“I can’t tell what’s real anymore, because of him.”
The mortician from hell, the Tall Man, ice cream vendor turned soldier, Reggie, the beleaguered Mike, the pesky zombie dwarves and those shiny, metal, deadly spheres are all back for the ultimate battle for the future of mankind. Phantasm: Ravager, marks the fifth and final film in the wildly original horror franchise and is a fitting conclusion to the beloved series. It’s bloody, beautiful and bad-ass and serves as a sincere tribute to its many legions of fans, and Boyyyy!, they will not be disapppointed.
The original Phantasm in 1979, springing from the mind of writer/director Don Coscarelli, was a surreal nightmare that delved into the great beyond known as death as two brothers and their best friend fought an evil undertaker and his minions bent on taking over the world. Now, 37 years later, that battle rages on. The film opens with Reggie traveling on foot through the desert carrying his trusted four-barrel shotgun as he searches for his buddy, Mike, and the malevolent Tall Man. As soon as that iconic theme music kicks in, you’re instantly thrust back into the world, or should we say, worlds, of Phantasm. Going back and forth between past and present, reality and dreams, and this world and others, Ravager turns into a full blown invasion as the Tall Man spreads his alien virus across the globe, and only Reggie, Mike and their fellow guerrillas stand in his way.
“Man, it really feels good to be back home again.”
The Phantasm series has been one of horror’s most enduring and unique franchises. While others, from Friday the 13th to Halloween to A Nightmare on Elm Street generally introduce new characters in each film which battle the villain, Phantasm, other than a single recasting in the second film per the studio, has had the same group of actors continuing the saga for its entire length. Rather than the killer and the various ways in which he dispatches his victims being the draw, its the characters and their struggles that bring phans into the Phantasm fold. Here, even the villain is distinctive in the manner in which he conducts his ‘business’. When the Tall Man wants you dead, he doesn’t grab you by the throat or stab you with a knife. He has his killer dwarf slaves and the silver, brain-drilling spheres for that. Phans will be glad to know that the spheres are back and badder than ever, with some new variations and some of the biggest balls you’ve ever seen. Watching a pair of these deadly spheres chase Reggie and his ’71 Barracuda down a stark desert highway is pure joy.
Reggie Bannister once again returns as everyone’s favorite ice cream man, though he’s left those frozen treats melted long ago to continue his never-ending battle with the Tall Man. This film is Reggie’s journey throughout. He carries the film, along with a duffle bag with an arsenal of weapons, on his back. Indeed, he’s in every single scene for the first hour plus, and Bannister is more than up for the task. He’s like a Mad Max traversing the barren roads in search of water and supplies instead of petrol. Whether he’s blowing away killer silver balls or playing the ladies man, Bannister gives a kick-ass, yet heartfelt performance as the world-weary, steadfast Reggie. As much as Phantasm has always dealt with death and what the loss of loved ones means to those left behind, it also has been about friendship and loyalty, and never giving up on those you care about. Reggie is the ultimate friend, and the one you’d always want to be by your side in combat.
“He has the power to channel time, dimensions, even dreams.”
Angus Scrimm, in what would sadly be his final screen appearance (read our remembrance here), is enigmatic, formidable and frightening as ever as his iconic Tall Man. For such a wonderfully sweet man to be able to portray someone so cruel and merciless is a testament to Angus’ tremendous talent as an actor. When he tells Reggie, “your kind are simply skin sacks of water and meat,” he utters it with such disdain and harshness, it’s unnerving, yet darkly humorous at the same time. Even at his advanced age, Angus gave his Tall Man as intimidating a presence as any other figure in horror. Really, what other horror, or any franchise, for that matter, has as its villain a man in his 80’s and its main protagonist well into his 60’s? Just another aspect that makes Phantasm so unique.
“Well, it really is an amazing story.” “Epic, actually.”
Though Phantasm: Ravager was shot on a very low budget, you would never know it from what appears on the screen. Director David Hartman, who co-wrote the film with Phantasm creator, Don Coscarelli, who also serves as the film’s producer, does an impressive job of bringing this apocalyptic world to life, giving the story an epic feel. From otherworldly landscapes to colossal spheres laying waste to cities, the f/x are worthy of a much larger production. The special f/x makeup, headed by Gigi Bannister, Reggie’s wife, who also co-produced the film with Reggie, are gleefully gory and top-notch throughout. Nothing warms the bloody heart more than seeing those silver spheres drill their way into a skin sack’s skull, or throat, whether it be human or otherwise.
Phantasm: Ravager was clearly made with its phans in mind. While newbies to the series may feel a little lost at times, that’s all part of the series’ charm. Indeed, it’s non-linear and dream-like approach to storytelling is what sets it apart from most other franchises. It’s interesting to note that Roger Avary, who came up with the story, along with Quentin Tarantino, for Pulp Fiction, another film famous for its out-of-sequence narrative, had written a grand Phantasm screenplay that never got the financing to be produced. Another huge Phantasm phan, J.J. Abrams, was instrumental in the re-mastering of the original film which recently saw release. In addition to Reggie and Angus, A. Michael Baldwin returns as Mike, along with Bill Thornbury as Jody and Kathy Lester as the seductive, yet deadly, Lady in Lavender. Newcomers, Dawn Cody as the appealing Dawn and Stephen Jutras as the diminutive but deadly Chunk, fit right in. Jutras’ turn as a wise-cracking soldier could certainly lead to bigger roles. (Which makes one ponder, if a ‘little person’ is shrunk by the Tall Man into one of his zombie dwarves, would he become even more miniscule?)
While it is sad to see this phranchise come to an end, and know that this was Angus Scrimm’s phinal appearance on philm (OK, enough with the ph’s), it’s comforting to know that everyone involved, from creator Don Coscarelli down, put their hearts and souls into giving the phans a proper sendoff to their beloved Phantasm. It truly is a one-of-a-kind film series and one that will be cherished for decades to come. Phantasm: Ravager, after seeing a limited theatrical release, can currently be seen on various streaming platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Vudu, with a Blu-ray/DVD release not too far behind. Check out the Phantasm website for new announcements, and the Phantasm: Ravager facebook page to keep abreast of all the latest goings-on with Reggie, the Tall Man and the silver spheres, including trailers, videos with the cast & crew and a phantastic video by The Silver Sphere Institute of Science, and director David Hartman, that gets you all caught up in the series.
— review by Brian de Castro