“The funeral is about to begin, sir!”
After patiently waiting following the early 2014 announcement of the film’s existence, Phantasm: Ravager was finally released on October 4th for digital streaming and download. Sadly, the delay saw the passing of Angus Scrimm, but at least the rest of the original main cast has now seen its completion. After 1998’s seemingly final chapter, OblIVion, I have no complaints that a fifth was made, and happily purchased a download. But after viewing the presentation last night, my order of preference ranks Ravager after I, II, IV, and III.
Warning: spoilers ahead… Accepting the franchise’s trademark plot ambiguities, financial restraints, and the timeframe involved, Ravager‘s CGI, script, cinematography, patchwork editing, and the lack of Coscarelli’s direction, were still damaging. I suspect those are common criticisms, so I’d like to mention what I enjoy of the phinal philm.
The foundation of director David Hartman’s movie uses older footage from an unrealized web series starring Reggie, so there is plenty to enjoy from his personality like his humor, his street action with the famous Hemi Cuda, trying to score with women way out of his league (this time, Dawn Cody), and his singer/songwriter hobby. The Phantasm universe’s true reality is always in question. Is it all The Tall Man’s tinkering, events on any number of infinite parallel universes, or all in Reggie’s dementia-affected mind? The success of the flick is primarily due to successfully enticing nostalgia by again uniting the cast we’ve followed for decades. Reggie Bannister’s and A. Michael Baldwin’s performances are possibly the best of their characters’ sequel roles. Post-credits, we are even re-introduced to Gloria Lynne Henry’s Rocky, the respected tough hero from Lord of the Dead, though I think her talent was underutilized and disrespected. Rocky should’ve appeared sooner, and had a paired-with-Regman deadly assault on The Tall Man to end his reign, rather than newcomer Chunk having the honor.
The scene of an ill Reggie awakening in his nursing home bed and discovering that his roommate is Jebediah Morningside AKA The Tall Man, with the Lady in Lavender underneath his bed frame is creepy. Scrimm is arguably the finest actor of the series, and his impeccable bedridden performance is a nice introduction to the rest of his consistent and professional last portrayal of the alien mortician. A second memorable scene gives Reggie a mausoleum confrontation with the Lady in Lavender, whose appearance, creepy entrance, and makeup were well done and should leave actress Kat Lester with a sense of pride. The discussion between Reggie and The Tall Man within the bright white environment accessed through one of the mortician’s chromed dimensional portals offers another bittersweet moment. Near the end of the convoluted tale, Jody’s arrival in his Cuda, now armored and weaponized, facilitates an emotional reunion with his brother Mike and steadfast loyal friend, Reggie. Phans were due this reward, and director Hartman satisfied. In one of the realities, we are witness to the peaceful death of Reggie, with Jody and Mike at each side. This is probably the most emotional segment for me, and one that may be the roughest for those who’ve followed the trio for so long. Of course, we still don’t know for sure if this is the “true” reality or ending. As The Tall Man stated in Phantasm III, “It’s never over.”
For various reasons, Phantasm has failed to drill into a mainstream audience, and The Tall Man remains unfairly overshadowed by his contemporaries. Along with Ravager, this season has gifted a well-deserved remastered re-release of Phantasm. I made sure to attend the September 24th Art House Theater Day theatrical showing of the classic first philm. It looked and sounded great and I also received a free t-shirt designed with the new poster’s artwork. Digital reissues of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead and Phantasm: OblIVion to complement the much more common Phantasm II, are also available, and a franchise box set from Well Go USA is planned for release within months. With such visibility, a revival may lurk around the corner like The Tall Man in his sphere and dwarf-patrolled mausoleum.
To aid in celebrating these releases, and the pharwell to Mike, Reggie, and Jody after 37 years of torment by The Tall Man, I want to share some other, rather uncommon, media showing love for the series.
Most highly recommended is Dustin McNeill’s book Phantasm Exhumed, a thorough and respectful exploration of the production of Phantasm and its sequels as told by many of the crew and actors. Though it is unauthorized due to the lack of director Don Coscarelli’s blessing, the genuine and respectful involvement from Angus Scrimm more than legitimizes McNeill’s retrospective. Online and at conventions, McNeill is a reliable and amicable champion for all things Phantasm.
A comic book was written and illustrated by William Davis, and he created a video to share his work:
Phan Phil Sawyer produced Phantasm 4.1, a brief, humorous homage/sequel:
I can’t vouch for the music, as it’s not my preference for metal (blasphemy, you say?), but on their album Hacked Up for Barbeque, grindcore/death metal band Mortician recorded the song “Mortician” about the Phantasm antagonist.
That brutal track was followed by “Lord of the Dead (Mortician Part II)” on Chainsaw Dismemberment.
A more recent death metal band called Funeral Whore released Phantasm this year. All the tracks pertain to The Never Dead.