Sooner or later the horror movie gods had to deliver this one to the fans. It took George Romero 20 years, but he finally followed up “Day of the Dead” with “Land of the Dead.” While we may have gotten an “Evil Dead” reboot instead of a third sequel to Sam Raimi’s original film, he and Bruce Campbell gave us the next best thing with “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” After giving us one of the most visceral and terrifying horror flicks ever created with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Tobe Hooper followed it up with a sequel 12 years later which has since developed a cult following. Although the filmmakers behind these movies are always keen to move on to other genres, something always seems to pull them back to horror.
So it only makes sense we would eventually get a fifth “Phantasm” movie in this lifetime, right? Rumors abounded from year to year of how another installment featuring Mike, Reggie and The Tall Man was in pre-production, but it never became a reality. Then in 2014 we got a teaser trailer out of nowhere for “Phantasm: Ravager” which nobody saw coming. Astonishingly enough, this sequel was filmed in secret, and after an equally agonizing wait it has now arrived in theaters and VOD and serves as a conclusion to a franchise which began back in 1979. Yes, these characters and those silver spheres have been with us for a very long time.
Does “Phantasm: Ravager” give us a fitting conclusion to this never ending series? Well, it may depend on the expectations you bring to the theatre. It’s no surprise series creator Don Coscarelli made this one solely for the fans, so those “Phantasm” virgins would be best to check out the previous films or sit through the short film “Phantasm and You” which will bring them up to speed. While we get the usual silver sphere action with hapless victims getting blood sucked out of their heads as Red Cross workers watch on helplessly, we can never be fully certain as to which direction the story will take.
This installment focuses mostly on Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the former ice cream man whom we last saw entering the space gate in “Phantasm: Oblivion” in an effort to save his friend Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) from the clutches of the Tall Man (the late Angus Scrimm). At the start of “Ravager,” Reggie is walking alone in the desert and telling us in a voiceover how he can no longer tell what is real and what is not. Still, he’s got his four-barrel shotgun and, with very little effort, retrieves his Hemicuda and drives on as those silver spheres pursue him with a vengeance.
Next thing we know, Reggie wakes up in a hospital where Mike tells him he is in the early stages of dementia. From there we watch as he switches from one place to another, be it another road trip where he picks up another beautiful lady, the hospital he is confined to or a post-apocalyptic future where The Tall Man reigns supreme. It’s a lot like the series finale of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself traveling back and forth through time, but with Reggie it’s an even bigger battle to discover the reality he belongs in.
“Phantasm: Ravager” is billed as a horror film, but it is really more of a sci-fi action flick as this series has gone from sheer horror to something more supernatural. But more than anything else, the story here deals with aging, something Hollywood movies rarely, if ever, deal with these days. We see Reggie struggle to bring his friends together even as he is seen as a terminal case the doctors are impatiently waiting to see die. Who is the bigger culprit here, The Tall Man or Reggie’s deteriorating mind?
It’s a lot of fun to see Bannister, Baldwin, Bill Thornbury who returns as Jody Pearson and Angus Scrimm return to the roles they have long since become famous for. Bannister in particular is a gas to watch here as not even Reggie’s advancing age keeps him from trying to hit on any beautiful woman he picks up. As for Baldwin and Thornbury, it’s been fascinating to watch them grow up from one “Phantasm” movie to the next. It’s like looking at a photo album, albeit with a lot of blood and mortuaries.
Scrimm’s Tall Man remains one of the scariest characters to appear in any movie, and Scrimm gets a little more to do and say here than he has in previous installments. It’s great Scrimm got another chance to play this iconic character, but “Phantasm: Ravager” is tinged with sadness as he passed away earlier this year at the age of 89. This is the last we will ever see of The Tall Man as there is no earthly way he can ever be replaced by another actor. After all these years, Scrimm remains a frightening presence as he toys with Reggie endlessly and makes you wonder why anyone would dare to fight him when he’s so omnipotent.
An interesting move Coscarelli made here was to step out of the director’s chair and hand the reins over to another. When we first got word of this, many feared it would be a catastrophic mistake, but David Hartman, who has worked behind the scenes on other Coscarelli films like “Bubba Ho-Tep” and “John Dies at the End,” brings a fresh energy to this material, and he clearly relishes working within this franchise and with these actors. As a result, everything in “Phantasm: Ravager” feels more supercharged than I expected.
The “Phantasm” movies have come close to being perfect, but the fans never really complained much about that. Sure, this particular one relies on CGI effects a little too much, but then again the franchise has never had much money to work with (“Phantasm II” had the largest budget with $3 million). Everyone involved with “Ravager” did the best they could with the materials they were given, and like the others it is equipped with an imaginative storyline which keeps us guessing.
If “Phantasm: Ravager” is indeed the last “Phantasm” film of all, it certainly sends the series off with a strong emotional punch. These movies have always been a family affair, and it’s great to see everyone back together for another round with the Ball and the Tall Man. It’s also great to see how this series has been maintained by the same creators from start to finish in age where studios are always desperate to reboot a classic property. For myself, “Phantasm: Ravager” was a blast, and it serves as proof that there’s always a chance for another sequel no matter how long time has passed since the last one.
* * * ½ out of * * * *
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.