I’m doing things a little backward with the Phantasm series. I’m reviewing the last two first and the first two last (once I get Phantasm II in the mail). I first saw all four of the flicks back in my teen years, bought the first movie used at a record store and watched a few of them with Rickey when we lived together, but I didn’t remember much from the third and fourth movies which made watching these movies again a lot of fun.
If you’ve never seen the Phantasm movies, the idea is that the Tall Man (that guy on the left there played by Angus Scrimm who has looked 100 years old for 40 years, much like his character) takes dead bodies, turns them into little Jawa-looking monsters and sends them to another dimension. The films are marked with lots of wild dreams, evil doppelgangers and things not being what they appear. Our heroes are Reggie, Mike and Jody, some guys who stumble upon the Tall Man’s plan and try to stop him. When we pick up with 3, Jody is dead, but his younger brother Mike and Reggie are still fighting the good fight. The pair get separated and Reggie runs into some problems first with some crooks trying to kill him (or something) and then a little kid who must have seen Home Alone many a time who murders the crooks using things like a Frisbee with razor blades and tossing a tomahawk into someone’s head. Reggie teams up with Tim and then a woman named Rocky who can only deliver clunky wooden lines that shouldn’t sound as bad as they do.
As poorly acted as Rocky’s character is, Tim shines through as does Reggie. Mike comes off as a little weird and as usual the story is all over the place, but the special effects were pretty damn solid. The Jawa guys had actual faces this time around and the scenes with the iconic silver balls popping out of various body parts (including a skull) all looked pretty great. There’s a more comedic element to the movie this time around, but it didn’t bother me because I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. One of the more interesting elements this time around is the fact that Jody returns, but he’s inside one of the shiny balls, so he can kind of help his friend and brother, but also finds himself hurting them by drawing the Tall Man closer. I also like how gonzo things always get as each movie adds more monsters that the Tall Man controls and they all look gross and are filled with yellow blood.
I read that there was a much more epic script or a fourth Phantasm flick but the money never materialized, so writer/director/creator Don Coscarelli decided to do a movie that got more back to the roots of the original film, but also explore the origins of the Tall Man. In a weird transition from the previous movie, this one starts about five or ten minutes before the end of 3 and then ignores Rocky and Tim completely and never mentions them throughout the film, but that’s the kind of craziness you come to expect from these movies. Another interesting thing about this film is that Coscarelli found a bunch of unused footage from the first Phantasm and used it to tell this story which was pretty fortunate and cool.
Once again, Reggie and Mike are split up with Jody flying around talking to them at different times. While Reggie fights more monsters, Mike tries to get to the bottom of who the Tall Man is, even going back in time and meeting Jebediah Morningside before he turned into the Tall Man.
Once again, this isn’t a great flick, but if you’re a fan of the previous movies I think it’s a fitting end to the series. SPOILERS AHEAD. I had forgotten that the end involves Mike going back in time and actually stopping the Tall Man from ever happening…or something like that. It’s a very complicated series of films that I probably should not have watched while doing my work for the day, but I plan on revisiting these in the future all in the correct order at some point. Overall, I love the weirdness of these movies and how Coscarelli and the cast made the first one on weekends when they had time and enough money to buy film. He got four very unique films out of the process and gave the world two of the best horror movie villains around: Tall Man and those damn balls. I don’t remember the second film very much, so I’m looking forward to watching that one again and hope that someday everyone can get their act together and put out a full set of these discs. I’ve also heard word that Coscarelli wouldn’t mind making another version and I would fully support that. Heck, I wouldn’t mind seeing any remake of this movie, just to see what another set of eyes and brains would do with the concept, though finding another Scrimm would be nearly impossibly in my mind.