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