• Phantasm DVD Collection



    Released by: Well Go USA
    Released on: September 12th, 2017
    Director: Don Coscarelli, David Hartman
    Cast: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    The Phantasm movies are weird, even by horror movie standards. There’s just such a strange air of, well, weirdness to them that despite plenty of moments of black humor and quirky comedy, give the four films in the series so far a feeling of uneasiness and dread. Maybe it’s the Tall Man, maybe it’s the bizarre undead dwarfs that do his bidding, maybe it’s the sphere or maybe it’s Reggie ‘Balls In The Air, Dude!’ Bannister – it’s really hard to put your finger on it – but something about these films is just kind of creepy. Hot on the heels of their sold out Blu-ray collection, Well Go USA now reissues the five films in one handy-dandy DVD collection.

    PHANTASM:

    The film that started it all is still the strangest of the series thus far. When the film starts, we’re introduced to a down on his luck teenager named Mike (played by Michael Baldwin) who has recently lost his mother and father. Aside from his musically inclined older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and their mutual friend, a guitar playing ice cream man named Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), he’s more or less alone in the world and as such, he’s a bit of a somber kid.

    While trolling around the local cemetery one day, Mike witnesses something rather strange. He spies a creepy looking older man, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), hauling coffins around and single handedly at that. A little more investigation on Mike’s part proves that the bodies are going missing – they’re no longer buried where they were once put down for their eternal rest.

    It isn’t until Mike makes his way into the mausoleum that he starts to get really freaked out. Patrolling the long, marble halls of the building are some sleek silver spheres that fly through the air and lodge themselves into the foreheads of anyone who gets in their way. How they’re all connected to the Tall Man isn’t readily apparent but Mike, Jody and Reggie are in for it when they decide to try and figure it all out and stop the Tall Man from making more of his evil dwarf minions.

    While the narrative of the film is all over the place, Phantasm works. Coscarelli made the movie without any studio backing and as such it was a pretty low budget production but he manages to create a whole lot of atmosphere with the film. Making excellent use of the mausoleum sets, the movie treads a fine line between straight horror and surrealism and when the wild visuals are paired with a strong lead performance from Baldwin, you end up with a really decent, tripped out movie. The score, by Fred Myrow, might sound like a knock off of Tubular Bells used so well in The Exorcist but it fits the tone of Phantasm perfectly.

    Mike’s a likeable enough character, it’s easy to care for him and understand his trepidation about losing his brother after so recently having lost his parents. His behavior makes sense, as it demonstrates some human emotion but also keeps that curiosity that make teenagers do dumb things like breaking into mausoleums firmly in check. Bannister and Thornbury are fine as the older protagonists, occasionally breaking into song, but the real star of the show is Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. Completely mysterious and completely evil, he’s a creepy looking guy who manages to make some utterly sinister facial expressions that give his role a whole lot of ‘yikes!’

    PHANTASM II:

    Picking up a few years after the events of the first movie, we find Mike (played this time out by James Le Gross of Drugstore Cowboy) just let out of the psychiatric hospital and out looking for Reggie. Though Mike convinced the doctors that he was ‘okay’ by agreeing that everything from the first film had happened only in his mind, Mike knows the real truth and he also knows that Reggie can help him set things right. Mike has also been having strange dreams about a pretty blonde girl and he thinks that she exists not only in his dreams but in real life as well and that she might be in danger.

    At any rate, Mike eventually tracks Reggie down and we find that the loveable ice cream man from the first film is now shot gun totting trucker cap wearing tough guy. He’s been wanting a piece of the Tall Man for a long time now and with Mike at his side once more, he figures now’s the time to get one. The two of them head out on the road and into the country of Northern California/Southern Oregon to track him down and stop him before he kills even more people.

    The second film in the franchise feels as much like an eighties action movie as it does a horror film and in fact, it pretty much eschews the bizarre surreal atmosphere that made the first film so cool in favor of shoot’em up and blow’em up scenes of gun play and mayhem. It works, though not to the same extent that the first movie did. The action scenes are fun and Bannister makes for an interesting if off the wall choice for a tough guy, and the film has enough gore in it that it’s firmly entrenched in the horror movie staples that were established long before it was made, but it lacks that sense of dread. That unknowing, foreboding feeling that the first movie had is nowhere to be found and this time out, Coscarelli and company play it pretty straight, throwing in some goofy humor in a scene where Reggie beds a pretty young woman named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips of Dollman) who he and Mike pick up along the way.

