New Releases for Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Phantasm: Remastered and Phantasm: Ravager
Directed by: Don Coscarelli/David Hartman
Run time: 90 minutes/86 minutes
The Lowdown: For 36 years, The Tall Man has haunted horror fans and made life a living Hell for Reggie, Mike and Jody.
The long-running Phantasm film franchise, which includes the 1979 original and four sequels, concluding with 2016’s recently released Phantasm: Ravager, is a testament to horror’s unique hold.
Not only do all of the films feature the same actors (minus Bill Thornbury in Phantasm II), but fans have literally grown up with these characters over the course of nearly four decades. And, as in the case of Angus “Tall Man” Scrimm, fans also have mourned the passing of a beloved icon.
In 2016, Well Go USA announced it had acquired the distribution rights to four of the films, including Ravager and the J.J. Abrams-Bad Robot-supervised 4K restoration of the cult-classic original.
Writer-director Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm has always been a personal favorite of BVB. It’s the quintessential independent horror movie, much like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
Phantasm exists in its own world, carefully crafted by Coscarelli, and it plays by a very distinct set of rules that over time came to include time travel, alternate worlds and more ambition than the allotted budgets could properly achieve.
But in 1979, people were floored by the simple story of a young boy named Mike who discovers that the local mortuary might be a portal to a hellish alt-dimension ruled by a towering mortician with a seemingly endless horde of Jawa-looking cloaked minions. It's there that Mike and his brother Jody and their best friend Reggie, who drives an ice cream truck, began their battle against The Tall Man. Propelled by a synth-heavy soundtrack and boasting some genuinely abrupt scares, Phantasm was the perfect drive-in feature to watch with a date.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to report that the concluding chapter in the franchise, Phantasm: Ravager, is not the coda that diehard fans likely hoped for and wanted. While this is the only film not to be directed by Coscarelli – David Hartman, a veteran TV and animation director, takes the reigns – it was co-written by Coscarelli, which only adds to the letdown.
Ravager starts strong, and plays to its strengths early on by focusing almost entirely on Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the perennial good guy who has long fought to save Mike and Jody from The Tall Man.
Bannister, by now, has a world-weary look, and Coscarelli wisely models him after another long-standing, venerable horror icon, Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell), complete with a signature weapon, a never-ending supply of quips and just the right amount of snark and misplaced machismo.
When we find Reggie, he is wandering in the desert, looking for his classic muscle car. It immediately becomes clear when the first evil spheres appear that the budget for Ravager falls well below any of the preceding sequels. The effects look cheap and the CGI isn’t seamless.
The script quickly lands Reggie in cahoots with a hot younger babe, which allows Coscarelli to revisit old charms that worked much better in past films, such as having Reggie warble out a song amid an awkward sequence of sexual innuendos.
Before long, Reggie finds himself in a mental institution where he is told that all of his past adventures with Mike and Jody are part of a grand delusion. He’s even stuck in a room with another patient who happens to be The Tall Man.
The comparisons to The Evil Dead franchise become more prevalent here, especially given that the 35-year-old Evil Dead franchise, which remains relevant today through TV’s Ash vs Evil Dead series on Starz, recently featured an episode in its second season where Ash Williams also found himself in a mental institution and the resulting carnage was superior to the suffering that Reggie endures.
There are three distinct timelines playing out in Ravager – the opening Reggie in the desert timeline, the Reggie in an asylum timeline and a poorly-rendered post-apocalyptic battle timeline where Reggie, Mike and Jody are all part of some secret military effort to destroy The Tall Man after giant spheres have invaded the world.
On paper, all of this probably seemed hella-cool, especially the idea of having planet-sized spheres looming over metropolitan cities and wreaking havoc.
In reality, Coscarelli’s ambition proves too much for his meager effects budget, particularly during a prolonged sequence in some fiery hell dimension where Scrimm tells Reggie how he has been nothing more than a cat toy all these years, a distraction that has long grown tiresome and must be extinguished.
The overbearing sense of melancholy and finality eventually dooms Ravager as it plays out Reggie’s addled death from dementia, only to have him reappear in a different timeline, full of health and riding backseat with Mike and Jody, off on another adventure. When that too seems to be nothing more than a wisp of a dream, and the credits eventually roll, there’s yet another mid-credits sequence that teases yet another possible entry in the franchise canon.
I get it – it’s hard to say goodbye to characters that you love, especially after spending so much time and so many years with them.
Phantasm was an anomaly, a first-time feature by a young director that struck a chord and resonated with an ever-growing audience just as its mythology expanded organically over time with several sequels of diminishing quality.
Ravager should have – could have – been a kickass farewell that neatly tied up its character’s stories in a way that satisfied fans. How much Scrimm’s untimely death impacted those plans is unknown. But in its final form, and its final film, the Phantasm franchise will have to rely on fond memories of movies past while Ravager becomes a disc for film completionists only and not a dog-eared copy that gets passed around between friends and re-watched with the same fervor as the first four installments.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief. Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – The Tall Man, man.
Buy/Rent – Buy them (even Ravager)
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