HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY PHANTASM!

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MonsterZero NJ wishes a very happy 40th anniversary to one of my all-time favorite horror films and a true horror original… Phantasm! The Don Coscarelli classic was released on March 28th, 1979 and spawned not only a beloved franchise, but added The Tall Man (the late, great Angus Scrimm) to the list of immortal horror icons!

-MonsterZero NJ

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CHARACTER AUTOPSY: REGGIE from the PHANTASM FRANCHISE

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Van Helsing, Dr. Loomis, Ash and…Reggie?

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PHANTASM’S REGGIE: IS A “BALDING, MIDDLE-AGED ICE CREAM MAN ” ONE OF HORROR’S GREATEST HEROES?

When one thinks of horror’s greatest heroes, the names that come to mind are those of Van Helsing, Dr. Loomis and Ash Williams…but what about Reggie? You may not think a “balding, middle-aged ice cream man”…as Mike so gently put it in Phantasm II…could be one of horror films’ greatest heroes, but let’s take a look at the man and the Phantasm films and see how this supporting character took center stage and became the true focus…and hero…of this legendary franchise!

CAUTION: There are major spoilers to the Phantasm films needed to discuss Reggie in detail. If you haven’t seen all the chapters of this franchise, you have been warned!

He does have a cool ride!

The character of Reggie (Reggie Bannister) started out in the original Phantasm as a supporting character, a close friend of Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Mike’s (A. Michael Baldwin) who gets drawn into their otherworldly adventures at the Morningside Cemetery due to his biggest and best quality…his loyalty. Reggie heard tales of grave robbing, killer dwarves and the supernatural Tall Man (the late, great Angus Scrimm) and still followed his friends through the gates of hell themselves to get their backs. Even after the destruction of his beloved ice cream truck, Reggie wades into battle with the fiendish Tall Man and it even cost him his life at the hands of the mysterious and sexy Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester). But that wasn’t the end for Reggie. Phantasm’s epilogue revealed Reggie was alive and this may all have been in Mike’s head, a way of dealing with the death of older brother Jody in a car wreck. Now it’s just Mike and Reggie left to deal with The Tall Man who the last scene reveals may not be a figment of Mike’s grieving imagination after all!

He’s got balls!

Phantasm II starts off right where the first film ends with Reggie and Mike narrowly escaping The Tall Man. Mike is institutionalized, while Reggie has convinced himself it never happened. The story then jumps to years later with an adult Mike (James LeGros) being released and vowing to hunt down and destroy The Tall Man once and for all. Loyal friend and comrade-in-arms Reggie goes with him and tracks the villain to Perigord, another in a series of towns the otherworldly fiend is decimating. Here we see Reggie transform into a four-barreled shotgun wielding warrior who charges into battle alongside Mike, guns and chainsaws blazing. No longer is he the timid and cautious ice cream man of the first film. Here he is a soldier against the forces of evil and Mike’s equal. We also get to see a bit of Reggie the ladies man as he puts the moves on sexy hitchhiker Alchemy (Samantha Phillips). Reggie is no longer a supporting character, but a lead character and an ass-kicker!..though still providing some welcome comic relief as he is still Reggie after all.

He gets the ladies!

Phantasm III found Reggie as the main character with Mike (A. Michael Baldwin returning to the role) being taken by The Tall Man and the loyal Reggie loading up the Hemi-Cuda in hot pursuit. Reggie battles zombies, looters and those pesky silver spheres to rescue his lifelong friend. He picks up a few allies in Rocky and Tim (Gloria Lynne Henry and Kevin Connors) and even finds time to put the moves on Rocky when not battling The Tall Man and his minions. If anyone is becoming a thorn in The Tall Man’s side, it’s Reggie. Things look bad for Reggie at the climax, but this is one ice cream man you shouldn’t underestimate.

He rocks!