    Phantasm II is fun movie, but it’s not a scary one nor is it really all that unique. If you want to see the Tall Man running around messing stuff up, a chainsaw battle, and plenty of that nasty sphere action that the series is known for, however, it fits the bill. Not a great movie by any stretch, but a completely enjoyable one none the less.

    PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD:

    The third film continues where the second one left off. Reggie and Mike (Michael Baldwin reprising the role once more) are still living on the road, cruising down one long and lonely highway after the other in Reggie’s Cuda in search of the Tall Man and in hopes of putting a stop to him once and for all.

    Our heroes are able to follow his trail pretty easily, as he leaves rather large calling cards in his wake, namely complete and utter destruction. The towns he has made his way through are nothing more than empty husks, ghost towns even, and not a single living soul is left save for one small boy living alone in the house where he and his parents once lived before the Tall Man took them from him. Much like Mike in the first film, this tough little guy knows how to fend for himself and he too wants to make the Tall Man pay for what he did. Throw a sassy black lady named Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry who pops up briefly in The Devil’s Advocate) with a penchant for beating her opponents into submission with her nunchaku and you’ve got yourself quite a team.

    This time out, Coscarelli concentrates as much on the horror as he does on the action and the results are a stronger storyline that continues more along the lines of the tradition setup in the first movie than in the second. There’s still plenty of action in here and more than a few characters who show up to serve as nothing more than cannon fodder for the Tall Man and his spheres. The last half of the film and the abundance of supernatural elements bring this one to a much more surreal playing field than the second movie and it falls somewhere in between the first and the second film in terms of quality and in terms of scares.

    Plenty of gore and make up effects keep things interesting and a few atmospheric touches, such as the kid in the clown mask roaming the secret passage ways of his empty home guarding it from intruders, make this an interesting watch. Bannister is in fine form here, bringing a bit more personality to his character and giving us a bit more character development to chew on as the movie plays out. Another ‘Reggie Bannister Love Scene’ (a film phenomena equaled only by the patented ‘Don The Dragon’ Wilson Love Scene’) adds some humor which he handles well but he’s also quite at home in the action scenes here. Bringing Michael Baldwin back to support him was a wise casting choice – he’s the real Mike in the Phantasm films and having him back in the role he made only helps the film in the end.

    PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION:

    The (so far) final film in the series is the strongest of the three sequels to date – it’s also the one made with the lowest budget, and much like how the first film was made with a miniscule amount of cash, it demonstrates Coscarelli’s knack for turning in films that look a whole lot more expensive than they actually were.

    This time out, the tables have been turned as the Tall Man goes on the offensive and starts haunting Mike. Not wanting to be taken down for the count, Mike starts digging around and trying to uncover the origins of the Tall Man in hopes that it will help him find a way to stop him and also unravel the truth behind his brother’s death those many years ago. Mike’s not going this one alone, however, as Reggie is trying to find him, hoping to help him out. Reggie being Reggie and all, he stops to pick up a hot girl he finds along the way named Jennifer (Heidi Marnhout who would later show up in Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho Tep).

    The weirdness is turned up a few notches in this one. Coscarelli shoots most of the movie out in the middle of the desert but also manages to work in a lot of footage that was shot for the original movie but never used into the fourth installment of the story. While this might sound like a cheap way to use up some left overs, it actually works in the films favor and just adds to the already ‘out there’ narrative as we delve a little deeper into who the Tall Man is, what makes him tick, and why he seems to be so obsessed with Mike throughout the saga. Seeing as the Tall Man is essentially chasing Mike through a couple of different dimensions and the film hops around accordingly, the differing tones and atmosphere that Coscarelli conjures up as the story plays out somehow manage to work even though technically they should stand out the same way that the added scenes did in the abomination that was the Night Of The Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition.

    Of course, the movie leaves us with enough lose ends that a fifth film wouldn’t be too far of a stretch. In fact, boner inducing rumors have been going around for a couple of years now that Coscarelli wants to do one more and let Reggie team up with Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead and Bubba Ho Tep fame) to finish the storyline, but we’ll have to see if that ever happens. Even with the unfinished business remaining, oddly enough, unfinished, the fourth chapter does do a good job of giving us some much needed background information on the Tall Man and it gives Scrimm a chance to really strut his stuff. Bannister takes the back seat and lets Baldwin and Scrimm drive the film this time around, and the results are pretty satisfactory. Keep in mind that this one won’t make a lick of sense if you haven’t seen the three films that came before, but fans of the series should find plenty to enjoy with the fourth film.

    PHANTASM: RAVAGER:

    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.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Each of the five feature films in this set is presented on its own DVD and in anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen save for the second film which is framed at 1.85.1, also in anamorphic widescreen.

