AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 25th April, from ARROW VIDEO in the PHANTASM LIMITED EDITION COLLECTION BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 91 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Immediately after his apparent demise, a new Tall Man emerges from a dimensional portal. At the same time, the hearse that carries Liz and Mike explodes, killing Liz. Reggie threatens to kill them all with a grenade, and The Tall Man threatens to return for Mike when he’s well again. After spending two years comatose in the hospital, Mike has a near death experience in which his dead brother Jody and The Tall Man appear, and soon after waking, is carried off for the Tall Man, who also transforms Jody into a charred sphere which says the word Holtsville, which turns out to be a town. Reggie – with the Jody-sphere –heads for Holtsville to find the Tall Man and meets a young boy named Tim whose parent have been killed by The Tall Man….
Though I didn’t read any reviews of these films immediately prior to me doing my own write-ups, I certainly read some in the past. Phantasm 2 seems to be generally regarded almost as highly as Phantasm, though I found it to be distinctly inferior [if certainly a good movie on it own] while also accepting that part of that could be down to personal taste. Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead, from what I recall, is considered by many to be several notches down from Phantasm 2, though I’d probably rank both films about equally. It’s very similar in feel and structure to Phantasm 2, as if Coscarelli, despite the restrictions and demands from Universal, realised he actually really liked how Phantasm 2 turned out [which does seem like the case when you hear him talk about it] and decided to do a variant of it which he could totally call his own. The script therefore sometimes seems like it’s constructed from unused ideas from that film, while elsewhere there are a few signs of tiredness creeping in, with Coscarelli for example thinking “the globes are very popular, so what shall I do? – have loads of them”. On the other hand, some of the soul of Phantasm returns with the character of Tim, another young boy whose parents have been victims of The Tall Man, and his relationship with Reggie. And oddly for a much cheaper production the special effects, which incorporate a few digital shots for the first time [which to me is how digital should be employed for films like this but that’s another story] actually seem better – in fact you wouldn’t know that this was considerably more lower budgeted than Phantasm 2 because it looks just as good.
So, after the mild box-office results of Phantasm 2, Universal chose not to pursue a sequel even though they still made money from it and it was partly their fault it did disappointing business. They did however offer to distribute one should Coscarelli fund it and make it themselves. With no casting restrictions this time, Coscarelli offered the role of Mike to A. Michael Baldwin, who returned to the role after almost 16 years. Most of the shooting took place at night, forcing the cast and crew to spend several weeks of night in spooky locations such as a real mausoleum and a cemetery. The latter was in gangland territory and some hoodlums turned up one night objecting to the shoot because some of their members were buried there. Money was saved by re-using and re-editing the score to Phantasm 2. An alternate ending was shot but not used in which Reggie and Tim go to Alaska and bury the Tall Man’s gold sphere in the ice. Coscarelli was still in some conflict with Universal, which is probably why the distribution of the film was then put on hold by the studio for almost a year. When Universal finally brought it out in 1994, they only gave it a very limited theatrical release, and didn’t release it on video until the following year, though the video became a hugely selling one. The MPAA again requested the removal of some gory shots and the BBFC required even further cutting because some scenes involving nunchakus [chain sticks] which were banned from being shown in movies.
A close-up of a hand moves back to reveal that the hand is holding a sphere in which is reflected the face of The Tall Man. Then we get a montage of bits from the first two films, as well the un-used bit from the last one when another Tall Man turns up from the portal and throws away his burnt predecessor. Coscarelli then basically repeats the neat trick he did before, following immediately on from the last shot of the previous film, though his job is harder here because Mike is now played by Baldwin. Some very clever editing partly solves the problem, and again we get Reggie in heroic mode battling some dwarves, with a partial re-use of the often copied The Three Musketeers gag when several dead bad guys fall from a tree. Two years later and Mike, being told to “go into the light” [though this isn’t a Poltergeist film] seems to die and enter the afterlife which is the usual white nothing-ness before being told by his brother Jody to go back. There’s a good bit with a zombie nurse who dies spouting yellow blood from several holes in her head, part of the head then peeling back to reveal a sphere inside the head instead of a brain. Even more oddly, Jody then turns up before being turned into a sphere with Jody’s voice. I couldn’t understand why Reggie, considering what he’s already experienced, doesn’t initially believe Mike about what’s going on, but never mind. The first 20 or so minutes of this film seem quite random and even confusing but there’s also a slightly stronger whiff of the first film here, which is certainly a good thing. And then Coscarelli really pulls a surprise, having Mike whisked off so that Reggie is now well and truly the real hero of the piece –and, to be honest, I was pleased about this because [sorry fans] I didn’t find Baldwin to be nearly as good as Le Gros was as the adult Mike.
