Monsoon-A-Day ‘The Phantasm Series’

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day.
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.

Day 67

I’m catching up on all the horror franchises I had either never finished or missed completely. But I’m only reviewing the films in the series I missed. So, if I’m in the middle of a franchise, you will be as lost as I am. All you get is cliff notes summaries. You’re in the shit now, boy. 

 

Quick overview of the franchise:

Phantasm was about a kid named Mike who tries to convince his brother Jodi and Jodi’s friend Reggie that the local undertaker is actually a corpse stealing ghoul named the Tall Man. It’s a surreal cult classic.

Phantasm 2 sees Mike escape from a mental asylum to recruit Reggie and some friends to defeat the Tall Man once and for all. Fans took umbrage with the recasting of Mike and critics complained that it was “indecipherable.” I kind of remember liking it.

According to my movie-a-day notes, it’s been 6 years since I saw the second Phantasm and god knows how long since the first, so jumping into the third without so much as a quick glance at the Wikipedia page was a huge mistake. Two things are readily apparent while watching this series (or most of it) in one setting:

1. It was never meant to be a franchise.

2. The cliffhangers at the end of every film were never meant to be continued.

 

Not only does each film pick up seconds after the previous film ended, there’s usually a gap of about 10 years between films. So, imagine the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street picking up with the kids having to kill the freddy possessed car to survive. Oh and now they’re all 7-8 years older with no explanation. It’s jarring and if you’re not up intimately familiar with the lore, you’re going to be confused for a good 15 minutes. It’s not a franchise you can just jump into. You gotta do homework motherfucker.

As with every film, 3 takes place immediately after 2 and since I didn’t watch 2 again before this, I was lost immediately. They give you a recap but it’s like watching the recap of a season finale of Lost, they’ll cover the broad strokes but if you don’t know, you won’t.

The hearse Reggie, Mike and Liz? (I have no idea) are driving to getaway from whatever they were getting away from in the last film crashes and Liz? dies and Reggie is checking on Mike when the Tall Man shows up. Here’s a close approximation of the dialogue*:

The Tall Man- “Give me the boy!”

Reggie-“No! Get outta here!”

The Tall Man-“Come on, man. Don’t be lame!”

Reggie-“I said get!”

The Tall Man-“Awww man!”

*some liberties were taken.

So the Tall Man shuffles off like swiper from Dora the Explorer and Reggie and Mike leave. Now, I just watched this film two days ago and I can not for the life of me remember how or why they separate. But according to Wikipedia, Mike is now in a hospital and Reggie is getting accosted by three hoodlums.

Mike is getting visions from his dead brother Jody to go do some shit. I don’t remember but what I do remember is Reggie’s section of the film because for about 5 minutes, it straight up turns into Home Alone.

The three hoodlums beat up Reggie, throw his ass into the trunk of his car and then for unclear plot reasons, head to a mortuary. The mortuary is run by a booby trap laying death machine named Tim, who’s Kevin McCallister, if Kevin McCallister didn’t fuck around. He quickly kills the thugs with weaponized toys and he and Reggie leave.

Since these films plots have a “and then” structure to them, It’s hard to remember why anything fucking happens but from what I remember, Reggie is now at a mausoleum saving a Grace Jones looking chick named Rocky from the Tall Man’s signature death spheres.

Reggie, Tim and Rocky hit the road to finally kill the Tall Man. Mike is fucking around with his ghost brother.

Do they succeed? Well, you know I have two more of these fucking things to review, so the answer to that rhetorical question is no, no they do not.

 

 

Although my fancy collection of tophats might confuse you, I actually grew up poor. Money was tight in the ol’ Monsoon house, so there were times were we would make meals out of whatever the hell was lying around. You haven’t lived till you’ve have refried spaghetti or macaroni and cheese with tuna and green peas. Mmmm. That’s hobo livin’ baby.

This film is the cinematic equivalent of hobo livin’ dinners. It’s literally made up of deleted scenes from the first one. Like that Pink Panther film they made after Sellers died, that was essentially a clip show to squeeze a little more money out of that comedy cow. Like that, but not as gross.

Once again, Mike and Reggie split up but this film is more about Mike than the previous film. Not only does Mike suddenly get telekinetic powers (which he uses to move a rock and will never use again for the rest of the series), he and his ghost brother Jody learn about the origins of the Tall Man.

This film and the entire franchise really, is about the Tall Man’s obsession with Mike. He wants him for something that is never explicitly stated. He could easily kill Reggie and Mike whenever he wants but he continuously refers to their interactions as “one last game.” It’s a bullshit explanation.

Coscarelli created an amazing bogeyman in the first film but he kept making him more and more powerful to the point where my suspension of disbelief is broken. They’re no longer a threat to him. It’s like an ant fighting a moose. Not only is it not going to win, it’s a ridiculous pairing.

I don’t remember much about this one but I will say that the final deleted scene is flawlessly implemented into the film. It felt as though it was purposefully shot 20 years just to be used in this film. It’s the best ending of any of the films in the franchise and it should’ve been the end of the franchise. It’s that good.

 

 

I understand the need for this film. This is a series built on diehard fans. There are no casual fans of this series, if you’ve been on the the Phantasm train since the beginning, you’ve been riding it for almost 40 fucking years. The first came out in 1979 and the final installment officially debuted in 2016. If you were 10 years old when the first came out, realistically, you could be a grandfather with your grandchild being older than you were when you saw it. That’s fandom. That’s dedication.

I understand it. I do. But honestly, this film doesn’t need to exist. I don’t know how the fans reacted to the last one but I thought the ending was perfect. But the fans demanded one last game with the Tall Man and here we are.

Right off the bat, this film has the best “plot” of the sequels. It still relies on the “and then” means of story telling but the actual plot is interesting.

Reggie is now caught between universes. The one from the previous film (I can not stress enough the fact that every single sequel just continues where the previous film left off, even though the last film was made 18 years beforehand. It’s ridiculous) and one where he’s dying in a health facility where everything is normal.

Was the Tall Man ever real or was Reggie always crazy? It’s an interesting concept but the film reveals its hand almost immediately, ruining any chance of ambiguity. They had a concept that could’ve used the surreal tone of the first film to great effect but they pissed it away. It’s a shame but A for effort, I guess.

But unfortunately, the concept is the only noteworthy thing about it. The music sounds like it was mined from the royalty free library, the acting is atrocious and although I give the CGI a pass because of its budget, it still doesn’t look good. It’s 1997 video game cutscene bad. But the budget was low and their ambitions were high, so another A for effort.

It’s a mixed bag of success. I applaud the scope and the ambition but everything else is piss poor. Except for Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, who’s been the MVP the entire franchise. He looks like a cross between Lurch from the Addams Family and Slenderman but with Christoph Waltz’s voice. He’s perfectly inhuman and brings an automatic menace just from his presence alone. But unfortunately, this was his last film. He died shortly after filming was complete.

So, besides being a love letter to the fans, it serves as a perfect send off to one of the greatest boogeymen in horror and for that, I give it another A.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

This is a weird fucking franchise. There is no other horror franchise like it. When you’re the outlier within the genre you’re in, you’re automatically special. None of the sequels come close to the surreal dream logic of the first one but they’re consistently crazy throughout. Odds are, if you like one of the sequels, you will most likely like them all. Although, I only recommend the first, I’m glad there’s a series out there that dared to push the envelope of crazy and for that, it’s gets an A for effort.