Thoughts on… Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

Phantasm IV: Oblivion, 1998.

Directed by Don Coscarelli.
Starring Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Angus Scrimm.


SYNOPSIS:

The mystery behind the mortician reaches its conclusion.


After the way Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) ended, it’s hardly surprising that the franchise spawned a fourth movie. I’ve had a good time with this series so far, but unfortunately Phantasm IV: Oblivion feels like a cheap attempt at grabbing money from the audience who have stuck it out thus far. Certain questions which have been lingering since Phantasm (1979) are finally answered, but they may not be quite the answers you were looking for.

The story kicks in straight after the events of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead – although the fate of one character from that movie is annoyingly never addressed. The beginning to Phantasm IV: Oblivion is marvellous – it’s spectacularly edited and effectively sets up the rest of the film. Reggie (Reggie Bannister), who previously found himself trapped, is released by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) whilst Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) flees. Mike’s dead brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), convinces Reggie to search for Mike. Taking lead from the previous two movies, Phantasm IV: Oblivion then descends into a rather tired road movie where everyone seems to be searching for something and taking a great deal of time in doing so.

I’ll begin with the positives, because this isn’t a terrible movie. Unused footage from Phantasm is nicely woven into the narrative, providing flashbacks that give the story a little more substance. It’s rather interesting seeing the same actors in one film with footage that was shot twenty years apart. Angus Scrimm is also given the opportunity to do more than stand around looking menacing, and demonstrates that he can actually act. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everyone else.

The problem with Phantasm IV: Oblivion is that it doesn’t feel fully thought-out. In trying to find answers, director Don Coscarelli ends up with a messy and confusing narrative which just doesn’t work. The pacing is way off, with long stretches where it seems very little happens, and at times the film becomes dangerously boring. The mythology surrounding the Tall Man is also answered, and with that mystery removed he no longer feels like much of a threat. Then there’s the ending, which is once again left open to interpretation but not in the sly thoughtful way Phantasm ended, instead it just infuriates.

I had high hopes for Phantasm IV: Oblivion since the previous three films have all been considerably enjoyable. I wasn’t exactly expecting greatness, but I also wasn’t anticipating boredom. There are flashes of brilliance within this mess, and the story does finally have some sort of conclusion, but as a film overall it just isn’t very good. It’s unfortunate that the story of Mike, Jody, Reggie and the Tall Man doesn’t have an ending that is suitably fitting for the impressive journey the four of them have taken over the last twenty years. Instead, we’re forced to come to the realisation that we are balls deep in a story that struggles desperately to tie up loose ends in an attempt to make coherent sense, and ultimately fails in doing so.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

Liam Underwood

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