Film Review: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Also known as: Phantasm III: The Third Power (Philippines)
Release Date: March, 1994 (Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, Cindy Ambuehl, Brooks Gardner, John Davis Chandler

Universal Studios, Anchor Bay, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It’s been nice knowing you boys, but this kickin’ zombie ass just ain’t my gig.” – Rocky

When Phantasm III came out, I wasn’t really even aware of it. It never hit any theaters near me and even though I read horror magazines and frequented video stores a lot, I must have just glossed over it. It wasn’t until five years later when I saw Phantasm IV on a shelf that I went, “Wait… when did they do a Phantasm III?” Anyway, I rented both of them that night.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the sort of film that is really enjoyable if you love the Phantasm series but it is probably hard to follow and just bizarre if you don’t already have familiarity with the franchise’s unique universe.

A girl I was dating a few years ago saw this chapter first, as she came over as I was just starting it one night. I told her we could start at the beginning with the first one but she didn’t care about that. In the end, she seemed lost and not really sure about what she watched. When I convinced her to watch all of them and she did, she then liked this film better, as she got the overall context of it.

And that’s the thing, I think that Don Coscarelli relied heavily on the audience of this chapter already having the knowledge of the first two. While that’s understandable, you might want to give a more in depth explanation of the backstory when your sequel comes out six years and fifteen years after its two predecessors. His reliance on filmgoers have prior knowledge only gets worse with each subsequent film after this one.

Still, that’s really my only gripe with this picture. Other than that, I think that this movie is a lot of fun and Reggie looked like he was having a damn good time making this one.

I liked that this chapter relied on the Lurkers more than the tiny dwarf minions. Yeah, they still appear too but the Tall Man’s army seemed more formidable in this movie. Plus, he had that reanimated gang that kept being a thorn in Reggie’s side throughout the story. They were a nice touch.

This also brings back Michael Baldwin in the role of Mike. He was replaced in the second film and even if that other actor was a bit more polished, he didn’t feel like Mike.

We also get to see Reggie team up with a badass little kid and a nunchuck wielding punk rock chick that probably has bigger stones than all the men in the film. Rocky was a cool character and I was sad that she didn’t go on to be in the fourth installment but she does resurface in the fifth (over twenty years later).

I like this film a lot and it certainly fleshes out the mysterious mythos even more. It’s only real downside is that it doesn’t stand well on its own, as a self-contained story.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm films.

Film Review: Phantasm II (1988)

Also known as: Phantasm II: The Never Dead Part Two (Australia)
Release Date: July 8th, 1988
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar, Michael Baldwin (archive footage)

Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!” – The Tall Man

I saw this in the theater way back in 1988. I was 9 years-old. I about shit myself and my older cousin thought that the whole fiasco was hilarious. But really, I had already seen the first Phantasm before this and I thought I was pretty prepared. But that scene with the creature thing in the girl’s back really freaked my little brain out. But I’ll explain as I get into the review.

Phantasm II is a fairly good sequel, especially considering that there were 9 years between this and its predecessor.

To get this out of the way, I didn’t like the recasting of Mike but I understand why a larger studio like Universal did it, as Michael Baldwin (who would play Mike in all the other films) didn’t have a lot of acting experience. Still, he was good in the original movie and decent in the ones that followed this. I hold no ill will towards James LeGros but he just sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not his fault and he did a good job here but he just doesn’t feel like Mike.

At least Reggie and the Tall Man weren’t recast though because I love both of the characters and they are the highlights of this film. Well, Reggie and his four-barreled sawed off shotgun and the Tall Man and his larger collection of killer spheres and minions.

What’s strange about this film, however, is that it was produced by a larger studio than the first film and therefore had a more substantial budget but a lot of the effects didn’t seem to be as good as the original film. The bits with the killer spheres had noticeable wires and the camera work wasn’t as clean. Also, the rehash of the sphere murder from the first movie didn’t look as good and it cut away at certain parts that the original didn’t. I don’t know if this was to save money on effects or if Universal was trying to tone down the gorier bits. Whatever the reason, the scene didn’t have the effectiveness as the original. And really, this is a sequel, you need to up the ante not tone it down.

