Tag Archives: don coscarelli

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 2

1 Feb

What my final consensus was on the first three Phantasm movies is that they do represent a spark of originality in a time of slasher movies, but they still weren’t free from their own set of flaws. Most of these flaws come from the pacing and the focus of the narrative, but there were also some problems with the development of characters and the acting. Surprisingly enough, the first direct to video entry, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead was my favorite of the bunch. Now let’s take a look at the last two and see how the world Don Coscarelli built holds up.

The fourth entry in the series, Phantasm IV: Oblivion, was released in 1998 and also sent direct to video.

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Taking place right where Phantasm III left off, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is on the run from the wrath of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Meanwhile, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is hot on his tail after being warned by the undead Jody (Bill Thornbury) that Mike will need all the help he can get. After the Tall Man leads Mike to Death Valley, the secrets of the Tall Man begin coming to light. Mike soon stumbles across a plethora of the Tall Man’s gateways, and he begins to travel through time to see just when the Tall Man came to be. What he finds is the story of a mortician living at the turn of the century who becomes madly obsessed with inter-dimensional and time travel. As Mike learns more of these origins, Reggie finally catches up with his friend and once again engage in a battle with the Tall Man and his horde of lurkers and spheres.

Is it possible that Coscarelli could strike gold again with the second direct to video release in this series? Well, no, I wouldn’t say gold. Perhaps bronze or silver. This is another relatively entertaining addition to the Phantasm universe and it does try to be something different from its predecessors which I really respect. For one thing, we actually see a larger picture of the the power the Tall Man has over time and space. This is way more of a science fiction film than it is a horror film at this point, even though the horror elements are never too far behind. Phantasm IV pushes the limit of the entire series in terms of storytelling and exposition, which is something that really had to happen at this point. It’s great to see what the Tall Man was versus what he turned into, and there are even some interesting twists along the way that feature all of the regulars of the series. This might be the entry with the most interesting story, if anything.

What this movie does that reminded me more of the first two films is that it sometimes gets a little muddled in showing too much or slowing things down. There’s a chunk that’s not too far into the movie that I can only describe as a lot of walking. When Mike first arrives to Death Valley and begins exploring the different gateways, it does show a lot of really interesting stuff in terms of world building and long awaited character development. It just seems that Coscarelli was determined to show of footstep that Mike takes on his journey. It was just a little bit too drawn out, but honestly, that didn’t bother me all too much. It’s also great to see Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm again, but of course we do get some cringe worthy acting from A. Michael Baldwin and especially Bill Thornbury.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion, along with its predecessors, are reminders of what makes this series so cool. They take the best parts of the first film and build on them to create a believable and cool sci-fi/horror world. There’s a lot of much needed exposition on who the Tall Man is and what his endgame is, and there’s also a deviation from the repetitive nature that the third movie suffered from. This is a worthy entry into the series, but it probably won’t convert anyone if you’ve haven’t had any interest in the series up to this point..

Final Grade: B

It would be 18 years before another Phantasm movie would be released, but after much anticipation, teasing, and idea changing the world finally got the final film in the series. This is Phantasm: Ravager.

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For decades, Reggie has been battling the fury of the Tall Man and the evils he has wrought upon the earth. After Reggie’s most recent encounter with the Tall Man, he finds himself waking up in the care of a nursing home where Mike tells him that he’s suffering from an onset of dementia. The confusion only gets more severe as Reggie begins finding himself both in the care of the nursing home, but also in a future where the world was completely overtaken by the Tall Man and his army of lurkers and sentinels. As Reggie continues to battle the Tall Man and his own mind, the lines of reality begin to blur. Not even this will stop Reggie and Mike from joining forces through time and putting an end to this evil once and for all.

I really hate to say this, but Phantasm: Ravager is the bottom of the barrel in this series. It’s hardly even in the barrel at this point. What’s disappointing is that this movie has a promising start by throwing Reggie right into the action with a really fun scene on a desert highway. After that, the movie just sinks further and further into the mud, and not even the Tall Man’s usual shenanigans can pull it out. This movie tries really hard to be a puzzle movie and mess with the viewer’s mind instead of trying to coherently tell any kind of story. The only problem is that the puzzles they are presenting don’t seem to make any kind of sense and nothing is ever explained enough for me to even begin putting together what the hell is actually going on. What ends up happening is a series of scenes where Reggie and his companions are just running around in different times and places only to have the scene cut away right when things start to get remotely interesting.

It’s clear that this movie doesn’t have too much of a high budget, but this has been proven to not be a detractions from horror movies given the right circumstances. The first Phantasm was put together very well for such a shoe string budget. Ravager, on the other hand, is a complete eye sore that just gets worse as it goes on. There are scenes in the future where the world is taken over by the Tall Man and even on the Tall Man’s red planet that is scene throughout the series. These mark the low points for the series in general The CGI is so bad I actually had to look away for some of the movie rather than subject myself to the computer generated vomit that was filling up my screen. It’s important to work with what you have when you’re making a movie, and these film makers (this entry is no directed by Coscarelli) are obviously in way over their heads.

