The Phantasm Series

If you haven’t seen it, Phantasm is one strange series. It’s unique, it’s original, and you better pay really close attention to what’s going on or else you’ll be easily confused by just what’s going on. The series follows Michael and Reggie as they seem to be the only ones who know just what a mysterious undertaker only known as the “Tall Man” is up to. He’s digging up our cemeteries, turning the bodies into undead creatures and taking over the country one town at a time with the help of his flying sentinel spheres. Sounds crazy, but does it live up to that craziness?

phantasm1.jpgWritten and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Starring Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm

Review: After attending the funeral of a friend, Jody, Michael and Reggie discover strange happenings up at the Morningside Mortuary. Michael discovers that the undertaker there isn’t what he seems. They find out that bodies aren’t really being buried, rather they’re stolen by the undertaker who shrinks the bodies into demonic dwarves (think Jawas, only evil) and brings them to his alternate dimension as slaves and uses his flying metal spheres to kill anyone trying to stop him. Did I just start puffing on something mid sentence? Nope, that’s what this movie is about, although you wouldn’t know what’s going on unless you read about it somewhere else.

While watching the movie, I tried to dig on the plot because it was unique, but unfortunately it’s very uneven. It may have to do with the fact that the movie was filmed on weekends over a long period of time, but either way, there are some confusing scenes that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Another major problem is that unless the Tall Man was on the screen doing something, the movie was boring. A lot of the movie was about young Michael idolizing his older brother Jody and not wanting to be alone since their parents are dead. It makes for a nice drama but this is a horror movie, and there isn’t enough of it. It gets a little more exciting towards the end, but it’s not enough. We also get an ending that says, “Hey, it’s a dream! Or maybe not! I dunno!”

Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury are great as the brothers, they’re believable as can be. Reggie, the ice cream man, plays their friend who gets involved and though he looks ever so slightly ridiculous with his trademark ponytail (he’s bald on top) and ice cream salesman attire, he rises above that and shows us that he really can act. Angus Scrimm has one or two goofy scenes but otherwise is very menacing as the Tall Man, giving us something to be scared about.

The effects are simple but they work quite well. If it’s one thing the series is known for, it’s the metallic spheres. As they fly through the air, they stick out retractable blades that stick into your skull as a drill comes out and bores through your head and shoots out the blood and gore behind it. Nasty! The film isn’t too gory, but back in the day, that scene got them an X rating!

Overall: What may have been scary in 1978 doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s scary now. It’s an uneven, boring movie that was appreciated back in the day but doesn’t hold up very well today. As against remakes as I am, a more focused remake of this film would be really good in the right hands and as if Coscarelli still has some say in it.

Story: 5 – Provides a definite unique story, but the storytelling is unbalanced and really takes away from the movie.

Blood: 5 – The sphere attack is great, everything else is tame now.

Boobs: 6 – A woman is so nice as to show off her rack several times.

Rating: 4 – Might be worth a watch for an older, nostalgic crowd, but it shows it’s age and not in a good way.


phantasm2.jpgWritten and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Starring James Legros, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm

Review: Well, the series asks that we believe a bit more weird stuff this time around. Apparently Michael survived the dream-like events of the last movie and after telling everyone his tale of wonder and suspense, they locked him up in an asylum. He gets out after seven years but unfortunately he has some psychic link to the Tall Man, who is able to contact others as well, such as Liz, a girl who dreams of Michael saving her. Reggie is back too, but this time he’s involved until the end because the Tall Man brings him in to the fun by killing his entire family in an explosion.

After breaking into a hardware store for some equipment (leaving money in the till, they’re the good guys afterall), they speed off across the country in search of the Tall Man. They follow the towns he’s been too, he leaves a trail of dead towns with all their cemeteries dug up. Meanwhile, the Tall Man is going after Liz, trying to kidnap her to prevent her and Michael getting together. Surely that means they have a chance at beating this monster right? I’m not so sure, as I got this feeling during the entire movie that the Tall Man was just fucking with the good guys every step of the way. At any moment he could do whatever he wanted but he chose to mess with our heroes the entire film.

