Eighteen years. Eighteen years I had waited to learn whether or not Reggie, Mike, and their friends would stop The Tall Man from turning their surreal reality into the red world we were teased with in the first Phantasm from 1979. Eighteen years I had wondered whether or not we would get some answers, or closure, after the questions left wide open at the end of 1998’s Phantasm IV: Oblivion. For years, there was just speculation whether Don Coscarelli would bring back the fan-favorite universe he had created 37 years ago to tie up loose ends and close the chapter to the Phantasm franchise.
We had heard the rumors. Titles like Phantasm’s End popped up for years, exciting fans before telling them that the rumors weren’t true. Don Coscarelli’s focus on other projects, such as 2002’s greatly underrated Bubba Ho-Tep and 2012’s adaptation of John Dies at the End, also didn’t help Phantasm fans in believing we would truly get an end before that inevitable remake veers its head.
There were talks around 2004-2005 with New Line Cinema about doing a new trilogy, with Mike coming-to-age as a horror hero against The Tall Man. But nothing came from that. But in 2013, Coscarelli confirmed that his protege, David Hartman, had filmed a short film involving Reggie that would end the franchise. Additional footage was then filmed in order to deliver a feature film, calling itself Ravager. It sat on the shelf for years until Phantasm was back in the minds of the public, due to JJ Abrams restoring the original film for theatrical and Blu-Ray release in 4K resolution. With fans excited for a long awaited high-definition edition of Phantasm (as well as its sequels), Coscarelli revealed that Ravager would finally see its release date as well.
Eighteen years. Eighteen years I waited for this moment to finally sit down and go back into the world of Phantasm to see how it would all end. I can finally say that I watched Phantasm: Ravager and be satisfied by the final chapter.
Eighteen years… and I wish they didn’t bother. Few films have disappointed me as much as Phantasm: Ravager.
Continuing with Phantasm IV: Oblivion left off, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) finds himself wandering around the desert looking for Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Along the way, he finds Jodi’s car, as well as several spheres waiting for him. Suddenly, Reggie wakes up outside a hospital with Mike, who tells him that Reggie is suffering from early dementia. Mike believes the stories of The Tall Man are all in Reggie’s head, but Reggie disagrees. Has the entire franchise been a figment of Reggie’s imagination, or is the Tall Man truly getting back at Reggie in the most evil way possible?
Phantasm: Ravager is a film that has heart and soul, but has no idea how to execute what it’s trying to tell. The fact that it even exists is admirable enough, but we waited eighteen years for an epic finale. And unfortunately due to many outside factors, Phantasm: Ravager ends on a whimper and a huge question mark.
I know this review already sound negative, but there are things that I did enjoy with Phantasm: Ravager. I actually liked the first half of the film. I thought the montage to the previous films to catch us up was well done. I enjoyed the scene with Reggie in the desert, finding someone had stole Jody’s car while he was hitchhiking and being a bad ass. The scenes with a beautiful girl he meets down the road named Dawn feel a bit old hat when it comes to Reggie, but it’s such a Phantasm staple that it almost felt welcoming. Then when the shift happens and we see Reggie at a retirement home of sorts struggling to figure out what’s going on in his head while Mike pities him, I was captivated. I started questioning what was real – the desert stuff, or the dementia stuff? Isn’t that what this Phantasm franchise is about? Confusing us and giving us questions rather than answers? I liked this aspect of the narrative. I also found most of the scenes with The Tall Man very interesting, as they gave you more insight on who he is and what he was willing to do and exchange in order to make his goal be met. I was grooving to the first 40 minutes, even with some technical flaws I’ll get to shortly.
Unfortunately, the film fell apart for me once new characters were introduced in the Tall Man’s world. I’m not sure why it rubbed me the wrong way to see a short person named Chunk and his beautiful redhead partner Jane being led as some sort of resistance soldier unit led by Mike. We’ve seen so many other characters other than the principal cast in the sequels that fit in well and add something to the narrative. While Chunk has a lot of personality, even if his dialogue is questionable, and Jane is pretty hot, I felt this was the wrong path for Ravager to go. I think if this was intended as the last film as advertised (and with Angus Scrimm’s passing earlier this year, how could they believably continue this franchise without a reboot), the final confrontation should have been between The Tall Man, Mike, and Reggie. Ever since the first film, this battle has been real personal. Having outsiders who were barely introduced fifteen minutes before the final confrontation, and be a major aspect of what happens to The Tall Man is kind of insulting. If you wanted to bring some survivors from previous films to help out, then I’m cool with that. But the last battle should have been Tall Man vs Mike and Reggie. That’s what this franchise has been building on, besides the surreal takes on reality vs. fantasy/life vs. death. To say I was not happy with the film’s ending is an understatement. I honestly don’t understand how some thought it was fitting. It didn’t really solve anything in my opinion.
