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.

Comic Review: Rags, Issues #0 – #2

Published: 2018
Written by: Brian Ball, Trent Luther
Art by: Luigi Terguel, Capucine Drapala

self-published, 60 Pages

Review:

I have supported a lot of the recent crowd funding comic book projects that have been coming out. Especially, the Comicsgate titles that have been popping up on Indiegogo. This isn’t one of those Indiegogo comics or specifically a Comicsgate title. This one was put out after raising money through Patreon. However, the creators have also been supported by the Comicsgate community, a community that is always looking for something new in the medium. While the people behind Rags don’t directly associate with Comicsgate, they have had success because of it.

Usually, I wouldn’t review something with less than a handful of issues but as this crowdfunded indie stuff is about to start arriving in people’s mailboxes, I wanted to get a jump start on this massive wave and throw a light on the Rags team, who have already put out two full length issues and a shorter prologue.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of a story to really sink your teeth into and to get a feel as to where this is going. That being said, I still really enjoy the first three chapters in this ongoing series.

In a lot of ways, at least right now in the earliest stages, Rags has a very similar feel to The Walking Dead. However, it’s not a blatant ripoff of that and frankly, The Walking Dead isn’t wholly original anyway. Both of these are zombie stories. People love zombie stories. While I think they’ve been done to death, I’m still on board if the story is there and it isn’t just zombies for the sake of zombies.

Rags has an interesting protagonist, assuming she’s a protagonist, we still don’t know her well enough yet. She is an ex-Marine but she is also a headcase. She has lived through some fucked up shit before the zombie apocalypse and her current situation is triggering a lot of those old memories and feelings. Plus, she sees someone she loves eaten in front of her.

When we meet her, she’s running around town butt naked. This is an adult comic due to the boobies and other jiggly bits but they do offer a censored version too.

If I were to compare this to The Walking Dead, sorry, it’s hard not to, I prefer this series from a visual standpoint. Not because of the boobies, but they are a nice touch, but I like the art style, the coloring and it’s livelier than those simple black and white issues Robert Kirkman pumps out every month.

Tonally, this reminds me more of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, as opposed to The Walking Dead. I’m a massive fan of that movie and not just because it was filmed in my area. But because of that, I can’t not be drawn to it.

I hope that more issues come out pretty regularly because I’ll support them. So far, I’m happy with the series and am genuinely interested with where this could go and what will make it unique and able to stand out from all the other zombie properties in the market.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Walking Dead and hopefully, future issues of Rags.

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: Slither (2006)

Release Date: March 31st, 2006
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Tania Saulnier, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, Frank Welker (voice)

Gold Circle Films, Strike Entertainment, Brightlight Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to a mutated Grant] He looks likes something that fell off my dick during the war.” – Tourneur

Slither is a movie that came out in 2006 and felt like something from a bygone era. It’s better than the vast majority of terrible PG-13 horror pictures from the ’00s and beyond and gives you something that feels like it is straight out of the ’70s and ’80s in how it channels elements of Night of the CreepsThe ThingShivers and From Beyond.

This also really brought James Gunn into the mainstream, after starting his career at Troma Entertainment. Oddly enough, I revisited this movie on the same night that all this weird James Gunn stuff exploded on social media. But I’m not going to let that sway my opinion of his directorial abilities or this film.

Gunn did a solid job creating this unique and gruesome world that he gave us here for 95 minutes. This film is terrifying, horrifying and yet, pretty f’n funny and entertaining. I can see why this lead to him getting more gigs like his anti-superhero flick Super and his hiring by Disney and Marvel to helm the beloved Guardians of the Galaxy film series.

If you are into the old school horror films that I mentioned a few paragraphs back, as well as darker humor, than there is no reason why this movie wouldn’t be for you. Gunn does a great job balancing his brand of pure unadulterated dread and humor.

I also love that this cast Nathan Fillion and gave him a real platform to show his talents outside of Firefly and Serenity. Additionally, Elizabeth Banks was really sweet and lovable in this and Michael Rooker nailed his role, as well. We even get to see a small part for Jenna Fischer, as she was just becoming known as Pam Beesly on the American version of The Office.

