Friday, October 07, 2016

Phantasm: Ravager

Eighteen years after series creator Don Coscarelli unleashed the dull and disappointing PHANTASM: OBLIVION in video stores, he somehow has managed to convince theaters to carry the latest sequel. Latest and presumably last, considering star Angus Scrimm passed away in 2016, though you can never count a cash cow out.

And that’s all PHANTASM: RAVAGER, the fourth sequel to 1979’s dreamy sleeper PHANTASM, is. Proof is in its twist — an infuriating and incompetently considered insult to everyone who admired Coscarelli’s original vision and even some of the sequels that followed (particularly, the fun PHANTASM II, which enjoyed a higher budget thanks to Universal, which agreed to release it). Coscarelli didn’t direct RAVAGER, instead handing the reins to David Hartman. No, not that David Hartman (who wouldn’t have done a worse job), but the David Hartman who directed LASER FART. It seems Hartman brought the same je ne sais quoi that made LASER FART a sophisticated classic to the set of PHANTASM: RAVAGER.

No matter how rotten the film is, there’s no denying a certain thrill in seeing the original cast still together. Even Bill Thornbury, whose character was killed off in the first movie, has managed to hang around for sequel after sequel. He’s here (briefly) as Jody Pearson with A. Michael Baldwin (who missed PHANTASM II because Universal insisted on recasting his role with James LeGros) as his little brother Mike, Reggie Bannister as the world’s coolest ice cream man, and — of course — the skeletal Angus Scrimm as the demented and mysterious mortician and dwarf slaver known only as the Tall Man.

Describing plots is generally of little use when discussing a PHANTASM movie. The plots rarely make sense, and at any rate, the PHANTASM films are more about setting a mood and developing its characters than following a linear storyline. Writers Coscarelli and Hartman don’t even bother with a story and just create a series of nonsensical vignettes instead. Most of them involve Reggie fighting the Tall Man’s silver spheres (much less scary when they’re cartoons), including a nightmare scenario where giant balls shoot lasers at skyscrapers to demolish them.

Because the twist occurs early in the movie, it’s fair to share it here. PHANTASM: RAVAGER reveals that Reggie is a nursing home patient suffering from dementia, and all five films are in fact a story he has been telling his visiting friend Mike. While the film’s sloppy structure allows for the idea that maybe the Tall Man is real after all, and Reggie and Mike have spent almost forty years fighting him, Hartman and Coscarelli can’t have their cake and eat it too. To even suggest that the characters and adventures PHANTASM fans have fallen in love with never happened — that our heroes aren’t heroes — is a slap in the face. And a surprising one coming from Coscarelli, one of the horror genre’s most fan-friendly creators.

Beyond the movie’s insulting story, PHANTASM: RAVAGER is a mess. Aside from the always fun Bannister, the actors, who include Daniel Roebuck (THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) as a ludicrous Bulgarian farmer, are bad, the digital photography is ugly, and the visual effects are worse than those in the first film produced in the 1970s. I’m assuming child laborers in Bangladesh created the numbingly bad CGI, including phony fire, phony muzzle flares, phony blood spatter, and embarrassingly phony spheres. Oh, and lasers. Heaven help us, the lasers.

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