The fourth film, Phantasm IV: Oblivion, again finds Reggie again in pursuit of Mike. This time Mike is fleeing of his own accord as The Tall Man is trying to turn him into one of his minions. Reggie once again is in hot pursuit in his Hemi Cuda and this installment shows that the Tall Man is quite aware of Reggie as a threat to his plans, as he sends minions to stop him. Reggie must contend with such threats as a zombie state trooper (Bubba Ho-tep himself, Bob Ivy), a foxy blonde (Heidi Marnhout) who is not quite what she seems and even possibly the spirit of dead friend Jody, who might now be under the Tall Man’s control. The fact that the Tall Man feels the need to stop the loyal Reggie from finding his prey first, proves Reggie has gone from the timid ice cream man of the first film to a warrior that gives the alien mortician cause to be concerned. 

He’s not afraid to look death in the eye!

Phantasm: Ravager has apparently brought the series to a close, as Angus Scrimm is sadly no longer with us, but also nails the concept that Reggie, not Mike, has become the main character. Not only is Reggie once more hunting for the elusive Mike, but there is a subplot that features Reggie as an old man in an institution suffering from dementia. He is visited by Mike who tells him the whole saga of The Tall Man and his flying spheres are just a delusion and all the years of battling the fiend are in his head. As this series is known for it’s surreal narrative, we’re never quite sure if this is true, or one of The Tall Man’s mind games that he has played for years. The film even features Reggie coming face to face with The Tall Man and being offered a truce…if this isn’t recognizing Reggie as a true threat, than what is? The final chapter leaves us with a very apocalyptic end showing Jody, Reggie, Mike and even Rocky reunited to continue battling The Tall Man, even with his appears to have finally taken over the Earth. It’s a fitting end as no film in the Phantasm series ever let one “rest in peace” with an all conclusive finish and shows Reggie willing to fight until the end.

He’s possibly the only human that keeps The Tall Man up at night!

So, there you have it. A character that started out as a humble ice cream man and supporting character, took center stage and grew from timid comic relief to an ass-kicking freedom fighter who gave even The Tall Man cause to beware. He is a fighter…though sometimes a bumbling one…and a lover, as in each film, no matter the peril, Reggie takes time to pursue the ladies…with mixed results. He is a loyal friend to Mike and his brother Jody and it is his loyalty that makes him so lovable as his tenacity makes him admirable. As the series comes to a close, it is Reggie’s journey that we have really been watching and it has been a journey from guitar-playing, ice cream man to gun-toting soldier in the fight against evil. A true hero if there ever was one.

The man behind the character…Reggie Bannister is a talented actor and legendary horror icon who should rightfully take his place along with Peter Cushing’s Abraham Van Helsing and Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams as one of horror’s greatest heroes!

-MonsterZero NJ

You can take a look at our reviews of each installment of this legendary franchise by clicking on the respective title: Phantasm Phantasm IIPhantasm III, Phantasm IV: Oblivion and Phantasm: Ravager!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHANTASM!

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MonsterZero NJ wishes  a very happy (belated) 38th birthday to one of my all-time favorite horror films and a true horror original… Phantasm! The Don Coscarelli classic was released on March 28th, 1979 and spawned not only a beloved franchise, but added The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) to the list of immortal horror icons!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PHANTASM RAVAGER (2016)

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PHANTASM RAVAGER (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Phantasm is a unique horror classic that has never really been equaled and not only spawned one of the most original franchises in horror, but gave us the iconic Tall Man (the late, great Angus Scrimm), the equally iconic knife-edged flying spheres and a monster fighting ice cream man (Reggie Bannister) who is a horror icon as well. Now after 37 years, creator Don Coscarelli is bringing his series to an end with this climactic installment. The story finds Reggie (Bannister) still searching for Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) while being hunted by the Tall Man (Scrimm) and being haunted by dreams that this is all been a product of his own old age dementia. Real or imagined, Reggie unites with allies old and new to take on the Tall Man one last time, as the world itself has fallen into his grasp.