After this, Phantasm 3 often does seem like Phantasm 2 all over again with some road tripping to another ghost town where The Tall Man can be found, though this time Reggie’s main companion is little Tim whose parents have been murdered. Tim’s flashback is probably the darkest part of the film and grimmer than anything in Phantasm 2, climaxing in great fashion with Tim finding his mother in his laughing zombie father’s coffin. This throwback to Phantasm results in some great moments between Tim and Reggie, who first tries to dump Tim at an orphanage, which have some genuine, if quite underplayed, emotion to them, and Coscarelli avoids Tim being just a rehash of the younger Mike by having this lad be a little warrior from the moment we meet him, subduing three intruders who want to loot his house [and is it?….yes, the exterior is the house from House!] in Kevin McCallister style in a scene with lots of great bits, like a toy head on a ceiling saying: “You’re in trouble, you’re in trouble”, and finishing with deaths from a tomahawk and a really cool Frisbee with sharp metal edges that can slit a throat. In fact this crack marksman saves Reggie twice within about 15 minutes and come to think of it he’s as much of a hero as Reggie. And then there’s Rocky, a nunchaku-wielding, high kicking fighting female who becomes the object of Reggie’s lust, though poor Reggie can’t even ‘finish’ having sex even in his dreams and his active libido gets a both amusing and nasty telling off he thinks he’s receiving fellatio from Rocky and it’s – well, let’s just say it’s not her! The three are a good team as they battle The Tall Man, Lurkers, Gravers, the sphere which are here called Sentinels, plus a few zombies thrown in for good measure. It’s never dull for a moment, but a sense of déjà vu is certainly present as the action hots up inside another mortuary [where else?] – though this time the ending just comes across as random and for that reason works!
We learn a few more details about what is essentially going on, but not much despite Angus Scrimm getting a bit more dialogue than before, and we don’t get to visit that other ‘planet’ this time. There’s another car chase which is inferior to the one before, but which ends with a simply awesome hearse stunt that I certainly didn’t expect in a low budget production such as this. Honestly, it’s really impressive – though maybe I’m saying that partly because one rarely gets to see such stuff on screen today unless it’s very much digitally enhanced. The fights are better staged though and the spheres – one of which has an eyeball, and another of which smashes right through somebody’s head leaving a huge hole – look significantly better than before, which is just as well as they’re milked as much as possible. There’s some of the expected bloody sphere mayhem, plus a variant on the original film’s finger-sprouting creature sequence which climaxes revoltingly bit when Reggie pulls a creature out of not his mouth but his nose. There’s also a little bit more humour, though not, I think, quite as much as I recall some reviewer’s complained about. After all, it also existed in the first two and the world of Phantasm is so bonkers that one just can’t take it too seriously for any great length of time. And, while the film isn’t especially scary, the horror stuff tends to be played straight except for the zombies who actually become an annoyance. I still missed much of the nightmare feel of Phantasm, though Phantasm 3 leans slightly further in that direction than Phantasm 2, aided by cinematographer Chris Chomyn employing some nice use of reds and blues in places.
Reggie Banister well and truly comes into his own in this movie. He makes Reggie [isn’t it so cool that some characters have the same names as the people playing them in this series?] so totally likeable that it become almost rather sweet rather than sleazy [which would normally be the case, especially when seen today] when he repeatedly tries and fails to ‘score’ with Rocky, with whom he deviously ensures he shares a room with while poor Tim has to make do with the car. Kevin Connors isn’t too expressive as Tim but he has a good hardened nature and is good enough to convince you that his character’s been surviving on his own for ages and is great with every weapon he lays his hand on. Phantasm 3 does stumble in a few places and there were times where I did wonder if one could conceivably skip Phantasm 2 as it seems like a semi-remake of it for some of the time – in fact with a bit of mucking around [and it wouldn’t need to be any more than a bit, this is the Phantasm series after all in which many inconsistencies can be forgiven!] with the beginning section one could actually turn it into a direct sequel to Phantasm. In the end though it’s just as entertaining as Phantasm 2 and just as well done, and is nothing for Coscarelli and co. to be ashamed of.
Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead looks a tad sharper than Phantasm 2 on Blu-ray, the many night time scenes looking very good. It’s not as feature packed a disc as the previous two films but the ported over Anchor Bay DVD extras are still plenty. This time the commentary is just by two actors, so you don’t learn about as much background and technical stuff, but Scrimm, who begins with: “Are we going to tell about the bathroom orgies”? and Baldwin are still good and often amusing company, though it’s not surprising that there are quite a few gaps considering there are long stretches of the film they’re not actually in. A clearly still annoyed Baldwin twice calls Phantasm 2 “the film that shan’t be named“, while Scrimm says he really likes zombie movies and seems to have an incredibly good memory. Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm III is a little odd as, unlike the previous two parts of Reflections Of Fear, Coscarelli is nowhere to be seen and we learn hardly anything about the project’s conception, the focus being almost entirely on the special effects. Maybe Coscarelli just doesn’t like this one? The behind the scenes stuff is priceless though as we observe some scenes being filmed, and I wish more DVDs/Blu-rays had this kind of thing. And then we have a deleted scene – which lasts a whopping ten seconds!
PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD
*Original Stereo and 5.1 Surround Audio Options
*Audio commentary with actors A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm
*Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm III – In this brand new featurette, the cast and crew reflect on the third chapter in the Phantasm series and the vast amount of make-up work on the film. Features interviews actor A. Michael Baldwin, Ravager director David Hartman and make-up artists Mark Shostrom and Dean Gates
*Behind-the-Scenes Footage with optional audio commentary by Mark Shostrom and Dean Gates
*All 5 Phantasm movies together on Blu-ray for the first time!
*Limited Edition Bonus Disc featuring Exclusive Pheatures
*English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for all films
*Exclusive 152-page book with new writing on the Phantasm universe from Kim Newman and Bill Ackerman alongside a wealth of archive material, all fully illustrated with original stills and posters
*Replica Phantasm Sphere
*Limited Edition Packaging with newly-commissioned artwork from Gary Pullin