PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)
Don Coscarelli returned to the Phantasm series again 4 years after the somewhat lighter Phantasm III and returning with it was a far more serious tone and the most surreal of the franchise since the first. But gone was a healthy budget and the writer/director now had to work with funds of only about twice that of the original film’s and in the more expensive economy of 20 years later. But Coscarelli has always accomplished a lot with little and he turns the fourth installment into a road movie with a lot of it taking place in the open desert of, appropriately, Death Valley as Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) takes to the highway to flee the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his attempts to transform him into a new version of himself to take up his diabolical deeds. Of course valiant and loyal friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is armed and in hot pursuit in his Hemi Cuda as Mike travels into the desert to escape his fate and his spectral brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) is following too, but which side he is on becomes questionable. Will Mike escape his horrible fate or become the new Tall Man?
This is, in many ways, the weakest of the four films so far. There is a lot less action, a lot less characters and minimal appearances from the elements we like best such as creepy mausoleums, the dwarves and the silver spheres. But as a fan of this series I cut this entry some slack due to what Don Coscarelli gives us in return. The film is very surreal and even includes an element of time travel. He fills the film with flashbacks and that is a plus, as many of them are scenes cut from the original film and now utilized to show us story elements we hadn’t seen before…and obviously, we get to see more footage from that timeless classic. He also reveals the origin of the Tall Man as humble Civil War era undertaker Jebediah Morningside who tries to find a way to fight death and invents the portal which sent him to another world and transformed him into the fiend he is now. The added element of Mike’s transformation giving him powers similar to the Tall Man, also adds an intriguing addition to the flick and the Phantasm mythos, too. The film has a lot of spooky atmosphere and the minimal FX work well enough. The cast all slip into their familiar roles well, once more and I liked that Coscarelli dared to give a beloved character like Jody a questionable agenda making him suspicious as to his real allegiance. Is he loving brother and spirit guardian or another agent of the Tall Man… you’ll have to see it to find out.
In conclusion, I like Phantasm IV: Oblivion. It is, in ways, the lesser of the four, but in other ways, offers us glimpses of the past that we’ve never seen before and takes further into the history and dealings of the Tall Man then we have seen so far. It offers changes and possible revelations about beloved characters and points the series in an even more bizarre direction. Despite the small budget, there is still plenty of surreal weirdness and atmosphere and it succeeds in being a Phantasm film despite not having the benefit of the more lavish budget of the previous two films. And as a fan of this series, I am willing to give it a break for those limitations due to the inventiveness with which those limitations are overcome. Also stars stuntman Bob Ivy as a Tall Man creature in state trooper guise…Ivy would go on to play Bubba Ho-Tep himself…and cutie Heidi Marnhout as the traditional Reggie pursuit gone awry. Marnhout also appeared in Bubba Ho-Tep as the girl who gives Elvis “a bird’s eye view of her love nest.” A fifth Phantasm is on it’s way and indications are, it may be the final one.
3 silver spheres