Tuesday, 5 March 2019
USA 2016 Directed by David Hartman
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
Okay... so here we have what is, definitely, the final chapter in the ongoing series of Phantasm films and, like the others, it’s fairly fragmented and doesn’t hold that many easy ways to penetrate its mysteries... although it does have one of two specific endings that the audience can choose to latch onto as a sense of closure, should they require it.
Made 18 years after the last installment, reviewed here, and 37 years after the original movie that started them all, reviewed here, Phantasm RaVager is the only one of these five films not to be directed by Don Coscarelli... although it was produced by him and co-written by him with the director. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also spent every day on set overseeing the thing too but I’m not 100% sure of that.
The film... kinda... carries on where it left off but with Reggie giving us a recap as he has returned from the portal which he jumped into at the end of the last film. Mike is gone but, somehow, not presumed dead even though he was dying at the end of the last movie. Reggie is somehow still searching for him but his car is gone. It doesn’t take too long for the car to turn up, as stolen by a guy who, to my amazement, turned out to be film music journalist Daniel Schweiger... how does he keep turning up in these things? So Reggie claims his car and steals Schweiger’s clothes and drives off just in time to survive a double sphere attack in the first of the movie’s big action scenes. Schweiger isn’t so lucky... he gets balled up good.
After that we have Reggie wandering through various adventures and dimensions/time zones designed to keep the character... and the audience... completely disoriented as we move from one low budget set piece to the next. And, of course, the four stalwarts of the Phantasm universe... Reggie (as played by Reggie Bannister), Mike (as played by A. Michael Baldwin), Jodie (as played by Bill Thornbury) and the magnificent Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man are all reunited in some way or another throughout the movie. In fact, it’s Angus Scrimm’s last film as he died in early 2016, although he was at least able to see a cut of the film before he passed on, is my understanding. It’s kind of fitting that his last performance was in a Phantasm movie since The Tall Man, aka Jebediah Morningside, is the role that turned him into a classic, modern horror icon.
The film seems to have been somewhat hammered by some fans and, I suspect, this probably stems from the fact that one of the many realities presented... almost as a framing device for the story... is that the whole Phantasm series is just a manifestation of Reggie’s early onset of dementia, as he is dying in hospital. However, this idea gets played around with a few times and by the end of the story, such as it is, you don’t really know if that cop out is actually a genuine timeline or not so... I don’t think the film deserves the kind of negative reception it got, to be honest.
Indeed, there’s lots of good stuff here with the expected ‘new use of old balls’ when the sphere’s have more things happening with them to add to the goriness. Also, the balls seem to be a lot more dynamic this time around and I’m wondering how much of these were done as CGI for this one. Certainly some of the goriness and definitely the bullets squirting from machine guns seem to be cheap CGI effects. So we have a ball that has loads of spikes coming out of it and which basically blows people’s head apart. We also have really huge, bigger than a house size balls which can take out skyscrapers with hidden lasers.
Of course, they also go back to the classic head sticking, noggin drilling variety a few times because it’s a way of revisiting the iconic moment form the first movie... we even have it happening to a horse in this one... as played by Misty the Horse, apparently. So there are a fair few practical effects in this one too, it seems to me... although the sphere and bloody demise of said horse looks like a horse rolling around having fun with the gory elements CGI’d in after, to be honest.
One of the main, reoccurring ‘realities’ that Reggie is walking through is a post-apocalyptic version of the Earth where The Tall Man has already taken control of the planet, with the regulars reunited as a resistance against the dark lord’s domain. It makes for a nice exploration of the ultimate end game that The Tall Man has in store for us and this is also one of the alternative endings to the film which plays out almost immediately after the ‘closure’ ending of the film... but I don’t want to spoil that here.
There are also some new characters played by new actors and actresses but, also, there are a few other ‘returns’ here apart from the main four plus some of the props from previous films. Without giving too much away, there’s the brief but quite effective return of an iconic character from the very first movie and, in a mid-end credits scene, there’s the return of a ‘fan favourite’ character from the third film in the series. However, I won’t say more because, if you’re a fan of the series, you won’t want to know about these things before they happen.
All in all, this is not a bad last movie. Despite less than stellar reviews I think Phantasm RaVager holds up quite well with the others and certainly doesn’t lose that tone of ‘what the heck is going on’ that infused the previous movies. Nor does it dispense with the somewhat leisurely pacing of the prior chapters. It’s still very much, despite not actually being specifically directed by Coscarelli, 'a Phantasm movie' and it’s nice to see the films come to something of a natural ending, finally. The recent Arrow Films box set satisfies all the usual expectations of extras and even includes a sixth, bonus disc of even more documentaries and interviews. Like all the Phantasm films, this is not one you can really watch and make sense of on its own (not that you would make much sense out of any of them anyway, to be truthful... that’s part of the fun) so if you’re new to the world of the flying sphere’s then you should definitely see them in order. If, however, you are already on board with these films then I would have thought that, if you allow the film to wash over you without questioning the choices made before it reaches its final destination, you would have an okay time with it. For me this one rounds out the series so... I’m good with it.