Thursday, January 21, 2010

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Title: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: Angus Scrimm, A Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Banister


I’m a big fan of the Phantasm series of films; I really love the strange universe that Coscarelli created. I love the enigmatic nature of the infamous Tall Man, a character whom we never really get know, well, at least not until part IV, a film that revealed a lot about the mysterious character. Questions go hand in hand with this series of films. But I like this element of these films, the unanswered questions, the dreamlike atmosphere. The fifth Phantasm film is still in limbo, and at this point, I doubt it will ever get made. I’m thinking we will see a remake before we see a sequel. The third film in the series Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead had not been available on DVD for many years. But here, finally on DVD is Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. A movie that begins to reveal why the Tall Man has been following Mike around most of his life.

Basically the story for this one is the ever continuing struggle of Reggie Banister and Mike to destroy the Tall Man and his army of minions. You see, the Tall Man is an alien from another dimension who has systematically been destroying small towns across the United States. His main goal being the complete destruction of the human race. The Tall Mans way of overtaking a species is, he takes the dead, crunches them down to midget sized monsters and uses this army of midget monsters to conquer worlds. Reggie Banister (an ice cream vendor by trade) and Mike (a regular every day teenager) have been trying to destroy The Tall Man ever since the alien appeared in their home town way back in 1975, when the first film was released. On this, the third installment of the franchise, The Tall Man is back, and we learn that he is after Mike for a reason. Reggie and Mike (along with the ghost of Mike’s dead brother Jody) try once again to foil the Tall Man's planet conquering scheme.

If that plot synopsis sounds a little convoluted, it's because this particular series of films is a little convoluted on itself. The storyline is always changing and expanding, it's no surprise then that this series of films always includes a recap of the previous film to freshen up your memory about what has happened so far. I love the continuity aspect of these films. We always pick up right where the previous movie left off. So you get this feeling of continuation from the whole series. And you'd think that this continuity might help the series come to some sort of closure, but Coscarelli has made it a point to come up with new and interesting complications to the storyline with every new film. Is Mike dreaming the whole thing? Is the Tall Man real? What is the purpose the Tall Man has for following Mike? What are the Tall Man’s plans for earth? Some of these questions were answered on Phantasm IV: Oblivion, but some of them weren't. Will we ever see the final fifth film and have all these questions answered?

This particular installment is a little different in tone then the rest of the films in the series. Even though this one has a faster pace and is a fun film to watch, it has a couple of things that make it different from the rest. For example if you remember correctly the actor who plays Mike on the first movie was Michael Baldwin. This actor was replaced for the second film with James LeGros. Probably a move made by the producers of the second film (Universal) to have a pretty boy in the lead role. Coscarelly had to probably bow down to Universals wishes since they were giving him the money to make his second Phantasm film. But now on this third installment Coscarelli decided to switch back to using the series original ‘Mike’ by hiring Michael Baldwin again. This aspect can be a bit confusing, but if you are aware of it, then it should be no problem. So just to make things clear: James Le Gros is out and the original Mike from the first Phantasm is in.

Another thing that might rub people the wrong way is that this movie has added a couple of comedic elements to it. To me this is no big deal since this series of films has never been deadly serious. Comedy has always been an element of the Phantasm films. I mean think about it: midget aliens? Ice cream vendors with shotguns? Tell me that's not comedic! The comedy elements on this one come from three burglars who live off the stuff that people abandon once the Tall Man takes over a town. They die and become zombies under the control of the Tall Man. We also get a little kid named “Tim” whose whole family was killed by the Tall Man. Now he is trying to survive all alone in the remnants of this desolated town. This little kid sets up traps in his home just like those traps in the Home Alone movies. In a sense this kid is like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, only this kid is much deadlier! This was obviously Coscarelli’s way of cashing in on the popularity of the Home Alone movies which were huge hits about the same time Phantasm III was being made. Plus Reggie gets a girlfriend named “Rocky” who is into martial arts and stuff. She fights the deadly spheres with nun chucks. So that's as far as the comedy goes on this movie.

The problem with this movie for me is that all the new characters feel like extra baggage that we don’t need. They feel like filler, simply put in the film to stretch its running time. They really don't do anything to move the story of The Tall Man along. They feel like outsiders in a story that's always been about The Tall Man vs. Mike, Reggie and Jody. This characters are so useless that at one point in the film, after Reggie’s girlfriend Rocky has fought off a couple of zombies and spheres, suddenly decides she’s not cut out for this and abandons the film entirely! She says "I’m outta here, this shit isn’t for me!" and leaves! What? Why didn't you leave earlier in the movie then? Duh! I mean, its like she was only put in the film so that Reggie could get some action, which he does get by the way. Ive always found it hilarious how Reggie thinks more with his dick than with his head. In all the Phantasm films, Reggie gets in trouble because he is trying to get laid! By the way, the actress who plays Rocky (Gloria Lynn Henry) does some of the worst acting in the whole series; so good riddance to her anyways. The kid character wasn’t needed either, he does next to nothing and only got in the way of the story. Plus, by the time the film ends, he is taken out of the story as if he never existed, so what was the point of introducing such a useless character? Essentially we get a bunch of useless new characters who do no good in advancing the Phantasm story. This is really one of the few things that I didn't like about this movie.

