When someone mentions the Phantasm series, The Tall Man is the first thing that comes to mind. Who is he? Where does he come from? Our only information about him is that he poses as a mortician and is bent on turning human corpses into little dwarf creatures, but even the reason for this is a total mystery. The old adage of "the less you know about something the scarier it is" definitely applies, and the enigmatic nature of the character I beg is much of his appeal.
Phantasm II has this cosmic undertaker being hunted by Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (James LeGros) seven years after the events of the first film. After a stay in a mental hospital, Mike reunites with Reggie to destroy the interplanetary evil and save the human race. This is a road trip movie at its heart, and while on their journey, the two pick up a hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips), and encounter a teenage girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) that shares visions with Mike.
Again, Scrimm is the deadly heart of the show, and his performance is pitch perfect. With almost no dialogue, and merely his expressive eyes, he is able to turn in something that is truly memorable. James LeGros in one of his first films is good with what the script allows him to do. Sadly, none of the characters have much backstory or “character” to them. They seem to exist to only get the movie from one set piece to another. With that being said, Phillips as “Alchemy” is the more interesting of the two female lead actors, and her outrageous sex scene with Bannister is the comic highlight of the film.
The special effects work must be mentioned, as outside of Scrimm, the silver spheres of death are the shining stars of the movie. Whether they are tunneling through someone’s body or about to land in the middle of a hapless soul’s forehead, these little guys are vicious. Coscarelli is aware of the audience’s desires in terms of the visuals and they hold nothing back; every death and inventive set piece is put together with care. One of my favorites is “simple” shot of a graveyard that has been dug up en masse. It’s a chilling sight.
Scream Factory has done Phantasm’s fans proud with the collection of bonus material here. At the center is a nearly 45 minute retrospective documentary with all the major talent from the film sans LeGros, and even without his presence, it’s still a great watch. A commentary with Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister is next, the three get on well, and you can tell they have a great amount of respect for each other. Another featurette focusing on the special effects work clocks in around twenty minutes and gives a nice look at the work put into the film, and there's a great series with Greg Nicotero discussing much of his own work. A collection of deleted and extended scenes, a still gallery, and trailers for other Phantasm films round things out. A rather interesting piece included among them is a short film with Angus Scrimm playing Abraham Lincoln, which was made in conjunction with the University of Illinois. It's odd that it’s included here, but it’s still nice to see.
The visuals here compared to the first film are night and day in some ways. With a bigger budget comes higher production values, and Scream Factory’s release on Blu-ray does a rather nice job of showing off the film’s surreal settings. The image is quite clean, with flesh tones looking natural, and appropriately unnatural when the time comes. The detail level is especially nice in the cathedral/crypt shots and in close ups. The audio is also equally impressive to my ears. The soundscape in the film is quite aggressive, especially when the spheres are flying to create havoc. Dialogue is never a problem, and the score and sound effects are balanced well. For those with a nice 7.1 set up, the film should be a real treat.
The late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s were an especially active time for horror films, with the direct-to-video boom taking off and slasher films being created by the truckload. With the original Phantasm, Don Coscarelli gave the genre something surreal and fresh, and in the process unwittingly creating the cult icon simply known as “The Tall Man". Unlike the other, more known horror figures of the modern era: Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, Leatherface et al, this monster is a complete mystery. Phantasm II doesn’t do much to clarify anything from the first installment, but it’s a fun ride for fans of the first film. The disc from Scream Factory is a winner all the way around for those who enjoy a strange horror film, and a must have for fans of the series.