Fresh off a theatrical screening of the new 4K restoration version of the original 1979 PHANTASM film, I decided it was high time to man up and give the latest sequel of one of my favorite horror franchises a go. So I rented PHANTASM: RAVAGER and held on to my balls. So to speak. Get it? Balls? Spheres? Anyway.
As I finished watching the original Phantasm the other night, I couldn’t help but remember the words of a prominent horror fiction editor about “it was all a dream” trope endings. He’d said, more or less, that if your book ended with all of the happenings turning out to have just been a dream or a hallucination, don’t bother sending him your work for publication. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically he said that it felt cheap, like he’d wasted his time reading the story because none of it “really happened.”
As Phantasm ended, I couldn’t help but think that this is maybe the only horror franchise in existence that sort of hinges its entire mythology on “it was all a dream” logic. I laughed as I exited the movie theater, thinking of how cool it was that a horror franchise had thrived and became a cult favorite off of a reviled story telling trope.
So imagine my glee when Phantasm: Ravager started and within the first five minutes of the movie, a startlingly old Michael sat with an even older Reggie at a retirement home and told him that everything they’d ever been through in THE ENTIRE PHANTASM FRANCHISE had been nothing more than Reggie suffering from early onset dementia. Forty years of storytelling right down the fucking tubes for that horror editor. A lifetime of fandom just… poof, up and gone, just like that.
So this 4th sequel of the Tall Man franchise is every bit a loving tribute and fan service to a four decade long franchise full of head popping shiny spheres, creepy mausoleums, hooded dwarves and quadruple sawed off shotguns. Just look at the end credits. David Hartman was basically a one man band here. He directed, co-wrote with series creator Don Coscarelli, shot it, scored it, edited it, and did the visual effects for it.
I’m not gonna lie. When I heard that this movie was basically David and Reggie and a camcorder, shot over long periods of time when money allowed it, I was not at all excited to see the final product. But seeing it play out with all of the jumps in time and setting, it turns out that was the perfect way to shoot the script that David and Don wrote.
And so the film plays with this idea that Reggie is suffering from dementia, casting him in and out of vivid post-apocalyptic landscapes with awesome gigantic spheres laying waste to everything in sight.
Angus Skrimm, The Tall Man, to his credit, old as the goddamn stars in this film, hits all his lines note-perfect. It’s like he was born to play the sinister Tall Man. And die playing him as well. Which is fine by this Phan. The man in the suit screamed BOOYYYYYYY! one last time, and it brought a goddamn tear to my eye.
PHANTASM: RAVAGER is cheap. Man, is it cheap. There are long passages of the film that reek of a made for Sci-Fi channel original. And much of the film’s visual effects are jarringly bad CGI. But you know what? Having just watched the 1979 original, there’s a fucking puppet fly monster that Michael and Jody beat to death inside a jacket.
This wasn’t a series based on fancy visual effects in the first place. It was about atmosphere and unique storytelling. And while much of the acting is stiff and lines are delivered halfheartedly, Reggie and Angus–really the two most important players here–play their roles with the utmost sincerity.
Did PHANTASM: RAVAGER need to be made? No. But I’m glad it was. I’m glad Reggie got to fire that bad mother fucking four barrel shotgun one last time. I’m glad Reggie, Michael and Jody got to cruise in the ‘Cuda one last time. And I’m glad Angus’s Tall Man got to menace our heroes one last time.
Very few franchises get to keep their heart, their soul and their enthusiasm over the decades without being taken over by different writers, directors, or studios who want to change or re-imagine, remake or recast the characters and drastically alter the story.
The PHANTASM franchise went out on its own terms with its integrity intact and that, for me, was worth every goddamn sequel. I give it four out of five Strangeheads.