Phantasm 1-5 Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection
Directed by Don Coscarelli/David Hartman.
Starring Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, James Le Gros, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, Heidi Marnhout, Dawn Cody, Stephen Jutras, and Daniel Roebuck.
All five Phantasm movies are given the Arrow Video treatment in a limited edition box set filled with extras and presented in rather fetching sphere-shaped packaging.
There’s a good chance that most horror connoisseurs will already own a set of the Phantasm movies as they have been released in splendid DVD box sets before and been treated rather well, coming in exclusive packaging and containing bonus discs full of extra material to give you as much Phantasm-related tomfoolery as you could ever want. But that was before the invention of Blu-ray and back when there were only four movies in the franchise, and things have moved on since then as Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli went ahead and added a fifth film into the series that crept up on everybody without too much marketing fanfare.
Despite latest movie Phantasm: Ravager being released in the US in October 2016, less than a year after the death of actor Angus Scrimm who starred in all five movies, the UK has yet to have a release of said film so the good folk at Arrow Video have put together an extensive set that pretty much blows away any previous releases by including not only all the movies including Phantasm: Ravager but also the much-talked about remastered version of Coscarelli’s original 1979 Phantasm. And as if those two goodies weren’t enough to make you double-dip (assuming you’re already a Phan and own a previous release) there is also a bonus disc full of special features, most of which have been transported over from previous releases but there are also a few exclusive nuggets for your delectation, just in case you hadn’t had enough of this strange but compelling franchise already.
The Phantasm series itself is one of the most iconic and much-loved amongst genre fans, not only for Angus Scrimm’s depiction of the villainous Tall Man but also because of the otherworldliness of its storytelling that gives it a supernatural, and even slightly sci-fi, edge that only the original A Nightmare on Elm Street comes close to matching in mainstream horror, and it is also one of the only horror franchises that has a certain level of consistency running through it. The main problem, however, in trying to sell the story of Phantasm to somebody who has never seen it is that the plot doesn’t really make any sense and any attempt to try and fathom what Don Coscarelli was attempting to interpret from his imagination is just futile, so it’s best not to spend too long pouring over a plot analysis and just let the movies play out.
But in case you need to know, Phantasm is basically a fever dream of a movie where teenager Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) discover that the sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), a mysterious grave robber posing as the director of a funeral home, is seemingly harvesting the bodies of the recently deceased for some nefarious purpose. At this point the Tall Man’s endgame is never revealed but it does involve pursuing the trio of heroes with the help of deadly silver spheres that are under his control and his weird ability to shapeshift into the beautiful Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester) to seduce unwitting victims.
Like most popular horror movies sequels were forthcoming, although it would take nine years for Phantasm II to emerge and the emphasis was more on the action and special effects this time as Reggie and Mike (now played by James Le Gros as this was a studio movie and the execs wanted a ‘name’ in the lead) carry on their pursuit of the Tall Man as the world around them seems to be crumbling under his evil spell. And in 1994 things were put right as A. Michael Baldwin returned to the role of Mike as Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead continued the battle with new characters Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) and young boy Tim (Kevin Connors) joining Reggie and Mike in their fight against the Tall Man. Four years later Phantasm IV: Oblivion was released and saw Don Coscarelli inserting lots of unused footage from the first movie to help flesh out the story of how the Tall Man came to be and how the relationship between Reggie and Mike became to be so strong. More of an atmospheric mood piece closer in tone to the original, Oblivion feels a lot cheaper than the previous two movies but is probably the most engrossing of the sequels and ends on just the right note as a conclusion to Mike and Reggie’s journey looks to be in sight.