In fact, Phantasm: Ravager added more questions than answers by the post-credits scene. Is this the last Phantasm film? Are they planning on making more films (I hope not)? Was this all in Reggie’s head? Was the Tall Man stuff real? Are there different dimensions and universes all happening in parallel with each other at once, with different versions of these characters dealing with similar things? I get that Phantasm was built on confusing people and keeping things surreal like a dream. But Angus Scrimm isn’t coming back to make more of these films. And judging by the filming of this film, the man didn’t look to be in the best health. There should have been a definitive answer that would please fans who have loved this franchise since 1979. If Coscarelli and Hartman want to do more sequels, all the power to them. But at least finish what you started before leading fans down another path. All we wanted was some closure. I didn’t get any of that honestly. And it’s sad because I thought the character stuff was interesting. They just weren’t executed property and felt truly disjointed. You can tell this was meant to be a short film with Reggie, with other scenes added in to fill up a running time. Phantasm fans deserve better than that after eighteen years.
Phantasm: Ravager was shot for about $200,000 and it shows. The film looks like a fan-made film with the original cast starring in it. Fortunately it’s not too bad in the first half, where the special effects aren’t really in the forefront. The spheres look good flying around, but look a bit cartoony when they’re murdering people. The CGI blood is pretty terrible, considering it’s not that expensive to create your own fake practical blood. The last half of the film, where the characters are on the red planet, really highlights the cheap look of the movie. You can tell the actors are in front of a green screen. Phantasm: Ravager was developed as a web-series of sorts, which these scenes capture pretty well. But for a feature, it definitely stands out from the other movies – and not for the better. It’s a shame Coscarelli and Hartman weren’t able to get a bigger budget to tell this story. I admire and respect them for making it work as best as possible, but sometimes too much ambition is a bad thing if it doesn’t exactly go the way it ought to.
The direction by David Hartman is a big flaw for Ravager. A protege of Don Coscarelli, Hartman is more accustomed to working on animated work such as Transformers Prime and Winnie the Pooh stuff. Ravager is his first live-action feature and you can tell. The editing is a bit weird at times, with the dimension shifts ending up as jarring by the end rather than interesting. The editing was much more solid in the first half, as the time shifts made more sense. The flow is terrible here as well. Even in the other films, the narrative would still move along naturally even with all the different universes, dimensions, and time travel. You had questions, but you still knew what was happening. Ravager is terrible at this, as every scene change feels jarring. Maybe it’s meant to be Reggie’s bout with dementia and how dementia patients’ minds work. But the film never really gets in depth with this aspect, using it as a plot device rather than a meaningful character arc. So it’s just weird. The film does look nice though, even though the CGI uglies it up unfortunately at times. But I wish Coscarelli would have directed this film and finished his story visually. I’m not sure why he didn’t. Maybe he wanted to give Hartman a chance to stamp his own take on the series. But if this was meant to be the end, Coscarelli should have finished what he started. It looks and feels like a different film from the rest of the franchise, and not in a good way.
I will say the acting is good, considering Hartman doesn’t have much experience directing actors. Reggie Bannister does very well playing different versions of Reggie, capturing the bad ass and confused personality we’ve seen in the last five films. I think he carries the film as best as he can. A. Michael Baldwin is decent as Mike, even though he doesn’t get a whole lot to do. His Kyle Reese impersonation is an interesting move. I just wish Baldwin was allowed to play around with the role more. Angus Scrimm, who sadly passed away earlier this year, still brings class and gravitas to the Tall Man. His dialogue is probably the best in the film and Scrimm conveys all of them powerfully well. The other characters are decent, especially Stephen Jutras as Chunk, who brings a lot of personality and charisma to a small role. I wish the cast were in a better film and in a better “finale”, but they do their best with the material.