Phantasm II Reviews
Phantasm II begins right after where the first film left off. The freaky dwarfs have invaded Mike's home and Reggie must foil the Tall Man's attempts at kidnapping him. Flash forward seven years and Mike is in a mental institution. He is released upon admitting that the whole Phantasm experience was made up only to find that in his absence the Tall Man has been plundering many of America's small towns and thousands of graves are empty.
After the Tall Man kills Reggie's family in a gas explosion, Reg teams up with Mike to hunt him down and kick his head in...again. All they have to do is follow the trail of dead people, right? And this time they are ready for whatever outlandish tricks he's ready to play on them, armed to the teeth with quadruple-barrelled shotguns, flame-throwers and chainsaws. Complicating matters are Mike's inexplicable visions of the future and psychic connections to a mysterious girl he has never met before.
As before, the Tall Man is the best thing in the film. Angus Scrimm is so wonderfully silent and unholy that no matter how slick and entertaining the rest of the film is he'll come out on top.
Don Coscarelli was given a budget 10 times that of the original by Universal, but they did interfere with production quite a lot, much to his annoyance. They said that only one of the original cast members could return, so he chose Reggie Bannister and re-cast Mike with James LeGros (after turning down Brad Pitt!). It does kind of ruin the continuity a bit but it's not terribly distracting.
They also demanded a more simple and linear story, so don't expect any of the bizarre dream sequences and flashbacks. If you're a big fan of the first this might seem disappointing but you know how studios love to think less of their audiences.
The higher budget helps Phantasm to have a bigger scope than the original. The first half of the film feels like a road movie with lots of pretty scenery while the rest is kind of like a low-rent Ghostbusters/Lost Boys clone. Which sounds like a negative point, but the hokey tone of the film vanishes when it heads off into HP Lovecraft territory.
If you're looking for answers as to what the first film was all about then you won't find many. In fact it raises more questions than anything else. But it's still a fun ride. I'm just kind of annoyed that the music took the more generic synth approach that was common in the 80's instead of the funky 70's beats we got before. The main Phantasm theme is still there for your enjoyment however and gets a great finish on the end credits.
It's not easy having to review the sequel to a movie that you so passionately cherish, but here it goes. As it is, I have just started playing the theme from the original "Phantasm" so that the process of reviewing the sequel, "Phantasm II", will be as painless as possible. I'm thinking that perhaps the music will put me in a sort of trance, making things easier on myself. Before I go any further, let me just say that I am not implying that this is a bad sequel - in fact, on the contrary, it's actually a pretty good one by my standards - although when watching it, I was bothered by the fond memories that I had of director Don Coscarelli's original masterpiece of the surreal and the macabre. This second coming came out just ten years after the first, thus a few of the returning actors have aged rather noticeably and the original has garnered a strong cult following, but Coscarelli hasn't changed a bit.
I admire Coscarelli. He's an imaginative fellow; and in every interview I've watched regarding him and whatever film that has been made the subject, he seems like a very friendly and down-to-earth guy. Just recently I've watched an interview he did with actor Angus Scrimm on a T.V. talk show back in 1979, when "Phantasm" was just not getting its theatrical release. This interview can be found on the most recent Anchor Bay DVD re-release/restoration of "Phantasm", and it's easily one of the best I've seen. Knowing Coscarelli's background makes it all the more enjoyable to watch one of his movies, and I think this interview certainly helped me to just take "Phantasm II" for what it is; a whole lot of dumb, ridiculous, gory fun. It's not as good as the first film in the franchise (which has spawned two more sequels since this one), but on its own grounds, I've judged it fairly; and I had a really good time watching and admiring it in all its absurd glory.
Picking up six years after the events of "Phantasm", the sequel begins with a revealing flashback sequence in which Mike (Michael A. Baldwin) and family friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) look back on the events that occurred during the storyline of the first film, only for the notorious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) to attack them once again. Fast-forward to now present day, and Mike (now played by James LeGrose) has been transferred to a mental institution, and is just now being allowed to return back home once again. Reggie's home, that is. Once the two reunite and catch up, they decide the best way to make up for lost time, in their case, is to stock up on chainsaws/shotguns/blowtorches so that they may successfully hunt down the Tall Man and avenge Reggie's house, which blew up in a fire when The Tall Man and his little Jawa-esque minions invaded it.
There's also a blonde-haired girl who Mike is having strange visions of; he senses that she is real, and that she also is aware of The Tall Man's presence. So would most people, if they or their small towns lived to tell the tale (it's said that you can tell where the Tall Man has been if the area is desolate and destroyed). There's also a priest who gets his ear sliced off by one of those flying metal balls that The Tall Man controls, and a lady for Reggie too! A record number of scenes take place in morgues, funeral homes, graveyards, and creepy old houses. But this is a horror film by way of Don Coscarelli, and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.
After "Phantasm", Coscarelli decided to lay low for a while until he got enough money to make a more expansive and overall bigger version of his classic original. "Phantasm" was a low-budget horror feature in which Coscarelli had to make do with what resources he had, whilst this sequel has all the special effects that money can buy. It's impressive and slightly maddening at the same time; Coscarelli is intelligent and gifted enough to work with these effects to create something that is stimulating for the mind and the imagination, although it's also sort of sad to see him so detached from his usual minimalist/independent/low-budget style. But you know what...this is still quite solid. For what it is, "Phantasm II" could have easily been a lot worse; and yes, it's a mess, but it does have a lot of what the original had, and more. Whether you will enjoy it or not is based almost entirely on what you liked about "Phantasm" and how much you liked those things. If you enjoyed the company of these characters - and can do fine without the presence of Michael Baldwin - then you will appreciate what the sequel has to offer.
While this is clearly not the great film that "Phantasm" was, I still enjoyed a good portion of it. There are some noticeable flaws, and it could have used some polishing, but it makes up for most of its short-comings with some good laughs, some truly bad-ass moments, some solid performances, and great make-up effects. Also, the cinematography is both gorgeous and likably quirky, at times. Coscarelli has complete control over his vision with "Phantasm II" - with the themes of death and existentialism from the film being brought over to the sequel with some mixed but entertaining results - and it just boosts my confidence in the man. I believe that if he's allowed to have fun, then he can do just about anything, even if he doesn't have much to work with. This isn't his best movie, but as a film that fulfills the desire to see images of pale corpses and mutilated human flesh, you'll likely have a ball.
James LeGros replaced the child actor from the first film this time around, but the rest of the cast remains the same, including ice-cream selling Reggie who rises to the occasion to become a warrior against a rising army of the dead.