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Phantasm Ravager

directorsd14470398_1286341708076916_8484064258982743829_nThis one is not strictly a Don Coscarelli film – he produced it while someone else directed it. However, his fingerprints are deep enough in the movie that I think that should count.

Phantasm 5 is easily my 3rd if not second favorite film in the series. I know I’m in a minority there, but I love everything about this. We have the reunion aspect, everybody is back for one last ride, but we also have a much better sense of finality. The Phantasm films never really end, they’re always cliffhangers, but this one feels more hopeful than any others.

There is a sort of piecemeal look to it, the decision to transition from web series into feature film came on little too late and is obvious, but it still feels like a satisfying end to the series. It’s just as weird as any of the other entries, and the action is just as vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h38m35s121-copyimpressive and it allows me one more foray into this world.

I went to great detail on this film when it came out, and I don’t feel like rehashing that here, but I do want to let you in on the big secret of the film… Most of it is a dream. No, I mean it… From the beginning of the movie, until Reggie wakes up in the tall man’s laboratory, being rescued by the woman from his dream and her diminutive companion, all of that is a fantasy – one that the tall man has created to extract information. The only part of the film that is in the “real world “are the moment in phantasms end. Even when we start flashing back to the nursing home, that is the dream… It’s still hanging on, it’s still clinging along the edges. At the moment that he leaves the nursing home, the moment he dies in the nursing Home, that’s not REGGIE’S death – it’s the dream dying. It’s Reg choosing to live in the real world.

vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h32m15s192-copyThe film makes a great deal more sense once you understand this, and it’s actually a lot more straightforward than ever, despite feeling wierder! It’s the final appearance of Angus Scrimm, and I’m glad for it. It’s a good performance, and the Tall Man is truly scary once more. No goofy companions like the scavengers from 3, he’s surrounded by dares and gas masked gravers. He’s on top of his game (though I wish he had some better lines to say) and even with the short hair feels scarier than ever.

A fitting end to the series, and also to this director retrospective.


Phantasm Ravager

Movie banner14470398_1286341708076916_8484064258982743829_nI 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 phantasmsintercutting 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 img_0825that 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.

1001495_598534383524322_1155353986_nWe’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 vlcsnap-2016-10-10-09h59m23s58whatever 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 vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h07m20s209victims 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 vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h38m35s121-copynecessarily 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 vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h39m47s80the 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 vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h32m15s192-copyintroduced 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.

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Phantasm remastered

Movie banner14457349_1287267471317673_5192525131738943887_nOver the weekend, I caught the newly restored, remastered version of phantasm. Really, you don’t need the resolution upgrade and digitally cleaned up pretty print to get me out to see this movie. The mere prospect of seeing Phantasm on the big screen is more than enough of an incentive to propel me to the theater. Before we get into the effects of the new restoration, I’d like to talk a little bit about the film itself.and establish a pedigree. There’s lots of Freddy Kruger fans, there are plenty of Jason Vorhees fans. Heck, even Hellraiser has a significant following (Who are abused by their franchise almost as much as Cleveland Browns fans are….).

Phantasm fans are little bit more rare.  It’s a weird niche film, that doesn’t quite get the respect that it deserves. It’s certainly more beloved than most people realize – I noticed at two different conventions, they never seemed to be prepared for the MASSIVE autograph line that the Tall Man would draw. Phantasm fans are a different breed – and I’m the biggest Phantasm fan you’ll find in the Midwest, I assure you. It’s what’s driven me to meet all the members of the main cast- no mean feat (Remind me to tell you all about the repeated near-misses and letters sometime).

