Wednesday, October 5

Phantasm Ravager (2016), The Biggest "F*ck You" in Horror History?

*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..."
What practically breaks this sequel's balls, and the entire series (if you let it), is how Coscarelli and Hartman allow an interesting concept to nullify everything that is Phantasm. It turns out, nearly forty years and five films can be chalked up to grand tall tales told to Mike by a now elderly Reggie in hospice suffering from dementia. That's right, all of the events in 1979 and eternal struggle since end up as bullshit since none of it ever happened. Thanks again phans for waiting all this time!

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?!?

Honestly, Ravager's wanton destruction of the series makes it tough to view anything in a positive light this time around. Suddenly learning the Phantasm universe was an excuse for a Lifetime Channel melodrama can do that. Still, if one completely disregards that aspect, the story tries to satisfy fans with an albeit rushed depiction of a world finally under the Tall Man's total dominion. Fun sequences for sure, but again, now rendered meaningless.

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.


Steven Millan said...

Hmmmmmmmmm.....sounds like I'm going to wait till this one comes to DVD/Blu ray,for a fan(whose name I can't remember) once suggested a fan theory that maybe Mike is on the operating table having his brain operated on by a doctor who's played by Angus Scrimm,since this theme of Reggie being in an old folks home suffering dementia all of this time sounds like Don Coscarelli and David Hartman have switched the lead character of the series now being Reg instead of Mike and that this concept overrides PHANTASM:OBLIVION's final scene of Mike telling Reg that "It's just the wind"(amid the voices Mike is hearing of them in the future). And one thinks that Reg would have already found a new girlfriend and would have scored by now. I'm now awaiting for STAR WARS:EPISODE 8 to reveal that Luke Skywalker has been suffering dementia all of this time as Rey,Finn,Poe,Leia,Three,Artoo,Chewbacca,and a still alive Han surround him,as well as the next HALLOWEEN sequel revealing that either Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie or Malcolm McDowell's Dr. Loomis has been suffering from dementia all of this time while being a patient at Haddonfield Hospital,with all of the ten films' characters surrounding them. I'll give both Coscarelli and Hartman credit,though,for taking their time on the new film and being heavily ambitious about it.

Anonymous said...

The red planet is another world conquered be the Tall Man. Earth is becoming the same. The dementia of Reggie is the same premise in the first Phantasm when Mike remember thing that Reggie don't. Reggie is supposed to be dead in the first film but in the end is still alive. We can't be sure what is reality because it can be mental manipulation of the Tall Man. Like the Tall Man say, Reggies is a toy for him. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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