A mere 8 years after the first film in the series, Don Coscarelli decided to revisit the franchise that made his name and gave us the first of three sequels to “Phantasm”. The first film was surprisingly good, if a bit confusing, so now the film’s got rid of its annoying kid star, will it improve?
First things first, it starts just like “Halloween 2” (and “Porky’s 2”, if you want to talk about the real classics) by starting immediately after the first film finished. Mike goes up to his room and meets the Tall Man, then is dragged through his bedroom mirror by one of the Jawas (please read the review of part 1). Reggie comes to the rescue and prevents the Jawas carrying Mike to the Tall Man’s hearse, and the Tall Man accepts this with remarkable stoicism, giving an almost imperceptible shrug as Reggie blows up his own house.
Fast forward 8 years, and Mike is now James LeGros. This was his breakout role, pretty much, and he’s accompanied by Reggie Bannister returning to play Reggie, a slightly more obvious comic force in this installment, as well as being much more central to the plot. Fun fact – Reggie Bannister only acted in Don Coscarelli films for the first 12 years of his career, if IMDB is to be believed, and didn’t work at all between Phantasm 1 and 2. Maybe he really was an ice cream man?
Reggie tries to convince Mike that the stuff from the first film was a dream, unconvincingly, until his house (plus family) is blown up – again! – and that hardens both their hearts and sets them on their way towards revenge. The next section of the film is stylistically pretty interesting, as the two of them drive across America in a black muscle car trying to track the Tall Man. It’s like a very small seed of what became “Supernatural”, and I wonder if Eric Kripke would acknowledge the influence? Reggie provides a voiceover as the car drives down empty highways and through desolate, boarded up towns, evidence of the Tall Man’s work – remember, he’s an alien who steals corpses, compresses them into midgets and sends them through a portal to his home planet to work as slaves.
Mike is drifting in and out of dreams where he talks to a beautiful woman called Elizabeth, who’s also aware of the Tall Man, and fate seems to be bringing the two of them closer to each other. The Tall Man leaves little traps for Mike and Reggie, like an abandoned mortuary with a perfectly preserved corpse in it (come on guys, you really should have been suspicious of that one), but after picking up a hitchhiker called Alchemy who needs a ride to her small town home, the stage is set for the main section of the film. Two groups – one, Reggie, Mike and Alchemy; the other, Elizabeth and the local Vicar, who’s apparently turned a blind eye to the almost complete destruction of his town but no longer!
Every mausoleum in this world looks exactly the same. It’s entirely possible every one in this film is the same one, with differences in lighting and angles to distract us from that fact, but it’s both a little confusing and quite clever – this is the Tall Man’s world. The last section of this film is the fight between our heroes and him, and I love how well prepared Reggie and Mike are – they’ve tooled up, they’ve got a plan, and they’re not stupid. It’s a bit more meaty than part 1, with less of the dream-logic that looks more and more like something the director was forced into due to budget. It’s more action oriented, and better for it I think.
So, I’ve been pretty positive about the film so far. Reggie is great, the Tall Man is a brilliant villain, and the humour is welcome. Unfortunately, we’ve got an ending to be let down by, and here’s where I suppose you either ought to stop reading or watch the Youtube link above, if you’ve not done already. It’s such a boring paint-by-numbers 80s horror ending, where the victory so hard won by Reggie and Mike is rendered absolutely meaningless, and the Tall Man goes from alien to indestructible force of nature. Every single one of the big horror franchises made the same mistake, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on this one. Jason Voorhees went from misunderstood dead kid to supernatural representation of evil; Michael Myers, the same, probably (I’m not watching those damn films again to find out); Freddy Krueger ignored every single rule that the film had expected you to pay to see adhered to; Death went “sorry you guys, no matter what you do or what convoluted hoops you jump through, you’re all going to die” in the Final Destination films; in fact, Angela from “Sleepaway Camp” is the only one who doesn’t die and then get brought back, or get supernatural powers for no reason, and that I’m mentioning those films in a positive tone is something I never thought I’d do.
Anyway, it’s still annoying, even though it’s been going on so long that it’s the norm rather than the exception. Amazingly, “Phantasm” has avoided the other main horror franchise problem, of them needing to reboot rather than just tell new stories, partly due to it being all written and directed by one person, and it looks like the now fifteen year old part 4 will not be the last in the franchise. But more on that later.
It’s not a bad film, certainly. It’s got solid building blocks – decent central performances, a good original idea, and a healthy streak of humour. Its problems are the same problems that so many other films had, and if you can get over that fact (as horror fans presumably keep on doing) it’s another solid entry in a surprisingly good horror franchise. Also, the facial expressions that Reggie pulls during his big chainsaw fight scene are a joy to behold, and almost worth the price of admission on their own.