 

So what is it about this series that draws my devotion? I recall as a child seeing the phantasm_2advertisements on television for Phantasm 2. They made a big deal about “the ball is back!” And they featured the tall man heavily. I was confused, how did I miss Phantasm one? With something that looked is interesting as this, I surely would have seen the commercials for the last few years. I always perked up when I saw this commercials for Nightmare on Elm Street sequels or Friday the 13th sequels! So what was going on here? It wasn’t too long into the theatrical run of phantasm two that the original start playing on the late night UHF channels. I was not quite as steeped in the look and feel of the 70s then as I am now, so it was a strange beast to me. The hair was actually a little bit off-putting, especially young Mike’s, but there was so much about this that I immediately latched on to. The feeling that I was watching something on those late night UHF channels that I was probably too young for. The genuine creepiness of those endless marble corners, and The mysteriousness of the hooded dwarves. It all created a perfect horror movie… And then in the last act, everything changes.it turns into a completely different film – somehow they tricked me and I don’t watching science fiction all along. It’s a marvelous twist.  Funny, if you just look at it objectively on paper, coming up and saying 14469577_1287266907984396_6839442167741886021_n“It was aliens “really does seem like a cop out, but here it works on unimaginably well. Maybe it’s the fact that there are no flying saucers, no little green man, just a stark white room and those two simple chrome poles… used to brilliant efffect with a simple splitscreen effect.  I was hooked there and then, and it wouldn’t be long before I finally made it to Phantasm two. It  gets some flack for being the high budget entry in a low-budget series, it gets grief for not bringing back Michael Baldwin or Bill Thornbury back, but it’s undeniably where a lot of the mythology starts. It’s where we see four barrel shot gun, it’s where we finally see what really is underneath the hoods on the dwarf robes. It’s the point where the series turns into a road movie, and propels Reggie into action stardom. They bring in the same haunting score, and it proves that this formula can continue to work.

Even though Bill and Mike didn’t come back for this one, Reggie and the tall man aren’t the only two returning characters – the car is back. That’s surprisingly important, the hemi-cuda in the series is every bit of character as any of the actors. I’m not a car person in the least, but that this vehicle really is the through line spanning all the movies, and  it struck me profoundly enough that I spent a couple of years searching for a hot wheels or matchbox version of the car, something to add to a meager Phantasm collection (there really isn’t that much merchandising out for the series sadly. It’s tough to even get all the movies in one set!).

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14484770_1287266841317736_7800697036673455131_nSo what about this for a restoration? Interestingly enough, Phantasm really benefits from it. This is on the first time I’ve seen the film on the big screen, cinema wasteland ran a 16 mm copy one year and I was thrilled at how clear it was – being a to read what kind of book is on Mikes bedside table, and being able to make out some of the names on the tombstones. Still, I hadn’t realized how dirty the print was until I saw this treatment. The colors pop, more vibrant than I’ve ever seen them and there’s been some mild re-editing – nothing so insidious as the “Han shot first” thing, but judicious inserts in places like the antique store, the ball victim losing control of his bladder, things like that. Most of the improvements will be late when noticeable, even if you seen this film on hundred times as I have. It looks good, … Sometimes this kind of restoration will actually make movies look cheaper. It’ll turn them into Soap Opera quality rather than Godfather quality. Phantasm is one of those films that really feels elevated by the new treatment. Of course the Capital, being the cult and art house theatre that it is, screened trailers for upcoming presentations of “I drink your blood” and “the Pit”. It all added to the overall atmosphere of the evening. These are the kind of films phantasm would’ve played with at the local drive in or corner grind house.

Sadly, we weren’t quite in synch with FantasticFest at the Alamo Drafthouse so we only got the intro to the film and not the Q&A which featured a beautiful duet between Bill Thornbury and Kat Lester – I see the good folks over at the Horror Parlor have posted it up on Youtube.

14470398_1286341708076916_8484064258982743829_nHowever, the film WAS preceded by a short feature on the upcoming phantasm ravager, What is hoped to be the definitive end to the series, particularly now that it’s star Has passed. The poster was up outside the theater and that alone was enough to give me chills. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I was so excited for a film coming out… Perhaps Freddy versus Jason? But that was a long time ago, and to be perfectly candid, as much as I love both of those franchises, neither mean as much to me as Phantasm does. I will be there in the center of the theatre come October 7!

I hope to see you there to.