Reviewed by Matt Serafini
Starring Reggie Bannister, James LeGros, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips, Kenneth Tigar
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Distributed by Universal Home Entertainment
‘The ball’, a near afterthought of the original Phantasm, came screaming back into theaters in 1988 and writer/director Don Coscarelli found himself armed with a bigger budget and some professional actors mixed in amongst the returning favorites. The end result was a sequel far more straightforward than its predecessor, but despite the slick sheen, does Phantasm II measure up against an original film whose reputation only grew in the years following its release?
Yes and no.
On one hand, Phantasm II is a completely satisfying experience: The make-up effects are a stellar example of practical technology in the years before GCI entered the game, and Coscarelli’s direction is more confident here than in any of his other films. As such, we’re treated to some genuinely scary moments (the fantastically macabre funeral scene and its aftermath kicks around in your skull forever) which are evened out with welcome levity and a few nice character asides. Reggie and Mike’s bonding during their quest to kill the Tall Man places them among the most memorable horror heroes, and you couldn’t grow up in the 80s without thinking how badass Reggie’s double, double barrel shotgun was (despite taking more than a page from Evil Dead 2)!
But there are a few issues that prevent this one from achieving the artistic success of the original. It’s burdened with an occasionally sluggish pace that leaves the film feeling a tad slow and there’s a disappointing lack of the surreal and nightmarish. It’s the only one in the series to adopt a completely linear approach (save for the time-bending prologue) to the Tall Man’s reign of terror but, in doing so, Coscarelli robs his dreamlike world of much of its appeal. Very few films have ever been able to emulate the feel of the original Phantasm – presumably because it’s a lot harder to market something that will only baffle audiences – but that’s what makes it so memorable within the genre.
Part II tries to compensate with a barren atmosphere as our heroes trek across the country, each town more desolate than the last. It’s stated that The Tall Man is sucking the life out these places one by one but, if that’s the case, why hasn’t it attracted more attention? The first film was able to play off its more nonsensical ideas because of its “anything goes” dreamlike quality, but the real-world approach here raises more questions than answers.
Still, the good outweighs the bad. Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is one of the genre’s most sinister creations and this sequel seriously amps up his carnage. With a crooked scowl and twisted glare, he’s the stuff of nightmares. Beyond that, the benefit of studio money allows the production to revel in some kickass sphere madness. And like any good sequel, Coscarelli succumbs to the “bigger is better” mentality by giving our heroes three fully equipped spheres to contend with while Reggie comes into his own as the intrepid hero we’ve come to know and love.
For my money, the later sequels would rectify some of my issues with Phantasm II (bringing back A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury while reclaiming the surreal nature of the original), but this one is a good time, regardless. Strap on your gas mask and get ready to exhume some graves, the Tall Man is back and you won’t want to miss this one if you liked the first go ‘round.
Universal has finally dusted off Phantasm II for its long-awaited DVD release. The good news? It’s a reliable transfer with a disappointing 2.0 stereo mix to accompany it. The bad news? Ten years into the digital era of home video and all we’re getting is the same old R-rated theatrical cut. In this age of “uncut” editions, it’s a shame that Universal couldn’t have put a little (read: any) effort into this release. And while we’re talking about supplementary material, it’s a shame that Universal couldn’t have worked out a deal with Anchor Bay U.K. to carry over the nice collection of extra material from their 2005 R2 release. The best we get here is a theatrical trailer. Come on Universal, do this bad boy right when it comes time to get it onto Blu-ray.
At the end of the day, I’m recommending this release because, at the very least, the transfer is a good one. Phantasm II has a nice sense of fun to it which makes it the perfect viewing material for this time of year. If you can’t import the R2 release, this is a respectable way to complete your collection, even if Universal could’ve put a little extra effort into debuting this disc.
4 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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