There were some violent and gruesome reveals, like when the guy is turned over to reveal a buzzsaw sphere stuck in his mouth, but these were all just effects without the flourish of the gore happening in the moment.

I thought the best effect in the film was the one I mentioned in the first paragraph about the creature in the girl’s back. Basically, Mike finds a girl that’s been tortured, notices something moving on her back and then pulls back her shirt to reveal a demonic head that rises up out of her body. It was a message left for Mike by the Tall Man but it was probably the highlight of the film, other than the big final battle. The animatronics were fantastic and this is the moment that scared the crap out of me, sitting in a theater back in 1988.

Overall, this film is pretty solid and it enriched the Phantasm mythos. It added some new elements and kind of just solidified how cool these films are.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm movies.

Film Review: Phantasm (1979)

Also known as: Morningside (working title), Zombies (Pakistan), The Never Dead (Australia)
Release Date: January, 1979 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Malcolm Seagrave
Cast: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm

New Breed Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished. Now you die.” – The Tall Man

I watched a lot of horror movies as a kid. I saw a lot of scary shit that I probably shouldn’t have for my age demographic in the ’80s. But I was pretty desensitized to it all at a young age and most horror films didn’t scare me, they just amused and entertained me. Phantasm, however, was one of the few that terrified me to the point that I remembered the details of it.

I had pretty vivid memories of certain scenes in this film and their effect on my psyche. Once I revisited it in my early teen years, I was still creeped out by it but I was fine and no longer scared. But something about it just resonated with my soul. It’s not a perfect movie but it has this dark mysterious quality that taps into your mind and takes it on a bizarre and incredible journey of sheer terror.

Phantasm, is one of my all-time favorite films and in my top five for the horror of its era. It is light years ahead of anything being pumped out in modern times.

What’s really damn cool about it, is that it has a very solid classic horror vibe to it, while being very ’70s in style. It’s not a slasher picture but in people’s minds, because of the time of its release and having such an iconic monster, it is often brought up in slasher conversations. Really, it is more of a dark sci-fi/fantasy film with an antagonist that would make a formidable slasher but why get your hands too dirty when you have midget minions from Hell and killer spheres to do your bidding?

What makes this so compelling is the story. It is hard to describe without spoiling too much but it is really original and well crafted. Don Coscarelli has a hell of an imagination and nothing else is quite like Phantasm. It’s world is strange, mysterious and even after five films, you still want to understand it. All you ever really get is glimpses and clues to help you connect some dots. But honestly, not fully explaining it is probably why it is so terrifying and effective. Peeking behind the curtain too much would ruin the experience.

Apart from the story, this motion picture has an incredible atmosphere, which is the product of a stupendous score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, as well as incredible cinematography and set design. The mausoleum feels otherworldly and the rest of the funeral home is visually vivid and surreal.

The special effects are top notch for their time. The flying killer spheres still look fantastic today and even though I know a lot about practical effects from this time period, I’m still amazed at how well Coscarelli pulled these shots off. Also, the scene with the guy getting his head drilled and then the blood spurting out is also masterfully crafted. Then that moment where the guy dies and you see urine pool out near his feet was just great attention to detail and realism that didn’t need to be there but Coscarelli still put the time in making that subtle effect.

I can’t praise Angus Scrimm enough for how well he played the Tall Man. Granted, we’ve never seen another actor step into the role but he just has this brooding presence and a real gift at being able to speak with nothing more than facial expressions. It reminds me of some of the great horror actors of the silent film era.

I adore this movie. A year hasn’t gone by in my life, since I was a teen, where I haven’t watched this at least once. I’m reviewing it now because I just had the pleasure of watching the digitally remastered version, which is exclusive to Shudder. If you have Shudder, you need to watch this near masterpiece there.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Phantasm sequels but this is and will always be the best of the series.