Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Phantasm II (1988)

Title: Phantasm II (1988)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: James LeGross, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips


The Phantasm movies have always been some of my favorite horror franchises. Its true they are a bit crazy, they tend to get a little convoluted as far as their plot goes (is it a dream or isn’t it?) but not matter what, they are always fun films to watch. Director Don Coscarelli started these series of films way back in 1979, and it seems like just like the undead dwarfs in the film, this series of films just won’t stay dead! On Phantasm II, The Tall Man is still up to his old tricks. You know, stealing dead people from cemeteries, turning their dead bodies into little evil dwarfs and then using his army of zombie dwarfs to conquer worlds. Next planet to conquer on The Tall Man’s list? Earth! It’s up to Mike and Reggie (ex-ice cream vendor!) to stop the tall man and save the world.

So my appreciation for these films comes from the way they got started. Very indie minded, very independent. Don Coscarelli self funded the first Phantasm film with a meager 300,000 dollars that his dad got him. The film went on to make more then 11 million dollars at the box office! Coscarelli’s film career has been one in which he prefers to have control over his projects as opposed to directing big budget films where he has non. Check this out, Coscarelli said “no” to Newline Cinema remaking his first Phantasm film. He wrote a script for a new Phantasm film and New Line didn’t like it. They wanted a more straight forward remake to the first film, to which he said “no thanks”. He preferred to do the fifth and final Phantasm film on his own. Will it ever get made? Who knows? Angus Scrimm is more then 80 years old. It looks to me like we will see a reboot, instead of a sequel.

Coscarelli had even more success after he made The Beastmaster. A cheesy sword and sorcery flick that became very popular during the 80s. Then, in 1989 Universal Studios offered him the chance to do a bigger budgeted version of Phantasm II, so he took it. One of the few moments in which Coscarelli was involved in making a studio film. The only change that the studio (Universal) wanted Coscarelli to make was to put a youthful and hip protagonist in the form of one James LeGross to play the role of Mike. I’m guessing LeGross was some kind of an “it” boy in 1989. So they switched actors, but kept Reggie. For what may I ask, would the Phantasm films be without the great Reggie Bannister? A lot less cooler that’s for sure!

Basically, this film is kind of like a bigger budgeted remake of the original. It’s got the same basic storyline, two friends vs. The Tall Man who keeps stealing dead people to create his army of dwarfs. Cool thing about this movie is that everything is just a little better then the original production wise. We get cool mausoleum sets; we get more spheres, gorier deaths. But the basic premise remains the same, get into the Tall Mans mausoleum/lair and destroy his dimensional portal! This sequel is for the Phantasm series what Evil Dead II was for the Evil Dead franchise. A bigger budgeted version of the first one which plays like a sequel, but is really the same movie, just retold with more money and effects. Which I think is kind of cool. It’s kind of like a director’s second chance to make the film he really wanted to make the first time around.

Coscarelli took great advantage of this second opportunity to redo the Phantasm universe. The story is a bit more cohesive, more coherent. It’s clearly understood who the Tall Man is and what his purpose is. These films have always had that "is it a dream or isnt it?" vibe to them, but on this one the Tall Man clearly states: "Its NOT a Dream!" as if Coscarelli wanted to make it clear to everyone, this shits really happening! The Tall Man has more powers on this one, more spheres. It seems we can now add Telekinesis to the Tall Mans powers. In one scene he controls a crucifix with the power of his mind and uses it to strangle a priest with it. Though one might argue he always had it, or else how would he control those deadly flying spheres? Mike has telepathic powers on this film, so that adds a new angle to the series. Plus he meets this girl (who is completely dropped in the following sequels by the way!!) who also has telepathic powers.

Speaking of the spheres, they really go all out on this one with them, sometimes having three of them flying around the mausoleum at the same time with various types of deadly knives and blades to torture nosy humans with. I never get tired of watching these spheres fly through the air, get stuck on some bodies forehead and suck the blood our of their brain! It’s a very unique visual, one that gets exploited even further in Phantasm III, where we are presented with an even bigger assortment of deadly flying spheres. This film has an added bonus to it that makes it different then all the other Phantasms. The Tall Mans drones aren’t just dwarfs this time around. This time around the Tall Man has zombie like pallbearers, gravediggers with axes and chainsaws to protect his dimensional portal with. Which reminds me: we get one really cool chainsaw battle in this movie! Not to be missed!

My only real complaint with this film is the presentation of one of the female characters, Chemy. She seems so completely unnecesary in the film. While watching the movie you will get the feeling that she was only there so that Reggie could have some sex. They probably did this because Mike ends up finding himself a girlfriend (and telepathic partner!) so they didnt want to leave little old Reggie all by himself, so lets make up this female character who is suddenly hitchhiking! And she could like Reggie, and she could give us our big obbligatory sex sequence in the film! Yeah! Lets do that! And that they did. Shes a completely useless character and one that could have either been fleshed out, given a purpose in the film or just discarded all together. As it stands, she's th only weak link in the film on my book.

Anyhows, all in all a very satisfying sequel that brings up these films in terms of production values and art direction. In fact this is as well produced a Phantasm film as you’ll ever see. The rest of the films (including the first one) suffer from limited budgets. But one thing these series of films never suffer from is lack of creativity, because no matter how little money Coscarelli gets to make them with, they are always entertaining, spooky and fun to watch. niversal just released this film on DVD for Halloween, sadly the only extras you’ll get with this film is the original Theatrical trailer. Still, a barebones DVD is better then no DVD. Im happy with just finally having this film on my collection.

Rating: 4 out of 5


HorrO said...

I am a fan of the Phantasm series even if it is extremely weird. The acting is not great, but if you are watching it for the first time now remember this was made a long time ago. Heard rumors of another movie. Not sure if it is a remake or another part. The Tallman is not to be messed with.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey HorrO thanks for joining my blog and reading my reviews!

As for Phantasm, Ive been a life long Phan of these films, I remember seeing the first one on tv waaaay back in 1984. Im just celebrating this new DVD for release of Phantasm II.

Id been waiting a long ass time for it! My Phantasm collection wasnt complete, it had that little space in between 1 and 3. Anyways, glad to finally have it, even if the dvd was a barebones disc.

I wouldve appreciated a Coscarelli commentary.


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