette (which illustrates the “let’s put on a show” mentality that made the film a reality), and the film’s trailer.
Finally we come to…
Phantasm: Ravager (2016) – a.k.a., the only Phantasm flick I hadn’t seen before! So, ol’ Ravager starts with Reggie alone, wandering the desert. Before long Reggie retrieves his stolen car, fights off a couple o’ them infamous killer spheres, and wakes up outside a hospital where Mike informs him he has dementia…wait, what in the piss now?!! Anyway, at the coaxing of Mike, Reggie tells a tale of meeting a beautiful woman (named Dawn) on the road and heading back to her house for the night. While there Reggie is observed by one of the spheres as he dreams of being in a hospital in ye olde daze with Jebediah (the human version of the Tall Man introduced in the last film). Soon Reggie is back at Dawn’s where he avoids the spheres going on a kill crazy murder spree and heads off into the woods…where he discovers a massive sphere and a dimensional gate. Entering the gate, the Tall Man makes Reggie a bargain…if he leaves him to his machinations, Reggie can have his family back. What follows is a surreal journey through dimensions and time where we visit everywhere from the mortuary featured in the last two installments in the series, to a far flung future world where the Tall Man has turned our world into his red planet (with some surprise cameos from characters from throughout the series). Of course this all leads to another epic showdown with the Tall Man..but is this one truly the end?
While lower budget then it’s predecessors (this was originally envisioned to be a web series before being cut into a feature), Phantasm Ravager is a picture that truly delivers everything that is so absolutely amazing about the series as a whole; one of a kind nightmare visions, interactions between the characters that seem like they are genuine friends (or enemies as the case may be), mind bending travels across dimensions, and all of the signature creatures and gore the fans have come to love (and this time featuring a melancholy element reminiscent of Coscarelli’s adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep)! If there is a negative with the film it’s that some of the spheres are digital this go around and that took me a bit to get used to…minor quibble, but there you go.
As for the bonus material, you get: a commentary featuring Coscarelli and co-writer/director David Hartman that details what it took to bring this flick to the fans (believe me, it was a lot), a “making of” featurette, a collection of deleted scenes (all of which were awesome and I wish had survived the final cut), some bloopers and outtakes, and the film’s trailer.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet…this is an essential collection that deserves a space on any horror hounds shelf…the films are iconic, the bonus material is enjoyable, and you can’t go wrong with the price…just buy it already!