The special effects on this film were pretty good for the scant budget and Gunn, using what he learned about being frugal at Troma, was able to craft something that looked much better than the sum of its financial parts.

This is twelve years old now but it has aged really well. It still feels like a throwback to a better era of horror and certainly doesn’t feel like a horror movie from 2006.

To be completely honest, this is a film that I was hoping Gunn would build off of for either a sequel or something else set in the same universe. Now that he has been fired by Disney, maybe he can go back to making films that are closer to this one and where he has more creative control.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet, The Thing (1982), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The FacultyThe StuffFrom Beyond and Shivers.

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.

Film Review: Rabid (1977)

Also known as: Rage (alternate title)
Release Date: April 8th, 1977
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Ivan Reitman (music supervisor)
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan

Cinepix Film Properties, New World Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Potato man loves ketchup man.” – Murray Cypher

David Cronenberg has made some of the most disturbing films of the last half century. Well, really of all-time, as there weren’t anything like his films before he found his groove and started cranking out disturbing body horror movies quite frequently.

Rabid is only Cronenberg’s second film and while he hadn’t quite found his groove or style by this point, he was very close to it and nearly everything after this picture is regarded as a horror classic of its time.

Like his other films of the ’70s and ’80s (and several after) this definitely fits into the body horror subgenre. Also, this is kind of like a zombie movie even though the monsters aren’t technically zombies. It’s like how people say, “28 Days Later isn’t zombies it’s people with a virus.” Whatever, all this shit is zombies. If you want to be that fucking technical than none of this shit is zombies unless the monsters are being controlled by voodoo or Bela Lugosi.

Anyway, Marilyn Chambers, the first porn star that anyone cared about, is in a motorcycle accident and burned severely. She is then given this experimental treatment. That treatment turns her into this sex vampire thing where she throws herself at people and a penis looking appendage comes out of her armpit to drink the blood of whoever she’s latched onto. Her condition spreads and pretty much all of Montreal goes under martial law due to these zombie like people that are trying to spread this virus.

Overall, this is a pretty good and entertaining movie. It’s not exceptional and it isn’t Cronenberg at his best but it showed him growing as an artist and a storyteller. His style is apparent even if it hasn’t fully flourished by this point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other early works by Cronenberg: Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome.

Film Review: Cooties (2014)

Release Date: January 18th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan
Music by: Kreng
Cast: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia

SpectreVision, Glacier Films, Lionsgate Premiere, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nap time, motherfuckers.” – Wade

*Written in 2015.

If you ever wanted to see Dwight Schrute team up with Frodo Baggins and fight zombie children in an elementary school, then this movie is for you! For those who never thought about that scenario, it is still a pretty sweet film.

Cooties takes place over the course of a day. Elijah Wood plays a struggling writer who comes to the school for the first time as a substitute teacher. He immediately butts heads with Rainn Wilson, who is essentially Dwight Schrute as an elementary P.E. teacher with a great mustache.

Allison Pill, probably most known for her part in Goon, plays Wilson’s girlfriend and creates tension between Wood and Wilson’s characters.

The film kicks off pretty quickly, as a zombie-like affliction spreads throughout the school but only effects those who haven’t yet gone through puberty.

We get awesome scenes of these teachers murdering zombie children. It is pretty great for those of us who have ever had run-ins with smart ass kids.

While the story isn’t all that great and the film isn’t, by any means, a classic, it is still a good way to waste 90 minutes of your time. The movie is predictable, the humor is passable but all in all, this is a fun ride. And who doesn’t enjoy Rainn Wilson? Let alone, Rainn Wilson as a badass?

The film’s final sequence takes place in a Discovery Zone type of environment, where the adults and a few of the surviving kids traverse through the child-safe maze in an effort to get out alive.

I liked this movie. I don’t know if I will ever watch it again but it was certainly a good way to waste some time on a Saturday morning between breakfast and lunch.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Zombieland.