VHS, released by MCA Universal Home Video
I’m going to start this by saying, that along with Matt, I wish I had discovered these movies earlier in my life. I think I would be a more interesting and worthwhile person. Maybe ten years ago, I was introduced to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and my love of horror was truly born. For some ridiculous reason, it took another 8 years for me to find Phantasm. I was so impressed, it only took me two weeks to watch the rest of them. Floating orbs fly down hallways and drill into people’s brains, shooting sprays of blood. Car chases with evil dwarves that look like Jawas. A mysterious Tall Man alien mortician that is a grave-robber with orange sherbet blood. And, there’s more?
The sheer audacity and originality of the first film made me believe that there was no way it could work as a franchise. There is just nothing else like it. I am so pleased to know that I was wrong.
The quote on the cover is, “The Ball is Back!” Indeed it is. And with it, we get Reggie, Mike (now played by James LeGros), The Tall Man and more crazy insanity. Coscarelli starts the movie, as he does the rest, with a voice-over recap of the first film. Mike has been locked up in an asylum for nine years. At his release we find that he has gained an extra-sensory relationship with a woman named Liz.
Michael is out of the asylum and immediately heads to the cemetery to dig up some graves and prove that he isn’t crazy. No surprise, the graves are empty. Reggie finds him there and convinces him that it would be very bad to be found digging graves up immediately after getting out. On the way home, Michael has a vision of Reggie’s house blowing up. Immediately after, they come upon the house and it’s destroyed.
The narrator switches to Reggie, now on the road with Michael hunting The Tall Man. “It might take years to find the Tall Man, and if we do we’ll probably die.” Nevertheless, the two are on the hunt. First, they need supplies and they head to a gun store. This is one of the great things about the Phantasm sequels. So many things are set up and everything pays off. Reggie saws off two shotguns and puts them together to make a four-barrel shotgun. Mike uses a blow-torch to make a killer flame-thrower. And you know that shit is about to get real.
The utter devastation and isolation that these characters go through ramps up more and more each film. Their failure to stop the Tall Man has left the American west in ruins. Town after town have become ghost towns. Cemeteries are emptied with open graves as far as you can see. They find what appears to be Liz, but a Tall Man head grows out of her back and Reggie incinerates her with that sweet homemade flamethrower. They find it was a calling card from the Tall Man.
Then, we see the real Liz, who is with her grandma grieving the loss of her grandpa. She walks the halls of the funeral home and comes into contact with the Tall Man. One thing leads to another, her grandma is stuck in a coffin with her undead grandpa, Reg and Mike pick up a hot hitch-hiker babe named Alchemy and they find they are all in the same town. Reg then gets with Alchemy in one of the weirdest pseudo sex scenes ever and Liz is kidnapped by the Tall Man. She gets big time tossed against a brick wall, and then is forced to boot her now evil dwarf grandma in the face.
Reggie and Mike end up in a car chase with the Tall Man and Mike tells Reg to "shoot the fucker!" They are pushed off the road and crash Reg's sweet car in a ball of flame. Next thing you know, Reggie has a chainsaw fight with a graver and Mike uses the amputated hand of an evil undertaker to put one of the spheres into a lock and open the portal to the Tall Man's dimension/planet.
Reggie pours acid into embalming fluid and they IV that stuff into the Tall Man's veins, messing him up huge time. Alchemy comes to their rescue in a hearse and then we get more unexpected twists!
And, that does not include tons of craziness experienced / enjoyed in the middle.
The thing about these Phantasm movies is that they are unique and truly surprising. Likewise, there is such a mix of science fiction that they have a feeling all their own. In comparison to the first movie, this film is far more "fun." Moments like the four-barrel shotgun shooting down four dwarves at the same time are anticipated the whole time and then executed with an Evild Dead 2 non-chalance. As the first film is a creation of a strange new world with lovable characters, the second is more tragic road-movie horror comedy.
The first film is about loss, separation, and the anxiety that comes at being left alone. It is based on that younger brother fear that your older brother is grown up and moving on, while you're still stuck at home. In a way, it almost feels like Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish. It's also about Coscarelli's deep fascination of the American way of death. Whereas this film is about the desolation and aftermath of all of your fears coming true. In the first film, Coscarelli is drawing off of being a young kid. It's very close to Kenny & Company. This is about becoming an adult. Now that he's farther removed from that 13 year old self, the concerns are about the larger desolation of the whole world. It's an existential crisis of identity in revenge, which he continues to explore in Phantasm III and Phantasm IV.
The Stuff You Didn't Know:
- One of the headstones in the cemetery reads "Alex Murphy" aka ROBOCOP!
- Brad Pitt was passed up for the role of Mike, which would go back to Michael A. Baldwin in the third film (Universal did not want Reggie Bannister back either, but Coscarelli refused). Baldwin is still bitter
- This was the lowest budgeted film Universal produced in the 1980s, but ten times larger than the budget of Phantasm
- The two story house explosion was actually a real house explosion. It was slated for destruction to make way for the 105 Freeway. The studio bought the house for two hundred dollars
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops labelled it "morally offensive," which I'm sure led tons of young Catholics to see it
Get Yourself Ready:
- This movie is to be shared with friends. I've seen it alone, and every time something sweet happened I wanted to turn to someone, but was disappointed to see I was alone
- Go get some Orange Sherbet
- A great way to see this would be to set up a projector in an old cemetery, but if that's impossible (as it most likely is) maybe you could build sweet cardboard coffins and sit in them as you watch it
The Universal Home Video VHS does the trick. It feels like 1988 and after the end of the film, you get a trailer for The Serpent and The Rainbow. However, in March, Shout! Factory will be releasing a collector's edition blu-ray. I highly recommend you wait, as their releases are always excellent. I don't know what special features will be on it, but if you are one of the first five hundred to order directly from them, you'll get a free limited editiion poster.