Phantasm: Ravager, 2016.
Directed by David Hartman.
Starring Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Kathy Lester and Gloria Lynne Henry.
For 37 years, audiences have followed small town friends Reggie, Mike, and Jody in their quest to stop the evil, dimension-hopping schemes of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm in his final performance) and his armada of killer Sentinel Spheres. Now, Don Coscarelli’s acclaimed horror/sci-fi Phantasm franchise comes to a close in a truly epic finale, a multi-dimensional battle across multiple timelines, alien planets, and altered realities, where no less than the fate of Earth is on the line.
A beloved horror movie franchise with devoted “phans” the worldwide over, the Phantasm series got off to a stellar start in 1979 with Don Coscarelli’s original Phantasm that had a nightmarish narrative and a vivid story straight from the grave concerning two brothers – Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) – who stumble on a horrifying reality that the local cemetery is run by a ghoul they call The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who uses the corpses that come through the mortuary to transform into dwarf slaves to send to work in another dimension. Their buddy, an ice cream vendor named Reggie (Reggie Bannister), joins their quest to rid their town of the ancient Tall Man, but the task proved far too difficult to contain in a single movie, so Coscarelli expanded the Phantasm mythos into three sequels (arriving in 1988, 1994, and 1998), but phans had to wait 18 years for the “final” sequel Ravager to see how it all ends.
Ravager picks up more or less where Phantasm ObliVIon left off, and we learn that Reggie (once again played by Bannister) has been travelling in and out of so many different dimensions that he’s virtually forgotten what he’s been searching for, his surrogate son Mike, whom he promised long ago that he would protect now that Mike’s brother Jody has long been considered dead. Reggie is like an emaciated, forlorn Santa Clause, travelling on foot with his sad sack of weapons that no longer have the ammo to use should he ever cross paths with The Tall Man again, but when he suddenly wakes up in a wheelchair at a convalescent hospital under the care of Mike (played by series original Baldwin), Reggie learns that he is suffering from dementia and that Mike has been caring for him for years. Has Reggie been delusional for the last two decades? Has he not been travelling through dimensions, seeking vengeance against The Tall Man? When Reggie insists he’s still fighting an unwinnable war against the dimensional ghoul (played for the last time by Scrimm, who passed away shortly after this film’s completion), he indeed transforms into good old Reggie with his quadruple barreled shotgun (created in Phantasm II), but The Tall Man intercepts him and explains to him that his quest is futile, that he’s already won the wars against humanity, and when Reggie’s eyes truly see the world and the worlds beyond, he sees what seems to be the truth: The Tall Man created a virus that infected humanity, destroyed civilizations (thanks to those flying, killer orbs), and only a small resistance group is left to stand up against the millions of Tall Mans that have been duplicated, the still thriving Lady in Lavender (played by Kathy Lester, who played the part in the original film), and their dwarf minions. Reggie plunges himself into the post-apocalyptic reality, takes up arms, and joins the human resistance against the ghouls that have defeated seemingly all the dimensions that exist. But the good news is that he’s not alone: Joining him for the fight are his old friends Mike, Jody (played by series original Thornbury), and even his old flame Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry reprising her role from Phantasm III). A final revelation reveals Reggie’s fate, as well as the fate of all his friends, but there’s astonishing room for yet another sequel, which would throw phans deep into the apocalyptic hellhole created by The Tall Man.
A deceptively meandering structure with episodic interludes, Phantasm: Ravager is easily the most surprising of the sequels to the original film, but for venturing so far off the Phantasm reservation it proves itself to be a most worthy sequel and perhaps the best of the franchise after the original. Its layers are multi-faceted and the themes imply severe consequences for its central characters, but the beauty of the movie is that it takes chances the last two sequels of the franchise were afraid to take. It has an epic arc, while also having an extremely thrifty budget (which shows sometimes), but its shortcomings are more than made up for with earnest performances and a sincere, heartfelt directing effort by co-writer David Hartman, who worked alongside Coscarelli, who handed over the reigns for the first time. If you’re a hardcore phan, then Ravager should be the film long promised to you, and if you’re into unique post-apocalyptic efforts, then this film (at the very least) offers you sights of silver orbs destroying cities en masse. It’s unique in every way, and a pretty entertaining effort to boot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
david j. moore