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 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!
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!