AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 25th April, from ARROW VIDEO in the PHANTASM LIMITED COLLECTION BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 97 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
the Tall Man and his minions attempt to kidnap Mike, but Reggie manages to save him by blowing up the house. Six years later, Mike has been institutionalised and is being contacted in his dreams by Liz Reynolds, a young woman who wants Mike to find her, as she fears that when her grandfather dies, The Tall Man will take him. Mike fakes his recovery and returns to Morningside Cemetery to exhume the bodies of his parents, but discovers that the coffins are empty. He then has a premonition and frantically tries to warn Reggie seconds before an explosion kills Reggie’s entire family. Reggie agrees to accompany Mike to find and kill The Tall Man, a series of clues leading them to Perigord, Oregon…..
I honestly didn’t expect Phantasm 2 to be as good as Phantasm, so I wasn’t disappointed when my hunch proved to be correct and was able to enjoy the film in its own terms. It is, though, very different to the first film. Not so different as every single one of the House films was to its immediate predecessor, I will say, but still feeling at times like it’s the work of a different filmmaker – yet the same man Don Coscarelli was in the director’s chair and wrote the screenplay too. The larger budget has resulted in a more polished looking film, but much of the original’s oddity [there aren’t even any dream scenes] has been removed and, perhaps far worse than that, it’s nowhere near as scary – but then again it doesn’t seem to be trying to be very scary except for some stuff around the middle, concentrating more on action, gore and keeping its story moving as fast as possible. It’s obvious that the producers wanted the weirdness toned down, though bizarrely the film doesn’t actually explain any more of what’s really going on. It was revealed in Phantasm that The Tall Man has been kidnapping people and crushing them into dwarves so they can be transported onto another planet where they’re needed as slaves. You would have thought that a sequel might have given us bit more detail about this, especially a sequel which was trying to be a bit more ‘normal’, but Coscarelli chooses not to provide any answers. It is basically a decent sequel, and not at all a bad movie, but doesn’t come up anywhere near the first place in quality and obviously has the finger marks of studio executives all over it. I’m almost tempted to say that if you want a good example of how studio control than drastically weaken something very unique, than just watch Phantasm and then Phantasm 2, but actually that’s a bit unfair as Phantasm 2 is still such damn fun from beginning to end!
Coscarelli had been asked several times to do a sequel but struggled to come up with anything. Eventually Universal took an interest, partly because Tom Pollack, head of the studio at the time, was Coscarelli’s former attorney, but also because they wanted a horror series. Universal provided three million dollars, the lowest budget of any of their films in the 1980s, but the highest budget of any Phantasm film and ten times more expensive than Phantasm. Coscarelli was instructed to create a liner plotline with voice over narrations of various characters and no dream scenes [which is odd considering how popular the Nightmare On Elm Street films were], a female love interest for Mike, and A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister [who’d amazingly worked as a mortician for several years] to be probably recast because they were unknown, though they were allowed to audition. Coscarelli resisted the latter and a compromise was eventually reached where he was allowed to keep Bannister but had to relinquish Baldwin. The studio, after turning down a certain Brad Pitt, cast James Le Gros in Baldwin’s place. Baldwin remains bitter about it, and this is also the only one in the series in which Bill Thornbury doesn’t appear. The two sphere killings were shortened at the behest of the MPAA who were clamping down on horror films at the time. Phantasm 2 made more than its money back but, dumped in the middle of the summer admidst several big blockbusters, didn’t do anywhere near the business expected.
