Monday, 2 July 2018

Phantasm II



Ballrats

Phantasm II
USA 1988
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B


And so, onto the second of the Phantasm movies from the new Blu Ray set which Arrow released earlier last year.

Like the first movie, which I reviewed here, Phantasm II is one of those films where the first thing I’ll think about each time it comes up in conversation is the old UK TV spot with, in this case, the really cool copy line... “The ball is back.” Which, when I think of it now, probably isn’t that cool a copy line but it meant something to us all back then and so it’s still a fond memory. I don’t think I saw this one myself until a little way into the 1990s on cable television (which we had around these parts back at that time) but I remember liking it quite a lot. It’s always been my favourite of the films but, I have to say that on this viewing, the film disappointed me a little, truth be told... although it was still a lot of fun watching through it.

Phantasm II is an unusual sequel in that it’s the only Phantasm film, as fas as I am aware, that had a fairly big budget (comparative to the other movies in the series)... but it turns out that’s a bit of a mixed blessing. The first film was pretty jumpy and hallucinogenic with a big double punch at the end of the movie in terms of leaving the audience completely unsure as to whether or not the main body of the story was actually real or a dream. Of the three main protagonists of that film, Mike’s brother Jody (played by Bill Thornbury) is not in this film at all and that, therefore, would back up the idea that the whole film was taking place in the mind of Mike. Except we had that ending where The Tall Man came back and pulled Mike through the opening above his bed. Since this film carries on directly from there, without Jody, it seems to be sticking with that idea except... Mike can remember everything that happened in the first film and, of course, more of all the same happens here. So that makes no sense.

To make matters more confusing, although Jody is the only one of the three main protagonists not back here, the original actor who played Mike, A. Michael Baldwin, is only seen in the flashback footage at the start of the movie. The resolution to the end sequence of the first move is played with somebody else as Mike and we only see her back (which is good because, you know, Mike is not a girl). For the rest of the film, which takes place almost ten years later (so this movie is set in real time in terms of the number of years between the two), Mike is played by James Le Gros. Coscarelli was forced to go with a different actor due to the demands of the studio who put the money up. It wasn’t an easy decision and they also wanted him to drop the actor Reggie Bannister... who plays the third of our regular protagonists, Reggie... but Coscarelli was able to keep Reggie in here. This is a very similar situation to that faced by Kevin Smith when he was asked to have a different actor playing Jay in the second of the Jay And Silent Bob movies, Mallrats. Luckily for Jason Mewes, Smith was able to keep him in and the rest, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader and cinephile, is movie history. A. Michael Baldwin would be reunited alongside both Reggie and Bill Thornbury for the remaining Phantasm films, of course.

One of the interesting aspects of Phantasm II is that it’s almost a very linear, easy to decode narrative compared to what came before (and what came after, if memory serves). My understanding was that this was another studio demand and this makes it somewhat unique in the canon of the Phantasm movies. That being said, although it’s mostly got a linear narrative on it, there are still some bizarre jumps... not least of which is a certain main character who returns back to life wearing the body of another character for the end scene. When you try and put the timeline of this story together... which is basically a road movie with Mike and Reggie ‘tooling up’ and going on a quest to find a girl who’s ‘astrally linked’ to Mike while The Tall Man leaves various traps for them in ghost towns... you find that this makes the total body of the Phantasm films even more vaguely surreal and hallucinogenic in context, which I’m sure was not the intention of Universal studios in this case.

The first two thirds of the movie, with Mike and Reggie joined by two female companions on the way... Mike’s ‘dream girl’ Liz, played by Paula Irvine... and Alchemy, played by Samantha Phillips, plays as almost a return to silent movie acting with dialogue very much kept to a minimum and a fair amount of stealth mode ‘sneaking around’ in the various towns left in the wake of The Tall Man. Why the police have not bothered to investigate that several small towns are now deserted because The Tall Man has crushed them down to be alien dwarf slaves is anybody’s guess, mind you.

In the last third of the movie, the gore factor very much kicks in and the extended chase/fight sequences are seemingly never ending. Here we see numerous variations on the famous flying spheres of death from the first movie and, if anything can be gleaned from the different incarnations of these strewn about the movie it’s the fact that the array of weapons seems somewhat contradictory and outmoded by various different spheres. For example, when character actor Kenneth Tigar comes up against a sphere, the object in question loads up a spinning blade and takes off one of his ears when it rushes past his head before returning to the more familiar mode on the next approach and affixing itself to his forehead with the two front, retractable blades before drilling into his skull and throwing his blood out through a back channel.

Later on, we are also acquainted with a ball that has three mini buzz saw style blades which eats its way through a man’s back before hacking its way up and through the front of his mouth. And then we have a sphere which can fire lasers out of it... which I believe is something which is revisited on a larger scale in the fifth movie, Phantasm: Ravager, which is the only one I’ve not yet seen (lucky for me it gets its premier UK release in this new Blu Ray set). There are also such set pieces as Reggie and a bad guy having a ‘duelling chainsaw’ fight and a scene where the iconic Tall Man, played as always by the late Angus Scrimm, is embalmed alive with a strong acid which causes his eyeballs to explode from their sockets as his body caves in on itself... not that this over the top death turns out to slow him down any, of course.

The film has an ending which, without giving it away, mirrors the ending of the first film somewhat. A part of this sequence was reshot in a different location for the trailers so that, presumably, when the sequence finally happens in the movie, the audience wouldn’t anticipate it occurring when it does. It’s not the most satisfying ending, it has to be said but, it kinda works and, although it’s very much a ‘big studio’ B movie, it certainly fits in with the style of the others to a fair extent.

Phantasm II is not, as I used to think, the best of the Phantasm movies. I still have a soft spot for the first and, although that one feels a little more dated than this one, I think that first one has a lot more charm than this one. It’s still an excellent ‘alcohol and donuts with friends night’ kinda movie, however. I’m glad to have this one on Blu Ray and thanks, once again, to Arrow for doing such a good job with this release and presentation... which has more extras than you can rattle a lethal sphere of death at.

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