    Note that for some annoying reason the transfer for the first, third, fourth and movies are interlaced but the transfer for Phantasm II is not.

    The transfer for the first movie does appear to use the same transfer as Well Go USA’s standalone Blu-ray release reviewed here (we can’t comment on the third and fourth films as they weren’t made available for review on Blu-ray). The same can be said for the transfer used on the DVD or Phantasm Ravager reviewed here.

    The second film has a Shout! Factory logo on the disc and would appear to be a standard definition down conversion of the HD master used for the Scream Factory Blu-ray that came out a few years ago. As such, expect some noise reduction.

    Obviously these can’t look as good as the Blu-rays would have, but they’re perfectly watchable. There are some minor compression artifacts here and there but the image is clean across the board, there’s no real print damage to complain about and colors look alright.

    The audio in this set is laid out as such:

    Phantasm: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Mono and Stereo
    Phantasm II: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo
    Phantasm III: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
    Phantasm IV: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
    Phantasm V: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

    Optional English closed captioning is provided for each film.

    No issues to note with the sound. The 5.1 mixes are fun and spread things out into the surround channels – this is most evident when the spheres are zipping around and doing their thing – while bass response is decent (listen to the engine rev on the car for evidence of that). There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and the levels are well balanced.

    Extras are film specific and broken down as follows:

    PHANTASM:

    First up is a lively audio commentary with director Don Coscarrelli, and actors Angus Scrimm, Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury. This commentary is a lot of fun as the four guys obviously get along with one another very well which leads to some good natured moments of humor scattered in between the anecdotes and factual information that is delivered during the discussion. With the director and three performers on the track you get a good idea of what it was like on set in front of and behind the camera and as such, this turns out to be a pretty well rounded look at the making of the movie. This commentary is the same one that graced the laserdiscs and the domestic MGM release in North America.

    Up next are nine deleted scenes that make up roughly ten minutes with their combined running time. These have been seen before, not only on the laserdisc releases but more recently on the MGM Region One release (which is now out of print) so they’ll be familiar to a lot of viewers but there are some nice moments in here, including the infamous ‘you think you go to Heaven?’ line from the Tall Man and Reggie’s food fight scene. There’s a keen outtake clip of Angus Scrimm laughing that surfaces in here as well.

    The Phantasm 1979 Interview is a vintage television interview with Coscarelli and Scrimm in which they appear on a talk show and discuss the film. Scrimm gets very theatrical here and hams it up in a big way while Coscarelli plays it a little more straight as he talks about what inspired him to write the story. He talks about how he likes to build up the audience to scare them and make them scream and then how the natural response to that is laughter. It doesn't cover a lot of what isn't covered in the other documentaries or on the commentary but at twenty-nine minutes long it's quite detailed and it's interesting to see and hear the actor and director's take on the material from around the time that it was made as opposed to in retrospect. We've seen this on the MGM and AB UK discs, but it's nice to have it here.

    All of those supplements are ported over from previous DVD releases. New to this disc is an episode of Graveyard Carz that runs thirteen minutes. This is basically a quick little reality show style piece where a few mechanic rebuild a Hemi Cuda based on the car that Jody drives in the movie.

    Outside of that we get a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer, a Phantasm Remastered trailer, menus and chapter selection. Trailers for a few unrelated Well Go USA properties play before the main menu screen loads. Additionally, as this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie containing identical extra features is also included. Previous DVD versions have included quite a few additional extras features that have not been ported over to this release (the biggest omission being the Phantasmagoria documentary and the ‘home movie’ footage but there were a few other bits and pieces on that old Anchor Bay SE DVD that aren’t here).

    PHANTASM II:

    Extras start off with a commentary track that comes courtesy of Don Coscarelli who is joined by Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. If you've heard any of their tracks for some of the other movies in the series, you already know that these guys get along really, really well together and we're treated to a fun and interesting listen. Reggie and Coscarelli have worked together on almost everything and they go way back, so there's a lot of mutual ribbing going on throughout, but again, there are enough stories and facts delivered through the discussion that it's not hard at all to get a good feel for the kind of atmosphere they were able to create on set. The most interesting aspect of this talk is when Coscarelli details, with some regret, the compromises that he had to make with the money men in order to get the movie even made in the first place. This track has been included on past DVD releases but it's a good one and it's nice to see it carried over.

