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PHANTASM






In 1979, Phantasm, written and directed by Don Coscarelli, passed through theaters achieving cult status and spawning 3 sequels. At the time I was 6 so I would have to wait until 1988 to discover the Phantasm series. Phantasm II, released in 1988, was the highest budget and most ambitious effort in the series (this review will center on the first two because, despite what die-hard PHANTASM fans think, the series gets progressively worse after the third). The tagline for part II was, "THIS SUMMER THE BALL IS BACK." I was intrigued and off to the video store I went.

The ball may very well be the most diabolically clever killing device in the history of horror.

Phantasm tells the tale of two brothers (Jody and Mike) and an ice cream man friend (Reggie played by Reggie Bannister)uncovering a plot to purge the dead in their hometown and convert them into dwarf-sized slaves.
The man or fiend behind this sinister plan is THE TALL MAN (wonderfully played by ANGUS SCRIMM). He is a force from another dimension acting out his evil ways as mortician of Morningside cemetary. As our trio of heroes discover the evil doings (former friend TOMMY killed off by a sexy reincarnation of THE TALL MAN is now a dwarf) of Morningside cemetary, they heavily arm themselves to do battle with THE TALL MAN, his dwarf slaves, and his flying "cusinart". Of course the highlight of Phantasm takes place in the grave vault structure in one of two attacks by the killer sphere capable of drilling a hole through one's brain. After this attack, viewers such as myself were begging to see more and nine years later we get it.

Although a bit convuluted in storyline, (Was it a dream or not?) Phantasm is very successful fusion of horror and science fiction done on a low budget but never compromising what it intends to be: a wildly original series with memorable characters (ANGUS and REGGIE are horror movie icons) and great visuals (Did I mention yet I love that ball?)


Phantasm II takes place years later with Mike (now played by James LeGros) successfully completing his time in a mental institution convincing others that the Tall Man never existed. However, his intuition, a psychic bond with "girlfriend to be" Liz also acknowledging the presence of evil and the small fact that the Tall Man killed his family prove otherwise. Reggie is back on aboard as the two pick up a mysterious hitchhiker and follow the Tall Man who has now taken his evil ways on the road destroying every town he plunders of corpses (one of the most memorable scenes in the film is a grave dug up of every casket, very freaky). Of course, Reggie ("ice cream man turned soldier") and Mike are a tad more experienced this time, so the viewing audience gets to enjoy their innovation in the art of weaponry (they construct a flamethrower and the Phantasm series staple 4 BARRELED shotgun, and lets not forget about the classic duelling chainsaw scene between REGGIE and a GRAVEROBBER).

Despite what many fans believe, the larger budget is a big boost to the PHANTASM II experience. Coscarelli always keeps you guessing with the storyline, but the visuals come hard and fast especially in the first sequel.
Beginning with the first reincarnation of the Tall Man (the blond cutie Liz definitely doesn't remain a cutie) to the climatic showdown involving none other than hydrochloric acid (gorehounds will love it), PHANTASM II adds little to the story established in the first but blows it away with sheer special effects and over the top gore.

Armed with more weapons than a small army (brain drillers, back burrowing capabilites, ear-dicers, and even a rat-frying laser beam!), the ball is back and is bad as hell. If you thought the one scene in the original was "neat", sit back and prepare yourself. The surrealistic look of the tomb vault is also worth mentioning as an upgrade from the original. If you haven't discoverd this series yet, go do so. You have been warned of its mediocre sequels past three though. This revisionist review may offend some die-hard PHANTASM fans but I speak from the heart.








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