Phantasm: Ravager is by far the worst entry in the series, which is sad because there is some fun to be had seeing these actors return to these characters so many years later. Unfortunately, the story makes no kind of sense and the movie is damn near unwatchable due to some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen mixed with camera work that is bland and unexciting. This film is a let down for fans of the series, and I really wanted to see some sort of closure to the series, but this is what it’s left with.

Final Grade: D-

Looking back on it, Phantasm IV: Oblivion gets better as I think about it. That one’s really the last good entry in the series before it all just goes down the drain with Phantasm: Ravager. All in all, this series is pretty interesting and definitely unique. While it may not provide the best horror experience, these films do offer a breath of fresh air and has become something of a small icon of the horror genre. If you’re a horror fan, this series is worth checking out.

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Phantasm Series – Review: Part 1

25 Jan

Horror movies have a fair share of memorable boogeymen. In the 1970s and 1980s there was Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees to name a few, but there are also some that have gained more of a cult reputation. One of these boogeymen is the Tall Man from the Phantasm series. I didn’t know much about these movies, but he was a character who always piqued my interest, and I also find it odd that I haven’t given these movies a chance yet, especially considering their cult status and following. I’m always ready to see some new horror movies, so I’m going to watch all 5 in the series and have a two part review on all of them. Let’s see how they are.

In 1979, writer and director Don Coscarelli released the first film in the series.

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Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Michael Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) are two brothers whose parents died a few years prior in a car accident. Michael is practically attached to Jody’s hip at times, which isn’t always convenient when Jody has things he needs to do. After the death of one of Jody’s friends, Michael becomes suspicious of the town’s mortician (Angus Scrimm) and the activities he’s engaging in in the mortuary. Michael begins his investigation and stumbles across very strange things in the mortuary like hooded dwarves that attack him and a flying silver sphere that will attach to your head and drill through your skull. Soon Jody and his friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), join in on the investigation and are quickly sucked into a web of undead minions, hidden planets, and the wrath of the mortician known as the Tall Man.

Say what you will about Phantasm, because either way this is one hell of an original movie. This film came out in 1979, which was an era of slasher films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween were both released and a year later in 1980 we’d be introduced to Friday the 13th. What Phantasm did was focus more on the supernatural and not so much a high body count. The whole thing feels like it could be a tale told around a campfire with the Tall Man being the boogeyman that would keep everyone up that night. Angus Scrimm plays the Tall Man to perfection, and there’s no reason not to see how he became a cult icon in the horror world. There’s also plenty of imagination in terms of the story and the design. This film was made on a super low budget, so the fact that writer/director Don Coscarelli pulled it off is amazing. One scene in particular where the silver sphere is attacking Michael in the mortuary is especially memorable and very well made.

So while Phantasm is a horror film that’s held up very well over the years in terms of its ambition and originality, there is a lot holding this movie back. My first complaint is something you’ll see in a lot of low budget horror movies, and that’s the acting. Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm both do great work, but A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury kind of do that weird overemphasizing thing you see in movies like this. It’s awkward to watch and must have been awkward to perform. Another big issue is the way the film is paced and structured. For a good portion of the movie, it seems like nothing is happening. There is admittedly some good suspense in this build up, but it just takes way too long, and this is a pretty short movie so there really isn’t any time to spare. Finally, there are scenes that are simply uninteresting even though it seems like Coscarelli was definitely trying to make something of them. The one I can think of is a small car chase on a deserted road. It’s a car chase that was boring and I couldn’t get into. That’s a rare thing for me.

All in all, Phantasm should be required viewing for anyone interested in horror films, but it’s not something that is necessary for everyone. There’s plenty of originality and I admire Don Coscarelli and his crew for making the movie they wanted no matter what the cost. There’s some great scenes that will stick with me for quite a long time and Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is one of the great cinematic boogeymen. There’s just some serious pacing issues that drag this movie down from being one of the titans of the genre. It’s still a really cool movie, but can’t be compared to something like the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Final Grade: B-

Almost a decade later, in 1988, Coscarelli followed up his original movie with the higher budgeted Phantasm II.

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After spending years in a psychiatric hospital, Mike (James LeGros) begins having visions of this girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) who is being tormented by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm reprises his role). He talks his way out of the hospital and meets up with his old friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister also returns), who at first doesn’t believe his story of the Tall Man, but quickly comes to realize Mike isn’t so crazy. The two get geared up and hit the road, following a trail of desolate towns wiped out by the Tall Man. Soon, the two meet up with Liz and it becomes clear that the Tall Man needs Mike and Liz together because of their strong telepathic bond that becomes apparent in their dreams. Now the trio must once again face the Tall Man, his army of dwarf minions, and his arsenal of deadly flying spheres.

