Phantasm: Ravager


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.


Blu-ray Review: Shout Factory’s ‘Phantasm II’ Special Edition


Over the years, “Phantasm II” has been treated like the illegitimate child of the “Phantasm” franchise. While Anchor Bay was able to secure the rights to the other three films in the series, they could never come to an agreement with Universal Pictures over this one. Eventually “Phantasm,” “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” and “Phantasm IV: Oblivion” got special editions filled with commentaries and special features, and yet “Phantasm II” still hadn’t seen the light of day on DVD. When Universal finally relented and released the sequel on DVD, all the fans got in terms of bonus features was the theatrical trailer. It looked like we would see “Phantasm V” long before any “Phantasm II” special edition became a reality, and the last “Phantasm” movie came out 15 years ago.

Well “Phantasm” fans can now rejoice because the good people at Shout Factory have come through for you with their “Phantasm II” special edition which proves to be well worth the wait. This cult sequel now looks and sounds better than ever, and we also get an audio commentary, various featurettes, a making of documentary, the theatrical trailer and a host of other goodies which fans can take their sweet time watching.

For many people including myself, “Phantasm II” was our introduction to the work of Don Coscarelli’s franchise, the Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) and those killer spheres which look like they’re designed to make forced deposits to your local blood bank. Even if you’re not able to understand most of what’s going on here, it was still loads of fun as “Phantasm II” proved to be far more imaginative than your average slasher movie. Watching it all those years ago made me want to check out the first film, and I became very eager to see the story continue on with a third movie which eventually came out (albeit straight to video) in 1994, six years after this one.

Unsurprisingly, “Phantasm II” looks wonderful in its Blu-ray incarnation. At the same time, I do have to point out there is a little of white noise at the top of the screen which comes and goes throughout the movie. I didn’t notice it right away, but it does become a bit of annoyance at times. This seems like a very rare error for the folks at Shout Factory to make as their previous special editions have more often than not given us pristine prints of various cult classics, and I wonder if this was something which happened on their end or if Universal Studios did something wrong. Still, the movie looks fantastic.

There is also a commentary track with Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister who plays Reggie. It’s a terrific track which starts with Scrimm speaking as the Tall Man, wondering why this guy Scrimm keeps impersonating him in the “Phantasm” movies. From there, the participants talk non-stop about the making of “Phantasm II” and what they managed to accomplish on a budget of $3 million (the highest of any “Phantasm” movie). There’s also talk of why A. Michael Baldwin, who played Michael in the original, was replaced by James LeGros. The reasons why aren’t fully explained here, but everyone says they had a great time working with LeGros who back then was known for appearing in independent movies.

For more information on why LeGros replaced Baldwin, check out the documentary “The Ball is Back!” which gives you just about all the information you ever need to know about the production of “Phantasm II.” It turns out Universal wanted to get rid of both Bannister and Baldwin as they had not acted much since “Phantasm” came out. Coscarelli, however, managed to make a deal with Universal to where he could keep one of the actors, so while Bannister got to stay on, Baldwin had to go as the studio wanted someone who was “hunkier.”

The documentary also features other actors like Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar and Samantha Phillips who played the bald man-loving Alchemy. Phillips is especially fun to listen to as she talks about how she got the role of Alchemy and of how she almost talked Coscarelli out of casting her in the movie. She even talks about the sex scene she did with Bannister and of how his wife was on set that day (as if she didn’t have enough pressure to deal with).

We also get to see why, despite it making a profit, “Phantasm II” was initially considered a box office flop. It turns out Universal Pictures decided to release the sequel during the summer movie season where it faced off against “Die Hard” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As to why Universal thought it was good idea to release “Phantasm II” during this time, no one seems to have an answer.

There’s also an old featurette called “The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” where he explains how he got involved in the world of movie makeup. These days, Nicotero is one of the best known people for doing makeup effects in film, and it’s great to see how he got his start. There’s also some vintage behind the scenes footage of makeup tests the crew performed as well as some on the set footage where they blow up a house. Seeing all the preparation the crew took in making sure the explosion, which they filmed with what seemed like a dozen cameras, anything but small makes me miss practical special effects which have since been overrun by CGI.

To round things out, there are movie trailers for the first three “Phantasm” movies, original TV spots, still galleries, additional scenes which were taken from the work print, deleted scenes from Coscarelli’s archive, and a rare short film which has Scrimm playing Abraham Lincoln.

This special edition of “Phantasm II” has been a long time coming, and despite some minor technical flaws, fans of the series should be very pleased with what Shout Factory has come up with. The cult of “Phantasm” remains strong to this day, and they are served well by this release which is evidence of this series’ enduring popularity. If things keep up, maybe we will see a “Phantasm V” in the future. Some say that’s wishful thinking, but anything is possible!

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2013 when “Phantasm II” was released by Shout Factory on Blu-ray. “Phantasm V,” titled “Phantasm: Ravager,” is finally about to be released in theaters after a long wait.