BARE BONES BOOK REVIEW: FURTHER EXHUMED-THE STRANGE CASE OF PHANTASM RAVAGER by DUSTIN McNEILL

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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.”

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES BOOK REVIEW: PHANTASM EXHUMED by DUSTIN McNEILL

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PHANTASM EXHUMED by DUSTIN McNEILL

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

three and one half stars rating

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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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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: PAULA IRVINE as LIZ in PHANTASM II!

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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…

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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.

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(click on the poster for a full review)

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Irvine may have abandoned the horror genre after battling the Tall Man in Phantasm IIbut, 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!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: KENNY AND CO. (1976)

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KENNY AND CO. (1976)

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At this point you know I am a fan of Don Coscarelli and his Phantasm is one of my all-time favorite horror flicks. And as a fan, I am almost ashamed that it has taken me this long to catch up with his first film, the 1976 Kenny And Co. It is also very amusing that the man who brought us the classic Phantasm horror series, the cult classics Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep and the delightfully weird book adaptation John Dies At The End was responsible for a PG rated kids movie as his first film... but, it is a very down to earth and sometimes brutally honest kids movie, as Kenny (Dan McCann) and his friends Doug (Phantasm‘s A. Michael Baldwin) and Sherman (Jeff Roth) face issues such as bullying, death and the start of finding girls to be…well, girls. While the film was not overly exciting or funny, I did find it very nostalgic and it did strike a chord, as I was the same age as hero Kenny in 1976 and can certainly identify with what it was like to come of age in that era.

The film takes place over a four day period centering around Halloween which Kenny and Doug are very excited for. There really is not much of a plot as it almost a character study of life for a typical tween at this time and centers on the things that make up or shake up their world. Kenny deals with issues that the average kid at his age deals with, such as the concept of death, when facing the passing of the family dog, the first tug of the heartstrings, when he starts to like a girl (Terrie Kalbus) in class, making as much mischief as possible and dealing with the large and mean neighborhood bully, Johnny (Willy Masterson). Just a slice of the life of a 12 year old kid in Southern California. Plain and simple.

For those expecting the over the top characters and adventures of a film like The Goonies, or the heavy helpings of sentimentality like Stand By Me, will be very disappointed. Instead Coscarelli’s small film simply presents a look at an average kid’s life over the course of a few days. There is some fun to be had as Kenny and Doug are typical mischievous boys and there is the showdown with bully Johnny Hoffman, but other then that, Kenny comes from an average family and lives a fairly normal life of school, skateboarding and sneaking peaks at dad’s nudie magazines. And that is what makes it endearing. This is no Hollywood, Spielbergized view of kids who meet aliens, thwart crooks and find buried treasure. These kids build go-carts, shoot pellet guns and play pranks and deal with problems that are only important to a 12 year old. Of course this does mean the film is a bit slow paced and to a degree uneventful, but it a far more realistic view of the life of kids at that time, than any of the before mentioned Hollywood blockbusters. Coscarelli and his script approaches subjects head on as Kenny tries to deal with his first real experience with death and of budding sexuality as he and his buds start to notice girls as more then classmates, but never gets too mired in them or overly melodramatic. As with real kids, Kenny copes quickly and is back to lighting fireworks under garbage cans in no time.  And I could identify with a lot of it. I remember my first crush and dealing with my grandfather’s death. Those were heavy emotions for a 12 year old. As for the lighter elements, like Kenny, when I was a kid, we were never home except for dinner. You came home from school, disappeared with friends, stopped home for dinner and went right back out and were gone till sundown. Parents didn’t have to fear where their kids were and we hated being stuck in the house. To coin a contemporary phrase, “When I was a kid , we used to play outside!”…and this film captures that spirit well.  There were no high tech toys, you used your imaginations and built go-carts and club houses, not ordered them on Amazon.

As for the cast, they are all predominately amateurs and they are actually appropriately realistic for a movie that is supposed to be a ‘slice of life’ movie. McCann, Baldwin and Roth come across as real kids not actors. Aside from the young cast members, the film also stars Coscarelli regular Reggie Bannister as hip school teacher Mr. Donovan and actors Ralph Richmond (Big Doug) and Ken Jones (Mr. Soupy) who both had small roles in Phantasm as a bartender and ill-fated funeral home caretaker, respectively. Except for the few that went on to populate Coscarelli’s Phantasm series, none seem to have gone much further as actors. It gives the film a more real feeling that most are still unknowns and that works in it’s favor.

While not an exciting film, Coscarelli captures this era in a very realistic, almost documentary style view, that all these years later is filled with nostalgia for those that can enjoy it and identify with it. Sure the film is silly at times, doesn’t have much of a story and is very low budget, but when viewed now, it is a bit of a time capsule of an era and way of life long gone. Today’s audiences born after this time in history may find it dull and uninteresting, but for someone who was a kid the same time as Kenny, this is a nostalgic flashback that brings back a lot of memories. A film that may not have been groundbreaking or attention-getting in it’s day, now made a bit special by the nostalgia attached to it. The film’s score is by Fred Myrow who would compose Phantasm‘s creepy and iconic score 3 years later along with Michael Seagrave.

