Dreams and nightmares. Life and death. The beginning and the end. It’s hard to imagine a horror franchise going full-circle so succinctly, but Phantasm has lived up to its own existentially terrifying themes. In a send-off that perfectly book-ends the beloved surrealist horror series with a remastered version of the first film, and Ravager, the fifth and seemingly final.
Thanks to the pull of super fan, J.J. Abrams and his resources at Bad Robot, Phantasm has never looked or sounded better! There was some fear that cleaning up the movie too much would sap away what defined it, being a cult classic from the 70’s. But I’m here to say that Phantasm: Remastered has only enhanced the strange tale of a boy, his brother, and an ice cream vendor fighting a super tall graverobber from another dimension.
The clarity of the 4K print is crystal clear, and you cannot notice a single thread or string on the variety of puppets and monsters that pop up. The sound quality as well is par excellence. From the iconic score, to the variety of screams, gunfire, and explosions, it’s enough to make you think you’re actually in Morningside. The film is unaltered in terms of story, just one high quality picture/sound makeover and making for an enhanced experience.
Onto Phantasm: Ravager, which I will try to refrain from spoiling. Seemingly taking place immediately after Phantasm: Oblivion, we now follow ice cream vendor and guitarist Reggie, turned lone warrior against The Tall Man as he’s marooned in the desert without his sweet ‘Cuda. Reggie is on an odyssey to find his friends Mike and Jody and put a stop to the lord of the dead once and for all. Or is he locked in a hospital with dementia? Or have they already lost and The Tall Man has turned the entire planet into his personal mortuary? Reggie and the audience slip from one perspective to the next, not entirely sure what’s real, and what could be the delusions of a disordered mind…
Right off the bat, and to get this out of the way, I know there will be those out there who maybe disappointed by the penultimate chapter in the franchise. For one thing, being directed not by original Phantasm director Don Coscarelli, but by frequent collaborator and animation director, David Hartman. There is an abundance of CGI and green screen that may turn off some. They may not take kindly to the direction of what seems to be the conclusion to the beloved franchise. But, Phantasm: Ravager has gone above and beyond in distilling the themes and essence that made this series of movies so unique. Reggie is our point of view character, having been there since the beginning, and now it looks like he’s reaching the end of the line. Either by The Tall Man’s hands or by his mental and physical health, like every other entry, its people dealing with their own mortality in a fantastically horrifying and bizarre situation.
This is also the final performance from genre icon Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man, who portrayed the sinister mortician in every film and sadly passed away last January. But what a performance it is! A true send-off to the character with some fantastic lines. Perhaps even having more combined dialogue than in any of the previous movies. The Tall Man still as threatening as ever, with an army of undead dwarves, sentinel spheres, and ghouls. Waxing existence and death with Reggie as they tangle from one world to the next in the continuing ‘game’ they play. Reggie himself stands out, now having become a wandering warrior of sorts. Seeking his friends and willing to fight his way through unimaginable terror to do so. But, at the end of a day, he is still just an ordinary guy caught up in a situation beyond his imagining, which is what makes the character so endearing. And in what could be his last adventure.
The story flips the setting repeatedly as we jump from the desert, to a hospital, to a post-apocalyptic wasteland and other dimensions. It’s unclear exactly what’s real, what’s a delusion, or what’s a dream. Sticking to Phantasm’s surrealist roots. As well as an ample amount of action and gunplay. Reggie getting plenty of use from his iconic quadruple barrel shotgun! Again, though some may deride the heavy use of CGI and greenscreening, it is the best way for such a low-budget film like Ravager to accomplish so much action and monster mayhem. From the world jumping, to the undead, horde, and the mountain sized sentinel spheres!
It was worth seeing Remastered and Ravager back-to-back at Beyondfest, if only to see how the latter encapsulates the former. The original being a low-budget affair as well, but the sheer passion and drive making it stand out. Hartman, Coscarelli, Bannister, Scrimm, and everyone involved show a lot of love for the story and characters, and it shows. Having some deeply heartfelt moments between the bloodshed and dwarves that will really reach fans. And Hartman really shines in the director’s chair, showcasing a menagerie of living dead alongside a rain of gunfire and weapons. Having followed his work since his Channel 101 days with such bizarre webseries as Freako Asylum and Adventurous Und Magick Haus, he is a fine pick to bring us through the otherside of the space gate and beyond.
So, if you want to see one last hurrah for the phantasmagorical series, I would highly recommend catching Phantasm: Remastered and Phantasm: Ravager in limited theaters (in a double feature in possible) Friday, October 7th, or digital and on demand Tuesday, October 4th. See The Tall Man’s game conclude from beginning to end!