FURTHER EXHUMED-THE STRANGE CASE OF PHANTASM RAVAGER by DUSTIN McNEILL
Sequel book to Phantasm Exhumed tells the indeed strange tale of how Phantasm: Ravager first started out as a Reggie (Reggie Bannister) centric web series that grew over a course of eight years into the final chapter(?) of the Phantasm film series. It’s an interesting book, although at times it does feel like there is some filler in getting this chronicle to it’s 160+ page length. The first quarter of the book is a repeat of material from Phantasm Exhumed concerning Phantasm: Ravager and then we finally get the start of the story of how Don Coscarelli and new series director David Hartman, began what started as a web series in 2008. Then it details how the footage for the intended Reggie’s Tales was integrated into and became part of the story for Phantasm: Ravager. A film that would take another eight years till release. We get details of the release and reception and then McNeill goes into a lengthy analysis of the film itself. It is here that the material feels mostly like filler, as it is basically the author trying to give a lengthy counterpoint to those negatively criticizing the film. It is still an interesting book, but one that struggles hard to be feature book length, ironically, much like Phantasm: Ravager itself being pieced together from an episodic web series. Still worth having if you are a “Phan.”
Book is a fun and informative love letter to one of the most beloved horror franchises of all time, Phantasm! It traces Don Coscarelli’s entry into filmmaking with his first features, before beginning a look back at the making of the original, classic Phantasm film, with a host of stories, anecdotes and pictures from many of the cast and crew. McNeill then discusses the erratic and sometimes lengthy periods of time between each sequel and the making of those sequel themselves. It’s a fascinating look at low budget filmmaking and big studio interference, such as the replacing of series regular A. Michael Baldwin with James LeGros in Phantasm II. There are even shared entries from the personal journal of The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm! The author ends his tale right as the rumblings began for the fifth and final (?) entry Phantasm: Ravager…but that is another story and book! Overall, it’s an entertaining and in-depth look at the making of this legendary film series and of the passion of it’s creator in getting his movies made. A must have for fans…or should I say Phans!
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!
Indie comedy/drama finds nerdy college virgin Brian Kieslowski (Ryan Malgarini) going to a party one night and meeting adorable and opinionated also virgin Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson). After some awkward drunken moments, Brian and the young woman hook up. Weeks later Leslie finds out she is pregnant and with twins and wants to keep them, as she is Christian. When confronted with this news Brian, who is currently dealing with his mother’s (Melora Walters) terminal cancer, tries to appear supportive, but is actually quite terrified and the turmoil begins as they travel to tell both sets of parents.
Film is well directed by Kerem Sanga from his own script and is probably more realistic about how things would go in this scenario, especially with today’s self-absorbed generation of youth. It’s aggravating to watch Brian constantly lie about his support of Leslie’s decision to keep her babies and even more infuriating to watch him let his selfishness and fear govern how he treats her and the situation. You sit there waiting for him to man-up and take responsibility for his part in her pregnancy, but all he does is lie to her face and run from his responsibilities. In the meantime we feel terrible for poor Leslie whose own rich, self-absorbed author father (James LeGros) wants her to have an abortion, or he will cut off her college funding and money to live. Brian outwardly pretends to side with Leslie, but secretly hopes her father convinces her otherwise. It’s actually heartbreaking to watch so many other people trying to decide what’s right for the young woman without taking her feelings or opinion into consideration. The only ally she really has is Brian’s terminally ill mother. It’s a lot of drama for a film that sometimes quite awkwardly, tries to interject humor into it’s scenario, which doesn’t always work and occasionally makes one uncomfortable as this would be a serious situation in real-life. If the film has any major flaw, it’s the humor doesn’t always mix well with the subject and one would like to think writer/director Sanga isn’t trying to make light of a young woman in such a predicament and wanting to make her own choice. Perhaps there is a thinly veiled statement here as the male characters favor abortion, while the women favor keeping the babies. Echos of our own country where male politicians seem to feel they can speak for women’s right’s…without the woman’s point of view being considered. Hard to believe that this was unintentional as we watch Brian secretly hope Leslie doesn’t go through with having what are his children, too…another point he seems to miss. One other gripe is that at no point do any of the characters mention the option of adoption. It’s either abortion or nothing on the side of those opposed to her keeping her babies and it was infuriating that at no point does anyone suggest a possible compromise of giving the children up for adoption. You’d think at least Brian’s mom would have suggested it, being one of the only people who cared about how Leslie felt. Was this not touched upon for dramatic purposes? Only writer Sanga knows for sure.