Ravager is the first film Coscarelli has handed over to another director, his co-writer David Hartman who does do a good job trying to recreate the Phantasm feeling, though it’s not quite on the nose as if Coscarelli had done it himself. Still, the duo deliver one of the best entries of the series to say goodbye to this beloved horror franchise, even if there ae a few speed bumps on Reggie’s road to reunite with Mike and send the Tall Man packing one last time. Getting the minor gripes out of the way first…the main one being the limited screen time for Scrimm in his final performance as the alien undertaker. The actor was in his late 80s at the time this was filmed and possibly wasn’t up to a lengthy shoot, either way we do wish there was more of him as he plays the role for the last time before his death earlier this year. There is also Dawn Cody’s Dawn/Jane. The actress first appears as Dawn, a woman Reggie picks up when her car breaks down and she seems like she is going to be important. She leaves the film only a few scenes later and then is re-introduced as freedom fighter Jane about twenty minutes after that. She claims to not know Reggie who certainly recognizes her. Is she the same character? Is she a completely different person? Even Jane never really adds up to be someone crucial, so what was the point other than the traditional Reggie pick-up scene? It’s a shame as she was likable in both parts.

All that is minor as there is still so much to enjoy in this farewell chapter. When Scrimm does appear he is as menacing as ever. It’s a delight to see him as this legendary horror icon one last time. The spheres are back and see a lot of bloody action including newer and much larger ones in the desolated Earth sequences that have an amusing Mad Max vibe, which is new to the series. The narrative is less traditional and follows the dream within a dream structure most of the series followed and despite a very low budget, the FX and action work well enough for us to enjoy, even if not up to Hollywood standards, which was never Coscarelli’s style anyway. The sequences of old Reggie in a retirement home being visited by Mike worked really well and add to the notion that maybe this was all imagined from the start…or was it? There are some really fun sequences that take place in the Tall Man’s dimension, too and some really great cameos from series characters that haven’t been seen in a while, like Kathy Lester’s Lady In Lavendar from the classic original. The film has a moderate pace which works with the surreal nature and there is an atmospheric score by Christopher L. Stone that works in the original theme from Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave and is effective on it’s own.

I really enjoyed this send-off to one of my favorite horror franchises. The original cast returned to their roles without missing a beat and it was bittersweet to see Scrimm one last time as one of horror’s greatest icons. There were a few hiccups and director Hartman had his own style which gave the film a slightly different flavor, but overall he did a good job especially when things crank up in the second half. There were some amusing cameos and all the elements one expects from a Phantasm movie, like spheres, dwarves and gun-slinging ice cream men, are there for fans to enjoy. Watch through the credits as there is a great mid-credits cameo that really adds to the film’s “the gangs all here” approach. A fun finale that ends the series with dignity and nostalgia.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 silver spheres.
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

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THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Lost Empire is a fun B-movie exploitation flick from writer/director Jim Wynorski (The Return Of Swamp Thing, Chopping Mall), who made a career churning out comic book-style cheese like this. In his first film, Wynorski spins a James Bond-esque yarn with hot girls and evil bad guys, with some supernatural elements as well. An attempted robbery in a Chinatown antique store brings hot inspector Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz) on the case. As her policeman brother Rob (Phantasm’s Bill Thornbury) was mortally wounded during the incident, this one is personal. The trail leads to the mysterious and powerful jewels, The Eyes Of Avatar and to the island fortress of Golgatha where cult leader Sin Do (the legendary Angus Scrimm) is building an army. Wolfe needs to infiltrate the island and find out why Sin Do wants the Eyes Of Avatar so badly. She brings Native America warrior Whitestar (Raven De La Croix) and ex-con Heather McClure (Angela Aames) along with her, to even up the odds. Once there, the three women must somehow stop the mystical Sin Do’s diabolical plan and get off his island fortress alive.