    Up next is Red Shirt's The Ball Is Back, a forty-plus minute high definition featurette that is made up of interviews with Coscarelli, Bannister, Phillips, Scrimm, Irvine and a few other cast and crew members. Coscarelli notes that he loves horror film but talks about wanting to try other things after the success of Phantasm and also briefly discusses how Brad Pitt auditioned for Phantasm 2, though he obviously didn't get the part. Bannister talks about reprising his role here and what it was like working with James Le Gros. Some cool alternate scenes and ideas are discussed here, as well as some effects and establishing shots they wanted to use but couldn't quite perfect and we get to see some of Paula Irvine's audition footage. There's some interesting behind the scenes and test footage in here and some discussion of how they wound up shooting on what was basically an empty block. Humorously, Irvine talks about her sex scene with Bannister and notes that his wife was waiting right outside, while some of the effects technicians discuss the rubber prosthetics and motion control optical effects used throughout the movie - including what was done differently with the sphere in this second film. It's a very thorough documentary and if it covers some of the same ground as the commentary, so be it, the inclusion of some genuinely interesting footage and the involvement of more people definitely make it worth watching.

    Up next is seven minutes’ worth of Deleted Scenes taken from archival 35mm film elements from Don Coscarelli's archive. Included here is some bits with Liz's internal narration about her visions and connection with Mike, some more bits where Reggie's house explodes and the after effects of that scene, an extended sequence with Reggie and the flamethrower that Mike imagines while camping with Reggie, a scene of dialogue with Liz and her grandmother in the back of a car, a quick bit with the priest noting all of the hearses, more dialogue with Mike and Reggie talking about taking out the Tall Man, and some dialogue between Reggie and Alchemy. None of this is necessarily super important stuff that would change the movie a whole lot had it been included, but it's cool to see it included here.

    Also included are nineteen minutes of Additional Scenes of alternate takes and deleted gore footage from the workprint version of the movie. Taken from the best available elements, this stuff is far from pristine and it's presented without a score and with only a few sound effects. A lot of this material is just extensions of dialogue scenes but the deleted gore footage is pretty great. We also see here almost four minutes’ worth of footage with the priest making a phone call before exploring the house and then drinking, some footage of Liz looking out the window and examining a pill jar, Liz trying to find Father Meyers, some footage with Reggie and Mike in trouble in the cemetery, footage with Meyers and a sphere, dialogue between Mike and Liz in the bedroom which segues into a weird love scene where they're up in a tree and then in various other locations (this odd scene is addressed in the featurette), some snippets with Reggie and Alchemy in bed, a whole lot more footage of the film's most infamous 'sphere out the face' death scene, clips of the Tall Man taking the sphere to the face in the embalming room, more with the fire at the end, some awesome 'alternate world' footage with the Tall Man and some alternate footage from the film's ending. The material in this section is presented in full frame with time code underneath in standard definition but it's great to see it, there's some very interesting stuff here indeed.

    Rounding out the extras for the second film are some TV spots and trailers for the feature as well as an easy to find Easter Egg available off of the main menu screen.

    PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD

    The third film also gets a commentary track, this time Coscarelli and editor Norman Buckley. It’s a bit more technical than the other tracks on the set but still quite interesting. Coscarelli has more to say than his counterpart, as he talks about the storyline, reuniting with the key cast members and what they tried to do differently this time around but Buckley chimes in when he needs to and shares some insight into his process.

    The third film also gets a featurette entitled Balls Of Steel: Bob Ivy’s Stunt For The Ages, which is ten minute piece that interviews the stuntman responsible for one of the film’s stand out scenes. Don Coscarelli also appears here as does Reggie Bannister to offer thoughts on Ivy’s commitment to his craft. Lots of great behind the scenes footage in this one.

    Last but not least, dig that trailer.

    PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION

    Don Coscarelli returns for a commentary here as well, joined by Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. Par for the course, it’s fast, funny and interesting. There’s some good character explanation and bits and pieces that fill in some of the blanks here, mostly courtesy of Coscarelli, and they discuss not only the making of the movie but also some of the continuity of the series as well.

    Rounding out the features on the fourth disc is a trailer and a behind the scenes featurette that runs thirty minutes. There’s a lot of interesting footage included in this piece but it’s all presented very much ‘fly on the wall’ style without a whole lot of context. Regardless, the VHS sourced material is worth checking out if you want to get a feel for what it was like on set during the shoot.

    PHANTASM: RAVAGER:

    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 is 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.

    The five DVDs in this set fit inside one standard sized DVD keepcase, one on top of the other on a single spindle. That keepcase in turn fits inside a nice foil embossed slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    Well Go USA’s five movie Phantasm DVD Collection has some issues in the transfer department (why are these transfers interlaced???) but otherwise it offers up the complete Phantasm experience with a nice selection of extras at a very fair price.















































































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