I came in to Ravager with high expectations. It’s been a very long time since I anticipated a film with quite as much excitement as this one. It is the promised final installment of the phantasm series, it is the last on screen performance of dear Angus Scrimm. This film had dropped a trailer two years ago and had been generating buzz since then… It had a lot to live up to. I should’ve been worried, but I wasn’t – and I had no reason to be.
Phantasm Ravager is the sequel fans deserve. It is the sequel that we have been waiting decades for. Now mind you, I am a phantasm apologist, and I will happily explain there is at least half a good film in Phantasm three, and if you get rid of the Pink Cadillac Crew, maybe scruff up the orphan, you’d actually have a good solid entry into the series. I genuinely like Phantasm 4, despite the fact people complain that it looks and feels cheap. I think the intercutting of all the new footage with the old unused shots is surprisingly effective and Phantasm 4 does more to world build and push the story then most sequels do, particularly late series ones.
Still, I’ll admit that these are weaker films then the first two, though I’ll enthusiastically defend them to the death. No such defense is needed with Ravager. It comes out of the gate strong and does everything that Phantasm is supposed to do. It fufills all the promise and potential that I saw in the last two movies.
Ravager is the first Phantasm film not to be filmed by Don Coscerelli. While Coscarelli was still around, very much a hands on type a producer looking over the shoulder of director David Hartman, the very different directorial style shows. It makes me wonder if Don shouldn’t have handed over the rains awhile back. The fresh perspective of a 21st century director like Hartman and a fan of the series goes a great way towards reviving and refreshing this franchise. Watching Ravager, I felt very similar to the emotions I had during Star Trek 6 – the original crew’s final outing. It was a feeling of “this is finally great again… why does it have to end now that they’ve finally got it right?”.
Reggie is in rare form – even though the third film also focused primarily on him, the performance he turns out in five is far superior. The balance of humor and four, the more serious tone works perfectly.I’ve long said that the Phantasm films are more about Reggie than anyone else and he’s always been my favorite character in the series. Despite his advancing age, Reg is still very much an action star.
We’re in the 21st-century, and CGI abounds. Still, I really can’t complain about the CG balls. As much as I love the practical spheres (like the one Coscarelli is plunging into my skull here) The computer graphics allow them to do things with the balls they were quite able to do before – and we see a great deal more of the sentinal spheres than we have in any other sequel. Honestly, this is whata sequel is meant to be… to take what’s gone before and double it. More importantly, they’ve managed to make the Tall Man scary again. I’ve always said that the reason you go to Phantasm films is because it’s a reunion – it’s time spent with Reggie and Mike and Angus and Bill… Even Don, whose presence is still felt though he’s never seen on screen. But in the last couple of films, while the Tall Man has been made mysterious, he hasn’t seemed as scary as he once did – his obsessive focus on Mike, and whatever special talent it was that he needed to extract from him… It made him intimidating and etherial, but he never did anything to anybody else. He wasn’t the terrifying spectre of the first two films. With Ravager, that has all changed. The Tall Man is once again a malevolent monster. There is an iconic moment where the tall man is surrounded by the hooded dwarf lurkers, and the masked gravers. It’s terrifying and intimidating and everything that the Tall Man is supposed to be. It’s a sharp contrast from seeing him collaborate with the goofy pink Cadillac zombies of Phantasm 3. there is a moment of the tall man lurking outside a victims house. His eyes are all that are lit and silver sphere hovers at his shoulder before taking off to do it’s diabolical work. He’s not just a threat to Mike in this film. It’s an expanded cast, there’s more characters here and anyone can die. We don’t ceede any of the mystery, we don’t give up the familiarity, but man… Angus Scrimm is terrifying again! And that is as it should be.
If I have one complaint, it is the over reliance on CGI. I realize I just praised it for their use in the silver sentinels, but this film uses an awful lot of green screen. This is understandable, the original plan was to make a series of shorts, and release them as web episodes. You don’t necessarily require the same high levels of resolution for internet content as you do for a film. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the delay in getting this film out was having to re-composite some of those backgrounds with higher quality images. Still, sometimes it gets to be a bit much.
On the other hand, it provides us with a scope that Phantasm has never quite been able to achieve. If anybody out there is familiar with the Phantasm’s End concept, you’ll recognize some of those elements here. Back shortly after Phantasm 3, Roger Avery, the co-writer of Pulp Fiction presented Don Coscerelli with a script for a final Phantasm movie. It would be an expensive film… Far greater in scope and storytelling then anything that had come before. In many ways Phantasm 4 was designed to try and kickstart this – to generate interest and serve as a sort of prequel. You can see it in some moments, particularly when you see the scene of the tall man walking down abandoned streets on Wilshire Boulevard – remember Jody mentioning that there was a risk of infection? I had always personally assumed he meant infecting the timeline, corrupting the space gate… But now we know he meant infection from a disease that ravaged mankind… and we get to see the effects of it first hand, not to mention the world that it leads to. Mind you, Ravager is not Phantasms End, in all fairness it is an amalgam of Phantasms End and several other stories. But it works – it works better than it has any right to.
Don Coscerelli always aspired to make the Phantasm films a sort of dreamlike fantasy. He always insisted that there was an off-kilter quality and a surrealist philosophy. I’m not sure if I ever saw that – everything seemed reasonably straightforward to me, but then again I was introduced to the series by Phantasm 2 and perhaps I have the wrong perspective. In any event, if you want a very surrealist, dreamlike, fantastic feel to the phantasm story, this is where that really comes into play, jumping between timelines and realities with Reggie lost in the world of Phantasm’s end, wandering in what appears to be our world, and then the next moment, frail and delusional in a nursing home (not unlike the one we saw in Coscrelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep).
The end – it’s hard to describe. I think we see Reggie finally back where he belongs. It’s hopeful, in the way a Phantasm film never has been before. It’s a good place for comics and books to take over now – and they should. Even as it ends, Phantasm has given us a world ripe for exploration.
Goodbye and hello, as always.