The PHANTASM franchise isn’t for everyone. It’s a preposterous story that utilizes an amalgamation of ideas that could have been separated into a good 10 different films, but that’s part of the reason the series has fans. Some of us like bat-shit crazy. It works, on a really weird but enjoyable level. The characters are a blast, and the focal group are a relatable bunch. Reggie Bannister is an unlikely, but downright amazing every-man hero, and that’s why so many of us love the guy. He’s everything we want to be and could conceivably be if the world were filled with tall men and flying chrome spheres.
We’re not anticipating any left field takeovers, and most are content putting the idea of heroics on the backburner. But we do all love some PHANTASM, which is why we’re celebrating the franchise here on Blumhouse! Here is our exploration of the PHANTASM franchise from the weakest (but still impressive) inclusion up to the absolute best!
PHANTASM: RAVAGER is the only film in the franchise that creator Don Coscarelli didn’t direct, and the film takes a bit of a hit as a result. The editing is also, in my opinion, the weakest we’ve seen presented in the franchise. Between directing and editing, there’s a different vibe to the film. It doesn’t feel quite like the other four features in the lineup, and it can be a little challenging to absorb, especially since the film has something of a cheap look to it.
Somehow, despite a myriad of production issues, PHANTASM: RAVAGER still manages to impress. It’s a somewhat sorrowful piece, knowing that the great franchise has come to an end, that Angus Scrimm has moved on to the next phase, and it does pull at the heart strings a bit to see how much Father Time has effected the entire ensemble, but the charm of the film overrides all of that. It’s every bit as frenetic as Coscarelli’s pictures, which is going to win fans over, and watching Reggie Bannister return to kick more ass and smooth talk more women just feels… right. We get plenty of appearances from franchise familiars and a finale of apocalyptic proportions. Even as the weakest of the five-film lot, PHANTASM: RAVAGER is still more entertaining than a lot of the features we see released today.
PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD
If you’ve gotten two films into the franchise and the all-over nature of the narrative leaves you fully satisfied, then don’t stop after two. PHANTASM never really gets away from the insanity. It just becomes slightly more controlled and (generally) refined as the movies progress. LORD OF THE DEAD, the third in the lineup, introduces a couple of great characters, boasts a few nutty action sequences and affords Reggie some lady love and a respectable amount of time in the beautiful 1971 Plymouth Barracuda. It also features the franchise return of A. Michael Baldwin, who returns after a single film break to reprise the role of Mike.
Production value still appears solid but limited, stretched to wondrous lengths by director Don Coscarelli who probably gets more out of his cinematic buck than any other genre filmmaker out there. The acting is still an interesting blend of confidence and strangely wooden moments, and Reggie Bannister never misses a beat as the last guy on earth you’d expect to save your ass, but the first to do so without hesitation. So, to sum that all up for you, PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD is every bit as flawed but spirited as its two predecessors.
PHANTASM II could have easily found itself at the top of this list, but it takes a major ding as a result of the recasting of Mike’s character. Don’t get me wrong, I really like James Le Gros who replaces A. Michael Baldwin as Mike, but he comes across as a bit unsympathetic which is something that Mike isn’t in the least. Le Gros may be a very solid thespian, but he’s not the right guy to play Mike. It throws the film into a strange spiral. While it never becomes something uncontrollable, it always feels just a little distanced from the heart-filled first flick.
Knowing that the film has a big issue or so shouldn’t dissuade you from you looking into the film. In fact, PHANTASM II is still an amazing sequel that plays it faithful to the inaugural franchise flick but also successfully builds upon the tale. The expansions to the story are outrageous, but they fit into the void we expect PHANTASM to fill. It’s a successful piece, no doubt, and it also welcomes the four-barrel shotgun to the fold which is an iconic piece of weaponry. You can’t lose with four smoking barrels and a bald-headed bad ass who won’t hesitate to blow a bad guy to bits.
What makes PHANTASM IV so special? The continued growth of the story, most specifically, the backstory finally bestowed to the Tall Man. For three full films we’ve been wondering where the hell this guy comes from and why he does what he does. It’s been a mystery, and the Tall Man has remained silent for the bulk of his screen time. So he hasn’t given us much with which to dissect. This film gives fans something to chew on, and a backstory that, while not thoroughly explored, is enough to leave fanatics satisfied.
PHANTASM IV, like the remainder of the franchise, isn’t without hiccups. The time that Reggie and Mike spend separated creates a somewhat desolate feel to the film, and we no doubt miss the camaraderie that was on display in the first three pictures. That said, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when these two do reunite, it yields a stellar payoff to one of, if not the most informative entry in the series. The door is left open for one final film which wraps the saga up on a large-scale note, and PHANTASM IV ultimately goes down in history as one of the greatest fourth-film franchise pieces in existence.
Here’s where it all started. Don Coscarelli’s original tale of a strange mortician who steals bodies and casts them off to an alternate realm where they’re compressed in size and transformed into little monstrous drones is absolutely ludicrous. There’s no telling if Coscarelli always intended to deliver a sprawling story or if this peculiar little piece simply blossomed with time, but it’s all irrelevant now. The little movie that made little sense but entertained on an epic level grew to be something colossal, and we have this gorgeous gem to thank for that.
The film gives us a perfect introduction to a compelling trio in Mike, Jody and Reggie, and the Tall Man immediately earns a place in the memory bank. The flying spheres are original and oddly menacing, and what they do to victims is gore-drenched and inventive, even by today’s standards. I don’t need to harp on the numerous plot holes, as Coscarelli slowly patches the majority of them up as the franchise progresses. As crazy as it may sound, the absurdity of the original story is part of what fans found so magnetic. PHANTASM is and always will be a “different” film. It sports a similar structure to a number of slasher films we’ve seen, but it deviates from the norm in a number of ways, and establishes itself as something very different and very appealing.