Phantasm is one of the Seminole 1970’s horror films that itself took years to make under an extremely low budget and perseverance from director Don Coscarelli. It’s also one of the strangest and most inventive horror franchises ever to be made dealing with the ideas of dream logic and combining them with the realm of death in the personification of the Grim Reaper otherwise known as The Tall Man. Almost ten years passed by with Coscarelli going on to other non horror projects with the idea of a Phantasm sequel far out of his mind. The impetus of the sequel came from a horror fan himself, Tom Pollock who became a Universal studio head and prompted the first and only big budget Universal Phantasm film. Of course the entire cast would return as well as most of the production crew but being a studio film certain concessions had to be made and one such loss was Michael A Baldwin as our young hero character Mike. The likes of Brad Pitt auditioned for the coveted role but the stand out actor was James Le Gross who himself would go into major films such as Point Break. Armed with a then tremendous three million dollar budget and his cast old and new, Coscarelli set out to make a bigger more intense and horrifyingly gore filled Phantasm than ever!
Waking up in the middle of the night having thought the events of the first Phantasm was just a dream, Mike is comforted by Reggie who tells him that they need a change of scenery to get out of their funk. As Mike begins packing he is attacked by the Tall Man and his dwarves. Hearing the commotion, Reggie grabs his gun to go help Mike but he himself is attacked as the Tall Man tries to drag Mike away. In desperation Reggie fills the house with gasoline and lights it up jumping out a window with Mike. Years later Mike has been in a mental institution trying to come to terms with his nightmares of the Tall Man as the events that transpired are only remembered by Mike. Reaching out to him is Liz who shares the same strange psychic link with the Tall Man. Her dreams showed her the horrors of Mike’s past and reveal that the same things might be happening to her town as she asks him to come help her in his dreams. To leave Mike admits all his dreams are not real and that he was crazy. Once freed he goes to the graveyard in his home town, digging up the coffins only to discover all the bodies have been stolen, but Reggie is having none of it and takes him home to his family to try and salvage Mike’s life, unfortunately Mike’s dream of the exploding house was a premonition as the Tall Man blows up Reggie’s house with his family in there. Reggie swears revenge and the two follow the signs in Mike’s dreams across the country discovering towns that have been completely destroyed and the cemeteries ransacked. With each stop the Tall Man leaves a gross calling card for the two to contend with as they desperately try to find Liz before the Tall Man’s terror destroys her town as well.
While the first film reveled in the dream logic making you and the characters question the reality and strangeness of the situation, part 2 was told more linear as it was a studio film which tied together certain aspects of the first film that the viewer wasn’t so sure about. This also made certain scenes that were similar to others in the first film trick you into thinking it’s a dream when it was all too real. The best bait and switch was the beginning of the film where Reggie fights off the dwarves in an epic shoot out that turns out to be in Michael’s head, but the explosion itself actually happens years later to Reggie making you question and then showing the reality. These two scenes in particular are the exact same explosion of the exact same house too. From a budget standpoint it’s quite genius as one camera crew shot Reggie and young Mike jumping out of the exploding house, another crew shot Reggie and present Mike driving up to it and another shot the Tall Man smirking at the devastation. This plays good for filming but also gives a wink at the idea that the explosion was some sort of dream premonition.
Once Reggie and Mike are ready to kick ass they get decked out in an awesome scene where they break into a hardware store and start building weaponry. Mike builds a flamethrower and Reggie builds his now infamous patented four barreled shotgun that takes out many a killer dwarf that comes at them. My favorite part though is after building all this weaponry in the store, Reggie goes over to the cash register and throws in money for everything they took. This is where Reggie really comes into his own becoming the character we know and love throughout the franchise. He’s lonely and ready to party with any lady, ready to take action with his slick weaponry but knows when to chill out and act like the basic hippie that he is. His sexual escapades get him in a lot of trouble as the Tall Man likes to send plenty of good looking ladies that just might be deadly corpses in disguise. I love the hunters dynamic of Mike and Reggie in this road trip type of horror flick, going town to town with homemade weapons in their car taking out the Tall Man’s creatures and I wholeheartedly think Eric Kripke took this idea for Supernatural as the protagonists are very similar.
With a bigger budget what does Coscarelli do after struggling to piece together every effect he could on the first film? He hires on Mark Shostrom who was referred to him by Sam Raimi after just completing Evil Dead 2. Along with Shostrom came both Greg Nicoterro and Robert Kurtzman in one of their last films before forming KNB FX group. The look of the dwarves was one of the first things they worked on. Corpses taken from their graves, condensed and shriveled into these servants of the Tall Man. Each dwarf was given a different specific face with several ideas, one was to make them more alien such as eyes being farther apart, another to make them look like famous horror icons such as Boris Karloff and another was in some cases to show the face of the recently deceased character, but more decaying and condensed. This gave way to some awesome attack scenes that we couldn’t get in the original film, with Ed Gale who went on to play the body of Chucky as their head dwarf monster. Of course the tag line for the film was, “The ball is back!” The creation from Coscarelli’s own nightmares, the sphere, is perhaps one of the most iconic horror villains in history even inspiring J.J. Abrams to create the character’s name and look of Captain Phasma based in his love of it. Unfortunately the original creator of the sphere passed away a year after the original Phantasm’s release which is why Steve Patino was brought on to exclusively make the spheres. The man had a case of them varying sizes, ways to kill and mechanisms to work. We don’t get the spheres until near the end of the film but when we do they tear through anything and everything in their path. The greatest thing though is the larger golden sphere. It becomes its own character. Chasing Mike and Liz through the mausoleum with an awesome shot from the spheres point of view bulldozing through doors chasing them. It cuts through metal doors with a little torch and finally hits someone! Blades extend from the side of the ball and begin delving through the body up through the stomach and out the mouth where it is stuck! This is one of the coolest FX as the ball is stuck in a man’s mouth trying to drill its way out but is embedded in his head and skull and can’t escape. Gruesomely epic.
Angus Scrimm the icon himself returns portraying the Tall Man with the same malicious look and vigorous evil from the first film but is given the chance to intensify that here! Standing in front of an exploding house with a smirk, physically overpowering people that get in his way and even completely humiliating a priest making him question his faith. The scene has the priest drunkenly afraid and questioning the Tall Man who is stealing bodies. He goes around blessing the mausoleum and praying as the Tall Man raises him from the air by the rosary around his neck choking him giving one of the most chilling lines ever uttered, “You think when you die you go to heaven? You come to us!” His performance is amazing and Angus being the amazing trooper that he is allowed an extensive amount of makeup to be done to him for the film’s finale. Monstrous insect like creatures protruding from his head attacking Mike, body melting in a flow of yellow blood and gore, but that won’t stop the Tall Man as even he gets maimed he still attacks our heroes!
This is one of the coolest sequels in a franchise I’ve ever seen with the cast and FX to boast about for years. Coscarelli really loves and cares for this franchise with each film but this is the one that started the legacy and the only one to be given an intense budget and huge theatrical summer release. This will forever be one of the best performances of the Tall Man and Reggie and though Mr. Scrimm has passed on his villainous performance will live on in the dreamlike celluloid of Phantasm II.
12 More Days til’ Halloween! Halloween!
12 More Days til’ Halloween Silver Shamrock!