Now Coscarelli does do something very clever with the beginning of Phantasm 2. A few shots of Liz writing her diary and her voiceover explaining how she telepathically found Mike and Reggie leads directly into the last few moments of Phantasm – only here they’re directly continued. We have a tremendous jump scare [well, it worked for me] when Reggie opens a cupboard door and a dwarf leaps out. Reggie battles some of the dwarves, who are seen more clearly now and who seem to be almost a cross between Jawas and The Brood– rescues Mike and blows up the house in one of the best movie explosions I’ve seen in a while, a real house that was scheduled for demolition. It’s all good stuff apart from a stupid bit where they make a jump through a bedroom window which could have killed them. Six years later Mike and Reggie are thrown together again, and it’s peculiar how Reggie claims that the events of the first film never happened – until the death of his family makes him change his mind. After tooling up in a really lengthy sequence, they set out on the road to hunt down The Tall Man. For a while the film adopts a vague post apocalyptic road movie feel as it also seems that the whole world is under threat from The Tall Man by the way that towns are abandoned and graveyards pillaged. It would have been nice to have had a few scenes of Mike and his adopted father/older brother becoming close again – after all, they haven’t seen each other in ages, but Le Gros and Bannister do have the chemistry to make their onscreen relationship work. And Bannister, for me perfectly okay but nothing special in the first film, really settles into his part and clearly enjoys evolving into an action hero with not a two but a four barrell shotgun!
Scenes involving the funeral and subsequent resurrection of Liz’s grandfather [who creates a real jolt when he appears in his wife’s bed] have quite a sad effect, maybe it’s because it involves old people for a change, though for the most of the time the themes of the first film are very much muted. Coscarelli does really show his horror chops though in the midsection set almost entirely in a mortuary [and a very different looking one to the one before] making the very most of the long corridors and relishing the chance to be given a lengthy amount of time to build some fear before everything becomes all-action with car chases, a chainsaw duel [though not as good as the one in the same year’s Tiger On The Beat], and this time, enabled by the budget being able to realise them better, Coscarelli really able to go to town on the spheres, one of which here seem to have a laser as well as a drill. They crash through doors as they chase Mike and Liz in some hair-raising moments full of long POV shots, pin a hand to the wall so it has to be severed, slice off an ear, and kill from inside by drilling his body from the back to the mouth in a death that would be really nasty if the victim wasn’t being thrown all over the room which gives it a rather comical effect. Still, there’s lots more of the red stuff in this movie, some nice grisly effects [love the caterpillar-type thing coming out of someone’s back] from Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman, and far more deaths.
Despite all this good stuff though, the truly unsettling feel of Phantasm, that disturbing nightmarish element which got under the skin, is mostly gone from this sequel. I’m sure Coscarelli did what he could to make Phantasm 2 as good as he could, perhaps even as much ‘his film’ as he could, and it’s certainly obvious even if you didn’t know the background, that he was struggling against studio bods who were trying to prevent the film from getting too odd or complicated. And he’s still allowed to have a downbeat ending [though it’s daft and rehashes what we had before], and he still provide’s some quirky touches, notably with the character of Alchemy, a woman whom Mike and Reggie pick up. You’d expect this pretty young female to be interested in Mike, but it’s actually the middle aged and balding Reggie whom she’s all over almost immediately and who gets treated to her incredibly energetic bed manner. I do think though that Coscarelli doesn’t develop his premise as much as he could have done, in particular regarding The Thin Man, who remains as vague as before, though I suppose it’s nice that Coscarelli resisted the obvious temptation to increase his screen time, even if some of Angus Scrimm’s scenes do have a slight tongue in cheek nature which slightly lessens his scariness. He does get some more assistants though, with two deathly pale pallbearers and some gas masked ‘gravers’ who provide some chills [what is it about gas masks?]. The funniest scene, at least to those with a knowledge of the subject, is an amusingly inaccurate embalming scene.
Fred Myrow is now paired with Christopher L. Stone for a music score which continually repeats the main theme of the first film but is otherwise quite bland and lacking in personality. The cinematography of Daryn Okada though is very impressive and even quite lush in places, certainly making Phantasm 2 an attractive film to look at. Taken on its own, Phantasm 2 is a solid horror movie with action and science fiction elements and a few delectable bits of weirdness, but compared to the bonkers magic of Phantasm, it’s not nearly of as high quality despite the filmmakers having far more money at their disposal – though saying that, I can still understand some fans preferring it because many people do prefer more pace and a bit more clarity in their storytelling. I reckon that twenty years ago I’d have probably preferred it myself. My taI do think, though, it only possesses a tiny amount of the first film’s heart, its theme of dealing with death only sometimes present and providing some real genuine emotional engagement in amongst all the mayhem.
