Phantasm: 5 Movie Collection review by Bobby Blakey
While known for their releases of awesome Asian cinema, Well Go USA often brings the horror as well, but rarely do they take on something as iconic as Don Coscarelli’s 1979 cult classic Phantasm. Recently the original film got a new remastered release along with the latest chapter in the series Phantasm: Ravager. Now they are bringing the entire 5 movie series together in one DVD collection.
Phantasm follows Mike, a young teenage boy who has just lost his parents. Afraid to lose his brother he follows him to a funeral, where Mike witnesses the Tall Man lifting a coffin on his own. Mike decides to investigate, and discovers that the Tall Man, protected by his flying spheres, is shrinking dead bodies down to half their normal size and reanimating them as slaves. It is then up to Mike, his brother, and Reggie the ice cream man to stop the Tall man. The film stars A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, and Angus Scrimm in the role that made him a horror icon. This is a really bizarre film that teeters on the edge between horror and sci-fi without ever really committing to either. I was never huge fan of the series as a whole and hadn’t actually watched this original in years, but can say that I had fun with it this time around. The over the top cheesiness and just utter strange nature of it all makes it a charming cult flick. I have always loved Angus Scrimm from the moment he freaked me out as the Tall Man when I was younger and seeing him now it doesn’t waver in the least. There is just something about him and his portrayal that makes this movie come together overall.
In Phantasm II, Mike is released from psychiatry, when he agrees with the doctors that the terrible happenings in his past were just in his imagination. But once he's free, he contacts Redge and they team up to hunt down and eliminate the "Tall Man", who plunders the graveyards and steals the corpses with help of his terrible dwarfs. A beautiful strange girl starts to appear in Mike's dreams. He assumes she's in danger and needs their help - will they find her before the Tall Man can do her any harm? This follow up is cheesy fun for what it is, but for me never fully captures the true fun of the original. Part of the issue was the recasting of Mike, this time with James Le Gros in the role. He is a great actor and overall a much better actor, but just felt out of place after seeing A. Michael Baldwin in the role. This might be the weakest for me, but I’m not sure why as they are all pretty cheesy fun.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead follows Reggie and Mike who continue their hunt for the mysterious figure and in his path of destruction encounter a variety of dangerous situations, friends and enemies. They also must contend with the resurrected dead plus a growing number of the infamous and deadly silver spheres which aid the Tall Man as he sets his sights on indoctrinating Mike and finishing the fight begun so many years ago. This time around Baldwin is not only back in the role of Mike, but the story seems to be ridiculously on track for an over the top silly ride of fun. I had a blast with this chapter for all its silly fun and gore. There is no shortage of insanity and it just felt like it got things back on track to the original film on some level complete with actress Gloria Lynne Henry taking on the famed spheres with a pair of nunchaku.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion picks up immediately where the last one ended, in this episode Mike travels across dimensions and time fleeing from the Tall Man, at the same time he tries to find the origins of his enemy, and what really happened the night that his brother died. Meanwhile, Reggie (accompanied by a beauty he picked up on the road) battles the spheres and the undead in a quest to find Mike before the Tall Man can complete his transformation. This one was all over the place for the entire run of the film. It partially captures the cheesy fun of the previous entry, but then randomly loses its footing trying to do too much. There is no denying that Coscarelli has his own unique vision for the series and did just that which I applaud, but wish they had done something a little different this late into the series.
The final and most recent chapter in the franchise Phantasm: Ravager follows Reggie who is wandering through the desert seeking out his friend Mike and the evil The Tall Man. Along his journey, he is hunted down by the dangerous spheres and stumbles upon the gorgeous Dawn. Out of the blue, he finds himself in an institution with Mike explaining that he has dementia and then in another dimension. Where is Mike? All of the original cast return including A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kat Lester and horror icon Angus Scrimm in his final portrayal of the Tall Man. This is the first entry into the franchise that does not have Coscarelli in the director’s chair and instead this time around is David Hartman with Coscarelli serving as writer and producer. Going into a Phantasm film you know what you are in for so you will either love it or hate it. This latest entry is a bit disjointed and all over the place but at the same time kind of works in a strange way. Much like the original film it never really figures out what it wants to be between sci-fi and horror, but somehow makes it work. I read somewhere that the film was originally meant to be a web series and then the footage was expanded to make this entry. This would explain the way it bounces around so much along with the archived footage from the other films.
There is nothing that really stands out for this last entry except that they clearly tried to do something bigger to really expand the legacy of the Tall Man. While it doesn’t always work seeing all of these original actors back together and their varying ages for the sequences it did make for an interesting direction for the final film. Being someone who was never fully invested outside of Scrimm himself I still found it to be fun, but those that love the franchise will no doubt love seeing everyone back together after 18 years.
In the end this was never a franchise that broke down the walls of the horror genre, but there is no doubt that Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is a horror icon along with the famed chrome spheres. This is a great collection for anyone that is a lover the franchise and will no doubt be a must have for a lot of horror fans.