Film Reviews:

Phantasm II

(Don Coscarelli, US, 1988)

"The ball is back!" shouted the promotional material and trailer voice overs realising what most people remembered of the  first Phantasm. If someone was unsure if they'd seen it, all you had to say was 'it's the one with the flying silver balls that drill into people's heads' and they'd soon remember if they'd seen it or not. This bigger budget sequel to Coscarelli's cult 1979 original picks up exactly where the first film finishes. Using footage obviously shot during the original production, the opening minutes of Phantasm II create a remarkable sense of continuity. The major deviation (after the intro) being that the actor who played Mike in Phantasm (Mike Baldwin) is substituted by James Le Gros, who more recently had a similar experience, filling the gap left by the departure of Billy in the hit TV series Ally McBeal!

With the Tall Man supposedly killed as Mike's house explodes, Mike is seen seven years later on the day of his departure from a mental institution where he has spent the intervening years convincing the authorities that he imagined everything that occurred in the first film. However, after Reggie's family are killed, he agrees to team up again with Mike and the two set out to track down the Tall Man. They discover that he is now roaming the country, going from small town to small town and leaving ghost towns and empty graveyards behind him. Once more he is gathering dead bodies in order to reanimate them as slave labour in his own netherworld. This time, along with a female hitchhiker called Alchemy (!), the two guys kit themselves out with an array of weapons from a local hardware store and follow the trail of dead towns right to their quarry.

As in the first film, the police are no-where to be seen and their exclusion seems almost deliberate - adding to the dreamlike 'logic' of both films. With markedly more humour, more gore and a more pronounced tongue-in-cheek attitude, Phantasm II still has many of the features that make the first film a cult favourite, but it never achieves the same atmosphere of the original despite Coscarelli repeating his directing, cinematography and writing duties. Again we have the sparsely populated, end-of-the-world empty landscapes and desolate roads. There's an out of place, humorous sex scene thrown in for good measure, the usual Coscarelli explosions, running around and, of course, the demonic Tall Man and his minimalist and memorable dialogue. With Reggie suggesting "Let's go kick some ass!", the final twenty minutes builds to the inevitable confrontation with their nemesis but not before Reggie has had to survive a very funny (if somewhat distracting) chainsaw duel. The ending mirrors that of the first film and leaves to door wide open for a second sequel, which of course, dutifully followed three years later.

Digital Entertainment DVD (Region 2)

Phantasm Box Set Region 2 DVD Available as part of a three film box set or alone, this DVD, like the others in the set, has some interesting extras but suffers from lack of correct aspect ratio and some compression artifacts. Only the main menu is animated. The best of the extras for fans will undoubtedly be the 10 minutes of video footage shot at the 1989 Fangoria Convention at which Angus Scrimm reminisces about the productions, recalling that in the first film he got just five lines (totalling eight words) and in the first sequel he'd managed to doubled that to ten lines! He then switches into Tall Man character and repeats all the lines, in their original order, which creates the strange effect of audibly fast forwarding through the film. Of course, when he gets to the first "Boy!" the assembled fans go wild.

Other extras are a small (but good) selection of stills for a photo gallery, the original US theatrical trailer, three TV trailers (two at 30 seconds and one at 20 seconds). The wording regarding extras on the sleeve is misleading as it implies that the Fangoria appearance and the Angus Scrimm interview are two separate features when they are, in fact, one and the same thing. Nevertheless, not bad bonuses if you like the film.

Rob Dyer

See also:


Phantasm III

A-Z of Film Reviews