While none of the Phantasm sequels were given its red carpet treatment in terms of restoration, Phantasm 2, after some slight wobbling in the early scenes, certainly looks just about the best a film from 1988 can be expected to look, with vivid yet natural colours and plenty of details both in the foreground and in the background. This time the audio commentary was recorded for a DVD release and features Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister. I think I enjoyed it more than the talk track on Phantasm; it’s livelier and funnier while still telling you everything you’d want to know, from where every scene was shot to how each effect was done. I also enjoyed hearing about the ridiculous tussles with the MPAA, and about lines that were altered/un-used. Scrimm says more in it too. The hassles with Universal are glossed over of course – perhapd they wouldn’t be if the commentary were recorded today. Odd about the number of people they say they’ve met at conventions who were inspired to become embalmers or attend mortuary school by seeing the Phantasm movies.
Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm II is the sequel featurette to Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm and has many of the cast and crew talking about the film and in particular its effects. It seems to be the only new feature but Arrow have luckily ported most of the the features from the 2013 Region ‘A’ Scream Factory Blu-ray release of the film. The Ball Is Back, running 45 minutes, is a similar featurette to Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm II. Watching it after the previous featurette is like watching an extended version of it, and it talks a bit about the studio insistances too. It’s nice to have Scrimm on this one and he’s in it a great deal too. One funny story has Samantha hitting Bannister for real every time they did a take of their sex scene – which eventually numbered 25 and the poor guy was in agony and sporting a huge red lump on his head. The Gory Days goes into even more detail about the effects and even shows an uncut version of one scene.
Next come around ten minutes of deleted scenes, followed by what is basically more of the same, but taken from a time coded workprint so they doesn’t look too good. Much of this material is just minor scene extensions, but there is certainly some good stuff here which would have benefitted the movie, notably two scenes between Mike and Reggie which give their relationship a bit more warmth, two scenes of Father Fred asking for an exorcism and writing a letter respectively which explain who he is a little more, an amusing graveyard tussle with a Graver, and full versions of the two censored death scenes. There’s also an appearance of a second Tall Man which was used in Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead, plus a love scene between Mike and Liz in which they dream of making love in several locations. It’s actually a lovely scene but would have been out of place in this particular film. Then we have two extras from the earlier DVD boxset. There’s Scrimm at a Fangoria convention which wobbles a little but is entertaining, Scrimm playing to the gallery in what is almost a ventriloquist act with his Tall Man impersonation, and talking about the old Universal horror movies. And Scrimm as the Tall Man advertising Fangoria in a mortuary which would probably be criticised for being in bad taste today.
*Original Stereo and 5.1 Surround Audio Options
*Audio commentary with director/writer Don Coscarelli and actors Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister
*Reflections of Fear: Realising Phantasm II – In this brand new pheaturette, learn from the cast and crew how and why a Phantasm sequel happened, the evolution of the story, and the introduction of the most iconic props in the series. Features interviews with Don Coscarelli, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, special make-up artists Mark Shostrom and Dean Gates and Ravager director David Hartman
*The Ball is Back – archive making-of documentary featuring interviews with Don Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister and others
*The Gory Days – FX artist Greg Nicotero looks back at his work on Phantasm II
*Deleted and Workprint Scenes
*Angus Scrimm Fangoria Convention Appearance
*Angus Scrimm Fangoria TV Spot
*Original Trailer and TV Spots
*All 5 Phantasm movies together on Blu-ray for the first time!
*Limited Edition Bonus Disc featuring Exclusive Features
*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