Obviously, this flick is not to be taken seriously for one minute and Wynorski knows this and flaunts it. He has a fun time with his 007 style plot with it’s island fortress and megalomaniacal villain and instead of a dapper British agent, throws in three gorgeous stripper types instead. He fills the island with beautiful women and evil henchman…all seemingly played by movie bad guy Robert Tessier…and gives us a delightfully over the top villain from Scrimm. The sets are 70s TV show cheesy, as are Ernest D. Farino’s SPFX and Steve Neil’s make-up, but it’s all in good fun, so who cares? The acting by our three babes is fairly wooden, but they give it their all and the delivery of the cheesy dialogue…Raven De La Croix’s constant Native American puns are hysterically awful…makes one giggle in spite of one’s self. Wynorski takes any opportunity to show some skin from some of our female players, but evens things up by having his hotties kick some bad guy ass as often as they shed their clothes. It’s all in exploitation movie fun and and even comes wrapped in a very 80s electronic score by frequent John Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth. It’s a B-movie good time and a good example of exploitation cinema at it’s most fun.

This is an entertaining, goofy B-movie that makes no apologies for it and revels in it. It has a silly sci-fi/spy movie plot that is a flimsy excuse to get it’s three beautiful leading ladies into flimsier outfits and less. It’s got low budget action, cheesy SPFX , over-the-top villains and a horde of hardbody hotties and just simply has a lot of fun with it all. Very 80s and sadly the type of movie they don’t make anymore.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Actor Blackie Dammett who stars as the evil Prager is the father of Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 butt kicking, clothes shedding hotties.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 silver spheres

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PHANTASM II and PHANTASM III

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Having just re-watched Phantasm, which is one of my all time favorite horror flicks, and with all the recent news of the newest installment Phantasm V: Ravager, I thought I’d focus this week’s Saturday Night Double feature on the first two bizarre and fun sequels in the Phantasm franchise…
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PHANTASM II  (1988)

It took almost 10 years for writer/director Don Coscarelli to finally return to his Phantasm series, but backed by Universal Studios and a much larger budget, the Tall Man and his army of fiendish dwarves finally returned in 1988. The second film picks up exactly where the first film left off with Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) under siege by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his minions and barely escaping with their lives. We then cut to years later where Mike (James LeGros) is now full grown and institutionalized from the events involving the otherworldly mortician and about to be released back into society. But in the interim, the diabolical Tall Man has been busy ravaging towns and emptying their graveyards for use in creating his army of dwarves to be sent back to his home planet. Upon release, Mike convinces Reggie to join him on a quest to track down and destroy the alien undertaker once and for all. Aided by a young woman named Liz (Paula Irvine) with whom Mike shares a psychic bond, Reggie and Mike track the Tall Man to the decimated town of Perigord, Oregon where the villain has set up his sinister shop and our heroes enter his cemetery domain armed and ready to send the fiend back to the hell he came from… but the Tall Man is ready and waiting!

Sequel is more of a straight horror film as opposed to the surreal and dream-like quality of the original. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of weirdness, cause there is. A lot of the familiar and spooky trappings are back such as the funeral home setting, the fearsome dwarves, the murderous silver spheres…which exhibit a few new tricks…and of course, the Tall Man himself. We also get some very gruesome moments and an increase in gore and creature effects due to a budget about ten times that of the original. Coscarelli takes us a little deeper into the Tall Man’s sinister activities and we get a larger array of characters such as Liz, her grandparents (Ruth C. Engel and Rubin Kushner), a beautiful hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) and a priest (Kenneth Tigar) who learns the hard way that there are evils from places other then Hell. It obviously is not a classic like the original, but it is a fun and sometimes spooky horror flick and it certainly is a good time watching the characters back in action even though this is the only installment where Mike is played by an actor other then Baldwin. I will admit I miss the more surreal tone of the original, but there is a lot more action and it is bigger and Coscarelli gets to expand his visual style with his bigger budget. There is also more of a sense of fun with the proceedings here, especially with everyone’s favorite dwarf killing ice cream man providing some comic relief and Bannister slips back into the role of Reggie with ease as does Scrimm with the iconic and evil Tall Man. The rest of the cast are all fine with LeGros being a solid hero and Irvine making a feisty and resourceful heroine though, I will admit I was glad to see Baldwin back in part 3. It didn’t feel quite right without him.