This time around, Universal was footing the bill for this movie, so Coscarelli did what someone with money should always do in their movies…blow shit up! Cars, houses, heads, yeeeah! The film definitely comes off looking better in all aspects than the previous movie, though there are a few points where you can see the wire which the spheres travel on. It was still low budget by studio standards (around $3 million), but overall, the movie still looks good. Even the zombie dwarf things have faces now.

I think my biggest gripe with the movie, and the series overall, is the lack of explanation for anything that is happening. I don’t mind watching weird things happen as long as there is some sort of explanation, a method to the madness. Unfortunately, whenever we’re given an explanation, it’s not very thorough and we’re still left questioning. After two films, we’ve still yet to find out what the Tall Man really is and why is he doing what he’s doing. We’re given so little information we’re left just a little more confused than we were before we started. The unknown is scary, but when it’s this weird, we’re going to need a little more to go on.

James LeGros takes over playing Michael this time around, although Michael Baldwin will return for the rest of the series. LeGros does a pretty good job, he could’ve stuck around a little longer. Reggie Banniser returns as…Reggie. Although introduced as just an ice cream vendor in the original, this is the movie that defines Reggie as a gun-toting hound dog who has a bad record with the women. He creates the now legendary quad shotgun and becomes a horny old man due to being on the road all the time. Angus Scrimm returns as the Tall Man and now has twice as much dialogue compared to the original. Scrimm is great, has a certain presense about him where you just have to watch him.

Overall: Improves quite a bit over the original, although it continues to confuse you rather than enlighten.

Story: 5 – Again, the originality is there, but still unfocused.

Blood: 7 – Shotgun blasts, a chainsaw fight, exploding eyeballs and of course, sphere attacks make this a bloody affair.

Boobs: 5 – Reggie gets lucky with a wild one.

Rating: 6 – Much more watchable than the previous entry.


phantasm3.jpgWritten and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Starring A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm

Review: Picking up where the last movie left off, the Tall Man drives away with Michael and Liz leaving Reggie for dead before the hearse inexplicably blows up. Reggie races over to find Mike alive…Liz couldn’t make it. They fight off some dwarves before escaping to a house where they find Michael’s dead brother Jody hanging out. Jody is dead and was turned into one of the spheres. He tries to help but the Tall Man shows up to fry the ball and kidnap Michael. Reggie takes the Jody sphere with him as he travels from town to town in search of his friend. Along the way he runs into Tim, a young boy, who like Michael, had his parents taken away from him by the Tall Man as well as Rocky, a black woman with an attitude and a pair of nunchucks. They band together in search of Michael and to kill the Tall Man once and for all.

Once again, Reggie Bannister returns as the shotgun-toting sex fiend we all know, love and wonder how he survived the first movie. Just kidding. A. Michael Baldwin makes his triumphant Phantasm return, coming back from the original movie to play Michael. If anyone knows how to play Michael, it’s him, but he sometimes comes off like a robot when he acts. He doesn’t react to this weird shit like Reggie does, he just accepts it. I’m not big on child actors, when given a big role in movies, I find them distracting but Kevin Connors did a good job as Tim. If I were ten-years old I’d be scared shitless of the things I saw, but I guess this kid is tough. Gloria Lynne Henry plays a good badass, she just looks kind of ridiculous in the crew cut.

Phantasm II didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, Universal stuck with the series but cut the budget a little bit and released the movie direct to video this time. It’s unfortunate because this is probably the strongest entry in the series and does a lot of things right, like telling the audience what the hell is going on! We learn a bit more about the Tall Man and just what he might be and we also see how the spheres are made which was cool. It comes off a bit more entertaining since we’re finally let in on some of the secrets of the Phantasm universe.

Overall: It’s the best the series has to offer and it only took fifteen years to even start explaining shit! Of course, more questions are raised to hopefully be answered in the next installment which was a measly four years away.

Story: 6 – If you can’t get enough of the crazy shit Coscarelli throws at you, you’ll dig right in.

Blood: 7 – Mmm, more yellow blood and ball attacks.