Rated 3 (out of 4) skateboards.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BEASTMASTER (1982)

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THE BEASTMASTER (1982)

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Don Coscarelli is definitely a favorite filmmaker of mine as his Phantasm is one of my all time favorite horrors. He is very clever and inventive and achieves a lot on a small budget. Beastmaster is the largest budgeted film he has made so far in his career with a modest, even by 1982 standards, $8 million price tag…and maybe that’s why, to me it’s his least satisfying. The film has a bit of a cult following and I do feel it has it’s entertainment value, but it’s simply my least favorite of his works and in my opinion his least inspired. Maybe it’s because I had seen the bigger budgeted and far more blood-thirsty Conan The Barbarian just a few months earlier and was disappointed by this tame PG rated fare, or maybe Coscarelli’s off kilter style just didn’t fit with a more mainstream ‘Hollywood’ fantasy production. Whatever the reason, upon a recent re-visit, after not having seen it in literally decades, I find my opinion really hasn’t changed that much even with some added 80s nostalgia.

Coscarelli’s first film after Phantasm tells the story of a warrior named Dar (Marc Singer) who was prophesied before birth to be the one to bring down the power hungry Jun high priest Maax (Rip Torn). Dar was stolen from his mother’s womb by one of Maax’s witch servants to be sacrificed, but is saved from death by a traveling villager (Ben Hammer) who then raises him as his own. When he comes to manhood, his village is destroyed by the Jun Horde and only Dar, who has had the ability to communicate with animals since birth, survives. Now the young warrior sets out on a path of vengeance to destroy the Juns and their leader along with a black tiger, an eagle and two thieving ferrets. During his quest he finds human allies in the warrior Seth (John Amos) and deposed king’s son Tal (Josh Milrad) along with a love interest in the beautiful slave girl Kiri (Tanya Roberts). But with his band of two and four legged friends, will it be enough to defeat the sorcerer-like Maax and his horde of vicious warriors?

At almost 2 hours, Beastmaster has a rather moderate pace and despite some inventive touches, from the script Coscarelli co-wrote with Paul Pepperman, the plot is a little too close to the high profile Schwarzenegger sword and sorcery flick released just a few months earlier. Despite the healthy budget, in comparison to Coscarelli’s previous films, it seems to attempt a little too much on it’s modest funds and looks rather cheap like a TV movie or Saturday morning TV show episode. There are some interesting fantasy characters and inventive touches and ideas throughout, but the film on a whole is slow moving and really doesn’t liven up till the final confrontation with the Jun Horde in a battle involving a flaming moat. Till then, the action is rather routine and there isn’t much excitement in the fight choreography. The acting across the board is also rather flat and the main characters never really become all that endearing or involving except for the animals, especially the two ferrets who steal the film from basically everybody. The FX are adequate, but many look cheesy, especially by today’s standards, and the forgettable score by Lee Holdridge doesn’t help either. Coscarelli just doesn’t seem suited to the Fantasy genre as the film never even achieves that quirky energy or off-beat sense of humor that his horror films are famous for. It’s a watchable film and the 80s charm does kick in a bit, but it’s a very routine movie from a very inventive filmmaker. Very forgettable from a man whose other movies are anything but.

As stated, the human cast are very flat. Marc Singer is a well-built enough hero, but he never really exudes the kind of charm or intensity that a hero of this type of film needs…especially when compared to Arnie’s Conan or Lee Horsley’s Talon from The Sword And The Sorcererwhich also came out a few months earlier and had far more fun with the genre and it’s story. Roberts is very pretty, but again, really doesn’t give her Kiri much life or make her memorable, other than some brief nudity in a bathing scene. The usually reliable Rip Torn is a completely generic and dull villain with his Maax never exuding much threat, especially when we can’t get past his unnecessary prosthetic nose and the cute skull beads in his braided hair. A strong villain would have helped here a lot, but Maax is simply lame and never appears imposing or all that dangerous. The rest of the cast including TV vet John Amos don’t fare much better and some lively performances of a delightfully over the top manner would have helped greatly. Coscarelli got good work out of villainous Angus Scrimm and the delightful Reggie Bannister in the Phantasm films, so not sure what happened here. The animals out perform the humans in every scene.

So, I respect those who honor this as an underrated cult classic and I can’t say the film is not worth a look. There are some entertaining sequences, especially during the last act, but the film just simply lacks the quirky energy and devious fun of Coscarelli’s other movies and it sure could have used either Conan The Barbarian‘s intensity and blood lust, or The Sword And The Sorcerer‘s over the top, tongue in cheek approach. It’s now got some 80s nostalgia to help it along, but best scenes still involve the beasts, the film simply takes itself a bit too seriously and the PG rating really holds back on the more exploitive and fun elements it could have used. Possibly the least unique film from a filmmaker whose career is filled with unique and entertaining flicks.

MONSTERZERO NJ PERSONAL NOSTALGIA: In 1981, a year before I saw Beastmaster, and knew who actor Marc Singer was, I met legendary actor Danny Aiello, at a movie theater no less, and he told me that I resembled a young, up and coming actor named Marc Singer…that and many years later I would have quite a few pet ferrets of my own, gives this film nostalgic weight with me despite my not really being all that fond of it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) swords.

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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

phantasm 2 rating

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