Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, “Jim, the World’s Greatest” was Coscarelli’s first film, followed by “Kenny and Company”. But Phantasm…this is where most of us first really encountered Don Coscarelli.
It’s hard for me to find something to say about Phantasm that I haven’t already said. I’m fascinated by these characters and to this day I find the tall man to be one of the most compelling villains ever.
I’m particularly interested in the underlying themes of abandonment – originally much stronger in cut out footage. Indeed there’s still Phantasm footage that has never seen the light of day, scenes with Jody and his girlfriend (supposedly the lady in lavender) as well as a guitar performance by Reggie Bannister. I could see it – there’s a stage in his ice cream shop and we can catch a glimpse of it in the deleted scene where they all get into a food fight there.
The story of the otherworldly undertaker and what he does to the bodies buried in Morningside Cemetery will always be one my my favorites – enough to keep me on board though all of the sequels….but more on that later.
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.
Over 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 advertisements 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 “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!).
So 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.
However, 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.
Goodbye Angus Scrimm
We lost one of our modern horror icons this weekend. Head over to the Kreepy Kastle for my tribute to the Tall Man; Angus Scrimm
Days of the Dead Indy (summer edition)
Again? I’m in Indinapolis again??? Why on earth am I making this trip for a third time in four months? I mean, I remember mentioning after my first Days of the Dead indy that I probably woun’t be back to this one…so why am I here TWICE this year?
Yeah, that’s pretty much the big draw for me. I mean, I said it last time – despite it’s size, I always ahve a good time at Days of the Dead, but it is a long five hour drive and this time I didn’t have the Dark Tower to plow through in the way down (Insomnia this time, but only about half of it) and if it hadn’t been for Angus, I would have skipped this one. I’m very glad I didn’t.
I got my tickets online, both for admission and my autograph ticket for Angus. $30 is actually less than he was charging at Flashback and they went out of thier way on the website to point out that you could take photos at the table with your camera (some guest won’t do that if the con is also selling professional photo ops, but Angus is far to classy for that). the pre-purchase was supposed to give you line jumping privileges as well, but forget that. I got in line a half hour before he was even supposed to be at his table. I had no intention of having a repeat of Flashback Weekend, where i waited a couple hours and the line shut down, missing my chance to meet him. I chatted with my line mate while we waited, and out of nowhere my friend Brandi tackled me while her husband grinned. They’d seen him yesterday, but it was still fun to chat with them for a bit. Mark and Brandi have been hitting a lot of the same shows I have this year – they’re regulars at Cinema Wasteland, but they were also at Motor City Nightmares on a different day as me this year, and Monster Bash last year.
About an hour later I got in. Angus’ line always moves slowly and you can kind of see the man slowing down a bit himself, but it was the highlight to the con for me – one of the best moments from con life ever. It was my fourth try trying to meet him….so happy.
Of course there were other guests I was eager to meet as well. I’ve been wanting to hit a con with Felissa Rose for a while now. I know it’s shallow of me, but wow…she grew up to be unbelievably beautiful! I mean, way hotter than the Springsteen chick that played the character in the later Sleepaway camp films…
But the the thing about Felissa is how remarkably friendly and effervescent she is. She was SO happy and SO outgoing, greeting me with a hug and talking with delight about the movie. I discovered that her real name is Felissa Rose Esposito! I mentioned that Dave, the person in charge of programming Cleveland Cinemas Late Shift is OBSESSED with the film – Felissa wants to come to a screening some time.
Kane Hodder teased her from across the isle with an empty whisky bottle.
“You finished it without me?”
“Yeah well,” Kane replied. “I had another signing later last night…in one of the hotel rooms….with my penis….”
Felissa laughed and rolled her eyes at me
“Because we all know I have penis envy….”
If you’ve seen Sleepaway camp, you’ll get that joke. If not…go watch Sleepaway Camp.
More hugging and then I was off to see Imogen Boorman – the little girl from Hellraiser 2. Another remarkably happy person, and really pleased to talk about the movie, and what it was like workign with everyone. She seems to have genuinely good memories of this film, and it’s remarkable that this was her first con appearance.
Finally, off to see Tony Moran before the Angus Scrimm Panel started. Tony was the unmasked Michael Myers in the first Halloween, and man is he a chatter. He reminds me of Robert Englund in the way he tells stories constantly, entertaining the entire line as he does. I loved hearing about his disbelief that donald Pleasence was going to be in the movie and that being his main reason for taking the role. It was funny that he never told anyone he did the film and his family was surprised when they saw him on screen – years later!
PJ Soles had a panel with him but there’s just one problem…..
The next day she lost her voice! She’d been coughing all con long and it finally caught up with her. Saturday she posted this sign at her table.
Angus’ Panel was fun – I never realized that he played Abraham Lincoln in a short educational film. Apparently it’s on the Phantasm 2 blu ray which is a good reason fro me to go and find that. He gave soem interesting insight on Phantasm 5 as well, something I can’t wait for. But his hearing isn’t good, sometimes he’d have probelms hearing the questions and perhaps get a little lost in his answers. I love hearing him speak. He has a great presence and you really feel how much of a career he’s had.
I caught Tobin Bell’s panel as well, another very humble person talking about working his way up in Hollywood. Fascinating to hear about his scenes in Goodfellas being almost comepletely cut out, Scenes with Sharon Stone in the Quick and the dead being trimmed down, and this happening again and again until saw – where NOTHING got cut! Fun listening to his surprise about hearing someone call him a horror icon for the first time…
They had him settled in a little side room which I found curious. His traffic never seemed as heavy and Angus. The Scrimm line wound all the way down the hall and around the corner all day. For some reasons, conventions seem to consistantly underestimate the turnout for Angus Scrimm. If anyone should have a side room with barriers and a twisty line it should have been Scrimm.
I ran into my friend Jeff from back here in Cleveland, a couple times actually and each time he was wearing a different face. Days of the dead has more cosplayers than your average horror convention and it’s something they encourage by bringing in groups like monsters amoung us and doing both costume and make up contests.
They really went the extra mile this time around, by creating a bunch of environments and settings for photo ops. Empty rooms, open coffins, the local haunted house created an asylum in brought in a cage and populated them with their own monsters as well that you could pose with. It gives the car on a distinct flavour, and a much more fantastic atmosphere.
I really do like days of the dead, and a lot of that has to do with how even though they’re big con, they try very hard to put on a great show. I got my little girls gremlins and fright flicks trading cards from the “don’t eat the gum” booth, which they loved.
the autographs I got this weekend were my prize, that I and the time spent with some great people, in particular my line mate whose name completely escaped me…Brian?
He’s another one of those guys who shares with me just as much love for the Phantasm films as you can imagine. We talked about meeting the rest of the cast – he actually got in to see Angus at Flashback. He plays in a KISS tribute band which led to us talking music, and discussing Reggie Bannister’s CD. I asked if he ever heard Bill Thornbury’s music, but he hadn’t. I’ve got one and he did tell me he knew Bill played – he’d see his country stuff and his religious stuff. Bill plays music in the worship band at his curch, just like I do at mine and we enjoyed talking about that. Brian recalled that Bill was very genuine and sincere about his faith – it had impressed him. He’d gotten a bad crack in his windshield on the way to a con that Bill was at, and Bill had prayed over him for a safe trip home.
Yes. I’m that guy – the one that still talks about Jesus even when he’s at a horror convention.
Anyhow, we were in lines for both Angus and Tony, and bumped into each other by the cage, then took pictures for each other. You made my con a lot more fun dude, and I hope I see you again.
Oh, but I have more pictures….of course I have pictures…..