Boobs: 3 – A quick tease from Ms. Henry is all we get.

Rating: 7 – Well, it’s far from great but certainly a good chapter in the series.


phantasm4.jpgWritten and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Starring A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm

Review: After the last movie, Michael has driven off to get as far away from the Tall Man as he can while Jody tries to get Reggie to go after him as the Tall Man closes in on what he’s wanted all this time, a sphere in Michael’s head. But instead of going right for it, the Tall Man allows Michael some time to figure things out, kind of like the audience. What we’re given is a movie that sets up all the big explanations but the pay off wouldn’t come until the next sequel. This was only a set up movie.

Trying to secure funding for what was to be called Phantasm 1999 and later Phantasm’s End, Coscarelli filmed this movie on a low budget and padded the movie with some unused footage from the previous movies, mostly the original. So we get a lot of old flashbacks mixed in with some new flashbacks as Michael is faced with some major dilemmas and decisions as he tries to figure out exactly what he should be doing. We’re given glimpses of the Tall Man before he became what he is (which I’m not exactly sure of, even after watching this.) Meanwhile, Reggie fights off some more dwarf zombies and even a normal sized one, along with running into another beautiful woman in what turns into another tragic almost-romance for the man. Dude can’t get a break.

I liked where this movie was going, the set ups all came off as something I really wanted to see, which was probably the point. After watching the last couple movies, the acting from all the leads is par for the course. Baldwin does a decent job, Reggie is Reggie and you can’t help but watch Scrimm as he commands our attention. There are some noticeable effects changes in this movie, mostly the balls hanging from the wires and instead of blue screen, whenever someone walks through the gates they just fade out instead of disappearing like in previous movies. It hardly looks terrible, in fact it looks pretty good for a movie with only a budget of $650,000.

The downside of the ball here is that since this a set up film, and I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, there’s way too much going on that’s not given a proper explanation. I can only assume that this was going to be continued with Phantasm 5, but things can get confusing. The gates not only go to other dimensions but now different time periods as well, Michael starts to manifest powers not unlike the Tall Man, he’s somehow able to create his own sphere from car parts even though it kind of goes against how we see them created in the previous movie, etc. There’s a lot going on that hasn’t been presented in the previous movies so the unknown factors just snowball into one big “HUH?” The movie does what it’s supposed to do, just as a stand alone film it’s lacking.

Overall: What this is, essentially, is a big set up movie for Phantasm 5 but unfortunately it hasn’t been made and may never be. If only Coscarelli could’ve ended on a high note with a big wrap up movie explaining the how’s and why’s of the series, it would’ve been great. Just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.

Story: 7 – The film takes great strides in getting us prepared for what’s to come.

Blood: 5 – Not quite as bloody as the previous movies, there’s still plenty of yellow blood oozing and a great shot of a couple of spheres pretending to be tits.

Boobs: 2 – Said tits are silver, still kinda hot, I suppose.

Rating: 5 – It’s ok on it’s own, but without the other part of the story, we’re only left with what could have been.

Well, that’s the Phantasm series. It’s gone on for almost 20 years from beginning to end. It’s a very unique and strange franchise that’s teetered on the edge of existence, the movies took so long to make and took even longer to get released (nine years between the first two movies, six between parts 2 and 3, and four years between 3 and 4). And yet with every new chapter, Don Coscarelli chose to broaden his vision instead of focusing on just what was going on. We were always given little bits to chew on and figure out for ourselves, but we can only figure out so much and with so many plot twists and turns, it was always hard to piece everything together. Maybe things would’ve panned out with the next sequel, but it’s been over 10 years since Oblivion and Phantasm 5 is no longer even a glimmer in Coscarelli’s eye. If you look hard enough, you can find the script for Phantasm 1999/Phantasm’s End, and it certainly sounds awesome and a great way to end the series, but unfortunately we’re left with an unfinished story at this point and unless some miracle happens, this is the end of the road for the Tall Man. Until it’s eventual remake, of course, and I’ll be on board for that, as long as it’s in the right hands.

And now to leave you with one of the best parts about Phantasm: the theme music!

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