.*SPOILER WARNING, don't think I'll be able to talk about the film without spoiling key points, beware.
Flat out, the fifth and presumably final entry in Don Coscarelli's epic Phantasm series is an awful film and even worse sequel. The franchise has etched out its own special place and has maintained a dependable consistency over the decades. Incredible when considering the long waits between sequels filled with years of false starts and speculation. While other genre icons have branched into more mainstream crowds, even Ash, the apocalyptic yarn of Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), Reggie (Reggie Bannister), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) has always stuck to close to familiar waters of its extremely loyal fanbase forged from late night airings and rentals. This makes it especially hard to see what Coscarelli, and director/co-writer David Hartman, have decided to make of this last stand against the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).
Getting the obvious out of the way, this is an extremely cheap production, shot here-and-there over several years, and shortcomings are constantly apparent. There's a heavy reliance on computer generated effects; everything from spheres taking flight, splattery gunshots, the creation of the (still) mysterious red planet, and even superimposing Scrimm's face on his Tall Man character at times. None of this is any real issue as it's been a minor miracle the series, with successively much lower budgets, has clawed to four sequels over three decades. Hell, the very existence of Phantasm II (1988) alone will forever defy all kinds of conventional film business logic. Although it probably would have been a good idea to launch a phantasmic crowdfunding effort a few years ago. I mean, if Tom Savini and Dario Argento can promise the world and not deliver a single frame, then why not?
|"Fuck everything, man..."|
Watching in despair are Mike and Jody, who apparently still died in a car accident but appears alive in "reality" later on, powerless as their longtime friend mentally slips away. The various sequences of Reggie continuing the fight against the Tall Man are all just increasingly warped delusions colored by the worry of his circumstances. Early on Mike brings up the "possibility" of other planes of existence, but it's obvious that's not at play here. This might be the most insane case of sacrificing an entire premise for a silly concept film in all of genre history. Why?!?
Everyone seems game here, especially Scrimm, who conveys more things of importance than the usual terse Tall Man one-liners. Series vet Christopher L. Stone's often lively score is excellent and helps hold together what usually feels like a patchwork of strung together scenes. Despite being hardly utilized, it's also nice to see Kathy Lester and Gloria Lynne Henry reprise roles. Curious also is what appears to be quite a few deleted scenes playing under the end credits. Many of which featuring special effects, even one that looks like the Tall Man with half his face ripped off. I can't help but wonder whether plans changed during this sequel's long production and the film took a detour into the heap before us today.
It's easy to imagine some longtime fans concocting half-assed explanations to make the "Reggie Dilemma" not totally negate the established mythos. However, it's impossible for me to get beyond everything literally being all for not. What's the point when three principal characters aren't who've they've always been across four previous films? They're suddenly just ordinary people whom we never actually knew. For all we know Reggie could have been a used car salesman, Mike a professor, and Jody a mechanic. So who cares what happens to them after it's revealed to be a grandiose lie. Ultimately, Phantasm Ravager just feels like some snide attempt by Coscarelli to take back his creation that's long rested under the care of a legion of fans. Something like "Oh, you think Phantasm has depth? Okay well suck on this twist." Not clever, nor interesting, just a tarnish on the silver sphere.