Overall Phantasm II is a good time and a sequel that holds well to the original it follows, though far from equaling it. It gives us all of the familiar trappings to make it a Phantasm movie, but opens things up a bit and gives us some new elements to add to the formula. And in addition to the atmosphere Coscarelli provides, we are treated to the added resonance of the classic theme from Fred Myrow with additional music by Christopher L. Stone. Not a classic, but an entertaining follow-up that wasn’t received all that well back in 1988, but has earned a well deserved cult following since. A fun sequel.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 silver spheres.

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PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994)

Despite not being the hit that was hoped for, Phantasm II must have made enough money between box office and home video and rental for Universal to give the series another shot and 6 years later Coscarelli and his Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) were back for a second sequel, though this one was released directly onto video. The film tried to re-establish the surreal dream-like quality of the first film to a degree with more otherworldly sequences, but there was also a bit lighter tone and some sequences that had a borderline goofy quality to them. The film also brings Jody (Bill Thornbury) back in spirit form to the series and, of course, features a muscle car which, this time, is Reggie’s restored 1970 Hemi-Cuda. Part III picks up where Part II left off with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (a returning A. Michael Baldwin) barely escaping the Tall Man’s clutches once again, though Liz is killed by one of his minions. The injured Mike recovers in a hospital, but he is attacked by another of the Tall Man’s zombies and despite Reggie’s efforts to protect him, he is soon taken by the Tall Man for some unforeseen purpose. Reggie goes off in pursuit following the trail of decimated towns and soon meets up with an assortment of oddball characters including a trio of colorful looters and new allies Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) and Tim (Kevin Connors). But, even with his new friends can Reggie rescue Mike and finally vanquish the Tall Man, who knows he’s coming and is waiting in the shadows?!

While I was initially taken back by the loopier elements of Phantasm III when I first saw it and the lighter tone, as the film spends a lot of time with Reggie who has always provided some humor in the franchise, I’ve grown to like this entry over time. Coscarelli really makes an effort to return some of surreal dream/nightmare qualities to the series, especially with Jody taking us into other realms where he now resides. We get a little deeper into the Tall Man’s methods and finally learn what is inside one of those iconic silver spheres and what drives them. The film has a smaller budget, but Don Coscarelli seems at home with low budget film making and gives us some very cool visual sequences with his more meager resources and the FX people deliver the gooey goods as we’ve come to expect in a Phantasm film. There are some more eccentric characters added, like the trio of cartoon-ish looters who ride around in a pink hearse and, of course, Rocky and Tim, who, as a tough martial arts weapon-wielding black woman and a gun-toting sheriff’s son respectively, very closely resemble the popular Carl and Michonne characters from The Walking Dead comic and show years later… hmmmm, makes you wonder if Robert Kirkman is a Phantasm fan. While some of the acting with the supporting players is iffy, the principles all wear their now classic roles well and Scrimm continues to creep us out, despite the familiarity with his character. His Tall Man never became a neutered anti-hero like Jason and Freddy did as their respective series wore on. The spheres are obviously back, as are the dwarves and some zombies too. It also goes without saying there is plenty of time spent in creepy mortuaries and graveyards. Pretty much everything you’d expect from a Phantasm film and a few new twists too.

Overall, this second sequel is far from an equal when compared to the classic first film, but it is a lot of fun, gives us what we expect from one of these flicks and freshens things up a bit with some lively new characters and a bit more audacious tone. Much like the last one, it is a true Phantasm sequel yet, has it’s own personality and style like the last one differs from the original. An entertaining entry and as the Tall Man says “It’s never really over” and there would be a Phantasm IV: Oblivion a few years later. But that is for another time… BOY!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 silver Spheres.

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MonsterZero NJ character comparison:

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Tim and Rocky

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Carl and Michonne

Phantasm III’s Tim and Rocky who strongly resemble The Walking Dead’s Carl and Michonne characters, who would come years later!

-MonsterZero NJ

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