The director does have a very good cast even if we want to punch his lead character sometimes. Ryan Malgarini does convey well the terror and selfishness of an already somewhat immature young man who now has to grow up and do the right thing. It makes one angry to see how little consideration Brian gives to Leslie’s feelings and how selfishly he runs from being there to support her and being a man and taking responsibility. It’s a good stretch of the film where Brian becomes unlikable for his lack of maturity and how he hurts Leslie and in that, the actor plays the part very well. We are actually proud of Brian when he finally grows up and steps up and Malgarini makes that work even though we wanted to throttle Brian for the last hour. As Leslie, Hayley Lu Richardson (The Last Survivors, Split, Edge of Seventeen) once again proves she is a star in the making. Her Leslie is a fiery, opinionated young woman and seems to have a good heart and a pretty good head on her shoulders, even if she can be impulsive. Despite her strength and resolve, she still generates a lot of sympathy when the person she should most trust in, Brian, doesn’t support her and outwardly betrays her. That and having her own father try to force her to make a decision she feels isn’t right, is heartbreaking and Richardson has us by the heartstrings without taking her character into over-the-top melodrama. She has a strong screen presence and once again shows her versatility in yet another type of film. The girl has talent. James LeGros is an underrated actor and once again gives a strong performance as the self-absorbed Walter Mallard. He wants his daughter to do what HE thinks is right, ignoring her opinion and the fact that he was a young dad and his life and daughter turned out alright. He doesn’t even consider letting her make her own decision and being supportive and respectful of that. Legros, as with Malgarini, is a good enough actor to make us smile when Walter changes his mind. There is also good work from Joshua Malina as Brian’s father Robert, who is not ready to become a grandfather yet, and a wonderful supporting performance by Melora Walters as Brian’s terminally ill mother who becomes Leslie’s only true supporter and whose only concern is to see her grandchildren before she leaves this world.
I liked this movie. It stirred up some emotions and dealt with the difficult situation of pregnancy at a young age and the resulting turmoil, probably more honestly than one wants to admit. It boldly allowed it’s lead character to behave in a irresponsible and sometimes borderline cold manner and really makes us wait for him to do the right thing. Director/writer Kerem Sanga gets some really strong work from his cast and quite possibly was making a statement about men arrogantly making decisions about a woman’s right to choose. If the film has any flaws, it’s that sometimes the attempts at humor don’t fit the situation and we would like to think Sanga wasn’t making light of a serious subject, just choosing awkward moments to lighten the tone. If you like indie flicks, this is worth checking out.
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!
Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention but, sadly, never returned to these type of flicks or whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…
PAULA IRVINE as LIZ REYNOLDS in PHANTASM II (1988)!
In the 80s, we got a lot of sequels and horror franchises were popular, so, Universal decided to give it a try with reviving the Phantasm series. Thus, almost ten years after his classic Phantasm, Don Coscarelli returned to his creation with Phantasm II! In it, Michael (now James LeGros) has a psychic link with a pretty young woman named Liz, as played by cutie Paula Irvine. As Mike and the ever-faithful Reggie (Reggie Bannister), are fated to take on the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) once more, girl-next-door Liz proves quite a feisty and resourceful heroine as she escapes death at the sinister fiend’s hands more than once…and has our attention the entire time!
Irvine had only started acting a year earlier in a few TV movies before being cast as Liz in Phantasm II. It was her only horror role after an appearance in the Bates Motel TV movie and Irvine only acted for about six more years doing various TV series before leaving acting in 1994. She is a perfect example of a Cult Classic Cutie as the adorable actress starred in this one horror classic sequel and then disappeared from the genre and then acting altogether, a few years later. The still gorgeous actress speaks fondly of the role, though, and can be heard doing so on Scream Factory’s blu-ray special edition in the bonus features.
Irvine may have abandoned the horror genre after battling the Tall Man in Phantasm II, but, after all, that’s a tough act to follow. She did make an impression on horror fans with her long 80s blonde hair, piercing eyes and feisty determination to not wind up another victim of one of horrors most legendary icons…and for that she fully earns her title as a Cult Classic Cutie.
Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!
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…
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 than 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 than 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. 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.
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 filmmaking 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!