Released by: Anchor Bay UK
Released on: 12/2005
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm
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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 four films is just kind of creepy.
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 cemetary 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 masoleum 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 masoleum 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 trepedation about losing his brother after so recently having lost his parents. His behaviour makes sense, as it demonstrates some human emotion but also keeps that curiosity that make teenagers do dumb things like breaking into masoleums 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!’
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 eschows the bizzare 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, forbodding 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 gaurding 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 equalled 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 deomonstrates 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 differeing tones and atmosphere that Coscarelli conjurs 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.
Each of the four feature films in this boxed set are presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios of 1.85.1 and thankfully Anchor Bay UK has seen fit to make sure that they’re all enhanced for anamorphic playback. Don Coscarelli was personally involved in the transfers for this set and all four films have been beautifully cleaned up for this release and truly have never looked better on home video before.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the image is how clean it is. Yes, you’ll pick up some film grain in a few spots and you should be able to, really, but all but the most minute instances of dirt, debris and print damage have been eliminated. This presents the films with an amazing amount of clarity that reveals a whole lot of both foreground and background detail present in the image.
Color reproduction is excellent as well. The strange hues of red and green that bathe certain scenes in the series look great and aren’t in the least bit murky at all. Skin tones look lifelike and natural (except when they’re not supposed to) and the black levels stay strong and deep from start to finish.
In terms of the transfers themselves, if you really look for it you might pick up on some slight edge enhancement and some aliasing here and there but that’s about it. There aren’t any issues with mpeg compression artifacts and overall, the four movies in this set look outstanding.
Each of the four movies in the set is presented with three audio options – the original 2.0 Stero track, a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and a newly created DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Each of the movies also include English subtitles that are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
Purists will enjoy the clarity and quality of the stereo tracks while surround sound enthusiasts ought to get a kick out of the added rear channel activity, especially during the scenes where the spheres kick into action (your subwoofer will get a bit of a work out during these scenes, especially if you opt for DTS playback). Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion and there aren’t any problems with tininess in the high end. The lower end is strong and powerful and the bass will provide plenty of rumble during the action scenes or the car scenes. These are strong mixes overall, much better than many of Anchor Bay UK’s DTS mixes have been in the past.
Anchor Bay has really gone all out on this set and absolutely stacked it with a massive smattering of supplements that are sure to educate and enlighten any fan of the series.
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.
The movie also comes with an optional introduction from the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, who scowls at us from behind his desk and briefs us on the origins of the film, more or less filling us in on how much of a one man show Coscarelli’s creation really was at first.
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.
One of the coolest extras on this disc is the home movie footage. Almost twenty minutes in total, this is 8mm material that was shot on the set while the movie was being made. It plays here with some narration from Coscarelli who explains to us what it is we’re watching and gives us some nice background information on what we see in this material. This was also present on the MGM release in North America. Some of the footage is in pretty rough shape but it’s interesting to check it out none the less.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc are cast and crew biographies, the film’s theatrical trailer, and a fun Easter Egg.
This time around the commentary comes courtesy of Don Coscarelli who is joined by Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. Again, 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.
A second introduction from Angus Scrimm is provided for this movie as well. It’s amusing and not meant to be taken seriously but as with the first film’s introduction, it’s fun and moderately informative.
An interesting look at an appearance that Scrimm made a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors Convention shows up here, clocking in at just shy of ten minutes. Scrimm gets into character a bit and does some serious crowd pleasing as he talks to them from the podium about his work on the Phantasm films and how he feels about the movies in general.
Rounding out the extra features are three US television spots for the film, the theatrical trailer, a decent sized still gallery, and biographies for the key cast and crew members. There’s an Easter Egg hidden on this disc as well.
PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD
The third film also gets a commentary track, this time from Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm. You might think that Coscarelli’s involvement in this track would be missed and it is quieter and more subdued than the commentary tracks on the first two movies but these guys are friendly and amicable throughout. Baldwin talks about how his character changes, how he came back on board for the movie, and Scrimm fills in some details here and there about some of the effects work and some of the location shooting that they did for the movie.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are a theatrical trailer, a nice still gallery of behind the scenes photographs, and biographies for the key cast and crew members. Look around the menus and you just might find an Easter Egg here too.
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 are cast and crew biographies and a keen little Easter Egg.
The bulk of the supplements for this set can be found on the fifth disc in the set and they prove to be insanely comprehensive and quite interesting.
Starting off the disc is the Nucleus Films documentary, Phantasmagoria. This massively detailed look at the four film franchise runs just shy of a ninety eight minutes in length and it features interviews with almost everyone involved with the series including Director Don Coscarelli, Producers Paul Pepperman and D. A. Coscarelli, Stars Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury, Kathy Lester, Heidi Marnhout, Ed Gale, Musician Christopher L. Stone and Special FX Designer D. Kerry Prior. This documentary is good, damn good, and it’s on par with such excellent making of features as The Godfathers Of Mondo and The Joe Spinell Story. Everything you could ever really want to know about the movies and the people who made them is covered in this piece, from the origins of the first film which came to Coscarelli in a dream through the naming conventions through to the casting and budgetary issues that they’ve had to deal with throughout their run. Plenty of clips from the movie, outtakes, behind the scenes footage and photographs and interviews make this a really enjoyable look back at the making of the series.
The Phantasmagorical Mystery Tour is a sixteen minute tour of some of the shooting locations that were used throughout the series, hosted by tour guide Reggie Bannister, sporting quite the porn star moustache. He takes us to the cemetary and shows us some of the other, more recognizeable locations from the films and he does so with a good sense of humor.
Another documentary entitled Phantasm: Genesis takes a twenty minute look behind the scenes at a few key moments from the films. There’s some very cool behind the scenes footage to be found in here as well, which makes it quite an enjoyable look at the fine detail involved in putting together some of the more memorable moments from the movies.
The special effects that the series is so well known for get put under the microscope for eighteen minutes in Greg Nicotero – The Gory Days in which the N in KNB sits down in front of the camera to explain what he did and how he did it. A lot of emphasis is given to the spheres used throughout the four films as well as some of the make up effects. Nicotero is an interesting guy and as such, this is a very cool look at how he and some of the other effects guys made it all happen.
Phandom is an eighteen minute look at some of the most dedicated ‘phans’ that the series has. Coscarelli has somehow managed to get in touch with some of these die hards and they’ve ended up working in some capacity on a couple of the sequels, which is kind of interesting to learn about. This section also covers convention appearances and attempts to explain why some people are so specifically rabid over these four films.
Finally, the last extra feature on the disc is again a hidden Easter Egg. Hunt around through the menus long enough and you just might find a twenty-eight minute video that documents Angus Scrimm’s induction into the Fangoria Horror Hall of Fame.
Tucked inside the digipak packaging that the set comes housed in, which sports a keen lenticular cover, is a nice booklet that details that background of all four films in the set and also mentions the as of yet unmade fifth film. While it doesn’t cover much that isn’t in the extras on the discs themselves, it does provide a nice overview of the history of the films and it makes for a fun read.
The Final Word:
Awesome audio and video quality, more extras than you can count and four awesome movies? All in all, a great set for any fan of the Phantasm series.