I didn’t have too high of expectations going into Phantasm II since I just felt like the first film was pretty good. Still, I went in with a fresh mind and wanted to see that maybe a bigger budget would give Coscarelli some more room to go bigger and build on the lore. This just goes to show that a bigger budget does not make a better movie. For a horror sequel, this isn’t a bad film, but it still falls into the same pits that the first film does. The beginning of the movie starts out really strong by picking up right where the first film ended, but as time goes on everything starts to lose its luster. The characters all, once again, fail to really grab me or make me care. The only two that succeed in being interesting characters are the Tall Man, of course, and Reggie. Mike and Liz are both bland and altogether uninteresting, which makes some of the more intense scenes feel like they’re missing something. There’s also some weird pacing issues, yet again, where the movie slows down to a grinding halt at times and we are left with characters engaging in dialogue that often feels hollow.

I’m still having a little bit of a dilemma. I have a hard time not hyping this movie up because there is still a lot of really cool stuff. The special effects in this movie are a huge step up, and some of the scenes involving them are genuinely shocking. There are a couple of new spheres that offer some of the most memorable scenes in the movie and one particular puppet that was really creepy. There’s also a new sense of action in this movie that reminds me a little bit of Evil Dead II. This film has those moments of characters gearing up and customizing their weapons, which serve really well to get the audience hyped up. There are also some attempts at funny tough talk which usually just fails completely. Still, I will say the bigger budget does allow for some great show downs with the Tall Man that was sort of missing from the first film.

Phantasm II is a mixed bag for me. It’s missing the wonder, mystery, and suspense of the first film, but it does amp up the action, intensity, and special effects. For me, a horror movie is more about the mystery and suspense while the special effects and intensity come second. This is still a really imaginative movie that builds on the lore of the original, but it doesn’t have enough characterization going for it to bolster the content still. Phantasm II isn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something.

Final Grade: C+

In 1994, something unfortunate happened to this series. Universal stated that if Don Coscarelli and his crew were attached to the next Phantasm film, they wouldn’t distribute it. Coscarelli said that was fine and went on to make Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, which was released direct to video.

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Picking up right where Phantasm II left off, The Tall Man and his minions are in pursuit of Reggie and Mike (once again played by A. Michael Baldwin). After being seriously injured, Mike is left in a coma and taken by the Tall Man soon after he awakes. Now, Reggie is forced to go head to head with the Tall Man, yet again, but this time he has more help than he’s ever had. His first new partner is a young boy named Tim (Kevin Connors), who has survived in a town desolated by the Tall Man. Reggie and Tim also meet Rocky (Gloria Lynn Henry), a tough as nails biker who lost her best friend to the Tall Man. Finally, Mike’s brother Jody has returned as one of the Tall Man’s spheres that has the ability to take human form for a short period of time. This newly formed gang of heroes each have their reasons to stop the Tall Man once and for all, but will they be strong enough defeat him and his ever growing army of undead minions?

With this being the first direct to video entry in this series, I had very little hope that it was going to do anything for me. Surprisingly, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the one that has entertained me the most so far. Some of the pitfalls that the other two movies fall in are avoided in this third entry. For one thing, Mike isn’t in the movie too much, which is a good thing because I wasn’t a fan of A. Michael Baldwin’s acting in the first film, and it’s pretty much the same in this movie. Another huge plus is that the characters of Tim and Rocky both work great with Reggie and provide a lot of cool scenes and comedic relief that works a lot better than it did in Phantasm II. Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister also do good work here, as they have continued to do throughout the series leading up to this point.

Much like Phantasm II, this movie is heavy on action. Reggies quad-barreled shotgun makes a return while Tim and Rocky bring a lot of over the top action as well. For a movie that was made for direct to video releasing, this is a pretty good looking movie with some impressive stunts and action sequences. Not only do we get cool action, but there’s also a good amount of world building in that we learn more of who the Tall Man is and what he’s doing with the bodies he steals and the towns he destroys. To point out one negative, I will say that the last third of the movie falls into an area that can only be described as redundant. It’s the big showdown inside a mortuary with a twist at the very end. This is Phantasm 101 and it wouldn’t hurt to deviate a little from what’s been done in every movie so far.

In the end, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead doesn’t shake up the formula too much but it does offer a lot of good entertainment and fun additions to the cast of these movies. The characters are memorable and the action is fun. It just would be nice to see these movies go in a different direction in some ways.

Final Grade: B

The first three movies in the Phantasm series can be described as fine. The first and the third have stand out moments that make them memorable, but the second movie just dragged on a bit too much for me. There’s still two more movies to go so keep an eye out for part 2.