Which leads us to Phantasm: Ravager, a movie several years in the making as Don Coscarelli and his alumnus David Hartman began shooting scenes for a potential Phantasm web series involving Reggie Bannister back in the 2000s. This in turn led to the involvement of A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury, and the inevitable fifth movie eventually came to be, with Hartman now in the director’s chair and Coscarelli producing. Here we catch up with Reggie as he is lost – literally, metaphorically, physically and mentally – and trying to find Mike as the Tall Man’s plans to totally consume our world is nearing completion. The film consists of several timelines featuring Reggie scouring the desert in his Plymouth Barracuda with his trusty four-barrelled shotgun alongside a visibly aged Reggie reminiscing in a psychiatric hospital as Mike listens to his tales of the Tall Man, and there are the now-standard flashback scenes of Reggie and Mike as they started out on their journey, and although Ravager is clearly made with a lot of passion from everyone involved it really is a film for Phantasm devotees as none of it makes a whole lot of sense, which is an argument you could throw at the whole series, but it never quite gels in the same way as that iconic first movie.
So those are the five movies and, overall, the Phantasm series fares a lot better than most horror franchise by being fairly consistent and never really losing the surreal vibe that Don Coscarelli created back in 1979. No, none of it makes for a coherent story but for whatever reason the original Phantasm works as a late-1970s piece of surreal horror/sci-fi madness just gruesome enough to usher in the 1980s but still with a foot planted in the previous decade of iconic genre movies that were more about mood than viscera. This remastered 4K version looks amazing, belying the fact that the film is nearly 40 years old and, quite frankly, should be the only version of the movie that you would ever need to watch from now on. It also fares a lot better on Blu-ray than the other movies in the set, with parts two and three looking fairly crisp but Oblivion does suffer from a lot of grain in places, and given how Ravager was put together with more than a little computer assistance it looks a little too clean in comparison. The first movie is now considered a classic and rightly so, creating a creepy villain in the Tall Man and despite the amateurish nature of the acting it all works to create a universe of characters that are believable in a situation that is the stuff of nightmares. Phantasm II ups the blood and gore and makes Reggie into a wisecracking but hapless hero but in trying get the balance between 1980s special effects extravaganza and keeping the tone of the original right it loses something and when nothing is happening on-screen attention levels do tend to dip, although Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead readdresses that balance and gets the formula right, introducing zombies and a big Sam Raimi influence into the story. Even the introduction of a kid as one of the main characters doesn’t do the film any harm and Reggie becomes almost Bruce Campbell-ish in his line delivery and actions, and the returning A. Michael Baldwin provides the key to making it all work, despite some awkward editing as the end of Phantasm II is recapped. Phantasm IV: Oblivion is messy but obviously leading to something, providing a bridge between the VHS rental hits of parts two and three and the apparent conclusion of Phantasm: Ravager, a well-intentioned but ultimately underwhelming finale, mostly thanks to the amount of CGI effects that give the film the look and feel of a fan-made short that happened to catch the attentions of the original filmmakers. Nevertheless, there are moments that recapture some of the earlier glories and the shifting timelines help play into Reggie’s aging appearance as the film was shot over several years.
Each disc comes with its own short documentary entitled Reflections of Fear, with cast and crew members looking back at each film in the series with their own recollections and stories, the most interesting being on parts two and three where effects wizards Mark Shostrom and Dean Gates reveal how they did most of the special effects and make-up, commenting that every gag on the films they worked on was done in-camera with no CGI. There are also audio commentaries for Phantasm and Ravager that provide lots of detailed behind-the-scenes titbits, as does the feature-length Phantasmagoria documentary that covers the first four films and is shipped over from the previous DVD box set release. There are plenty of other nuggets, such as archive behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, Q&A sessions, clips from the Ravager premiere and a heartfelt tribute to Angus Scrimm to keep you entertained and as if that wasn’t enough there is also a 152-page book featuring writing by Kim Newman and Bill Ackerman and exclusive artwork from Gary Pullin that all comes packaged in a glorious replica silver sphere so this lavish set really is the last word on anything Phantasm, that is until the possible sixth movie materialises, which could happen in the weird and wonderful world of Don Coscarelli. Until then, this contender for the ‘Best Box Set That Arrow Video Have Put Out So Far’ award will just have to do. Can think of worse ways of spending a day in front of the TV…
Flickering Myth Rating – Phantasm (2016 Remaster) – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Flickering Myth Rating – Phantasm II – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Flickering Myth Rating – Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Flickering Myth Rating – Phantasm IV: Oblivion – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Flickering Myth Rating – Phantasm V: Ravager – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★