But putting aside all that filler, this movie does have lots of cool stuff going on for it. For example, the spheres evolve a lot more. This is something that the second film played around with a bit too, but on this one they go all out in trying to offer up new spheres with new deadlier ways of killing people. This movie was all about the spheres! We learn a whole lot more about them this time around. We learn that they have brains inside of them, we learn that they are completely controlled by the Tall Man, and that he can immobilize and kill a sphere as easily as one would squash a cockroach. And we also learn that the spheres can morph into human form as well. Anyways, point is this movie goes a lot more into what the spheres are all about. Hell, there’s a particular scene I loved that has hundreds of spheres floating around the Tall Man. A fantastic visual! There’s another great visual where we see The Tall Man sitting in this sort of throne with all these lit candles around him as he holds one of the spheres, looked freaking cool as hell! Theres more spheres on this movie then on any other Phantasm movie. Even part IV.

The best part of the dvd is hearing the audio commentary with Angus Scrimm and Michael Baldwin. It’s really funny cause Michael Baldwin goes through the whole commentary sort of dissing the film, pointing out all its faults and mistakes. And just when you think that Michal Baldwin’s comments are sort of making sense, in comes Angus Scrimm looking for some sort of logic to the apparently senseless proceedings. They get to bickering a bit, but that's mainly because Michael Baldwin’s always complaining about not being in the second film which he calls through out the commentary "The film that shall not be named!" Funny, funny stuff, but very informative. Highly recommend you listen to it. It’s that rare audio commentary that's actually entertaining and informative at the same time.

All in all this was a fun movie to watch. I still think the Phantasm II is the best of all, and the first one follows closely behind. But this third installment manages to be extremely fun and revealing. It takes the story a bit further; it expands on certain ideas and leaves you wanting more! The ending in this one is a slam in the face, suddenly just when things are getting good, slam! The door is shut in your face and you will feel the need to see the next movie immediately. A fun movie, that sadly has some unnecessary elements in it. But who cares, I had my fun with this one! It has all the things you’d expect from a Phantasm film: the muscle cars, the Tall Man, the spheres, the minions, the midgets, the zombies, the alien appendages that turn into creatures, you name it, it’s in here!

Rating: 3 out of 5


Snipes said...

I've been meaning to check out this series, just never gotten around to it. How does it compare to Hammer Horror films?

Franco Macabro said...

I dont think they compare at all with Hammer films. They are a totally different thing then anything that Hammer ever made.

The thing about these Phantasm films is that they are so original, I really cant compare them to anything else.

They are horror films, but with a science fiction angle. They put a lot of emphasis on making everything very dreamlike, through out the course of the films, your never really sure if they are dreams or not. Though on the second one the Tall Man clearly states "Its not a dream!"

One of the things that describes these four films is that they keep asking questions...and dont answer a heck of a lot them. Everything is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity all the way tot he fourth film which is the one thats supposed to be the big "revelation" where many questions are answered.

They are fun films, horror-science fiction- with a bit of comedy thrown in as well.

The first one is a very independent film, yet impressive. The second one had a bigger budget and is really the best of the four, in my opinion anyway. From the third on, they were STV movies, but not bad ones. Not if you are a fan of the first two.

Hope you like em!

Neil Fulwood said...

Have you seen Coscarelli's 'Bubba Ho Tep', with Bruce Campbell playing a still-alive but decrepit Elvis battling a resurrected Egyptian mummy in a flea-bitten retirement home? Based on a Joe Lansdale story, it sounds ridiculous (and is!) but Coscarelli's genius is to play it entirely straight.

Franco Macabro said...

Yup Neil, Ive seen almost all of Coscarellis films, with th exception of Kenny and Co. which was a film he made even before he did Phantasm.

I think he is the kind of director that wears his b-movie flag proudly. I love how his films are so comic bookish in feel. Wish he was making more films. As it is, I think the last one I saw of him was that episode he did for Masters of Horror, which was actually pretty good but not memorable.

Id love to see a new Phantasm, hell, even a remake would be awesome as long as I got to see The Tall Man again, and those spheres flying! You know who would do a good Tall Man? Paul Noonan is it? The guy who plays Frankenstein in Monster Squad? He would be great as an updated version of the Tall Man in a remake.

I heard the remake was mentioned...but nothings come of it sadly.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I have never been a fan of the series, I dont find Coscarelli to be particularly talented although the story concept is rife with dreamlike SciFi Horror. I tend to rate them in the order in which they were released, but this is a series that I actually feel would benefit from a remake with an entirely new cast and director. Plus, I STILL say that the series is an allegory for Mike's budding homosexuality. Tall man = ??

Franco Macabro said...

The Tall Man, according to Coscarelli represents death. Its why he appears right after their parents death and intensifies after Jody's death, because Mike cant deal with death.

I agree with you on the remake idea, I wouldnt mind seeing that at all with some updated effects!


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