Released by: Well Go USA
Released on: December 6th, 2016.
Director: David Hartman
Cast: Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister
Year: 2016 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by David Hartman, who co-wrote with Phantasm creator/director Don Coscarelli, 2016’s Phantasm: Ravager opens with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) wandering alone through the sun bleached desert. He’s clearly down but not out, beaten and bloodied but still hobbling along still trying to track down and do away with The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). A familiar looking Hemi Cuda pulls up, followed by those familiar spheres that have long been such a thorn in his side. We cut from here to a hospital, where Reggie is in a wheelchair being pushed along by Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). But is he? Or is Reggie in an alternate dimension? This is a recurring theme throughout the movie – what is really happening and what is happening in that alternate reality that so much of the Phantasm storylines have taken place in.
Of course, from here the movie explores Reggie’s determination to find The Tall Man, but does anyone besides Reggie even remember any of this? Along the way he meets a woman named Dawn (Dawn Cody) who might be able to help him, but again, is any of this real or is Reggie’s brain no addled with old age and dementia?
Phantasm: Ravager was originally conceived as a series of webisodes for an episodic spinoff meant to focus on Reggie but, at some point during the creative process, director David Hartman and writer Don Coscarelli opted inside to put this material into feature film format. This is where most of the problems with Ravager stem from – the movie doesn’t feel so much like a movie as it does a high end web broadcast project. Sure, the fact that this went straight to video means that it avoids any pesky ratings issues and as such, it’s gory, but it’s also fairly piecemeal in how it fits together, when it fits together in the first place. The movie is all over the place – it’s real/it’s not real/it’s real/it’s not real – and on the surface at least offers up as many, if not more, questions than answers. That’s all well and good, the Phantasm movies have always dabbled heavily in surrealism and “whatthefuckery???” but it’s safe to say that those hoping this final film would offer up some answers to the questions posed by the first four movies are going to be at least partially disappointed. Structurally this movie has some problems beyond some amateurish acting, some questionable special effects set pieces and the whole ‘internet movie’ look of the project. The pacing is all over the place, the story moves in fits and starts and the whole thing feels much longer than it needs to even if it does clock in at just under ninety minutes.
However, this is not a complete waste of time. The ending does manage to take the story into some interesting places, both literally and figuratively, and if it doesn’t offer proper closure per se, it does at least offer some interesting ending notes. And of course, there’s the appeal of seeing the gang get back together again. Angus Scrimm, who passed away in 2016, is absolutely iconic as The Tall Man and while age had caught up with him by the time this movie was made, he still had that voice and that look and that undeniably impressive screen presence working in his favor. He’s not given as much screen time in this fifth movie as in earlier entries but when he’s in front of the camera the movie is a success. Reggie Bannister is also a lot of fun to watch here, doing the confused old guy thing well and handling the humor, horror and action aspects of the picture equally well. A. Michael Baldwin is also in fine form, playing his character without missing a beat.
It might be overdone in terms of digital tweaking, it may at times look painfully low budget and in spots it might not make a damn lick of sense, but Phantasm: Ravager does have enough going for it in terms of casting, creativity and general weirdness to make it worth seeing.
Well Go USA brings Phantasm: Ravager to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in 1.78.1 widescreen and the digitally shot picture looks quite good. Obviously there’s no grain or print damage to note. Detail is typically quite good and color reproduction is excellent though occasionally seriously tweaked for stylistic purposes. The movie has that flat look that is common with a lot of digitally shot pictures, but that’s no fault of the transfer. Black levels are solid and quite deep and there’s reasonable texture on display throughout.
The only audio option we’re given is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with removable subtitles provided in English only. This is a very aggressive mix with plenty of surround activity present throughout the duration of the film. Sometimes it’s subtle, like when Reggie is wandering through the desert alone, other times it’s pretty bombastic, like any time the spheres show up. Balance is typically pretty good but there are a few spots where the dialogue does get a little buried in the mix. Otherwise, no issues here. The track is free of any hiss or distortion and aside from those few spots, the dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced.
Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring director David Hartman and writer/producer Don Coscarelli. This is a lively and engaging discussion that talks about some of the challenges of following up the series after so long, getting the gang back together in terms of casting the picture, how and why Hartman directed, where some of the ideas and concepts for Coscarelli’s script came from, some of the locations and effects work and quite a bit more.
Aside from that we get a five minute long Behind-The-Scenes that includes some cast and crew interviews explaining their enthusiasm for returning to the franchise for one last run. Also on hand are a trio of Deleted Scenes running roughly eight minutes in combined length. Phuntasm: Bloopers And Outtakes is just what it sounds like, a blooper reel that runs just short of nine minutes. Also on hand is a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Well Go USA properties, menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Is Phantasm: Ravager as the earlier entries in the series? No. But neither is it the complete disaster some would have you believe it is. Yes, this was clearly brought in on a modest budget and there are times where this is painfully obvious, bringing the movie down a peg or two, but there are some great ideas at play here alongside some interesting visuals. It might defy logic, and it might not give everyone the conclusion that they’d hoped for, but this fifth and final Phantasm picture is a unique and bizarre piece of filmmaking, wort and all. Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds very good and contains a decent selection of supplements. Newcomers are obviously advised to start at the beginning but those familiar with the series should check this out. It might be a cop out to end a review saying ‘see it to make up your own mind’ but this is one of those cases where, cop out or not, it’s completely appropriate.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!