Back in 1979, an up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Don Coscarelli unleashed Phantasm, his terrifying and surreal exploration of fear, onto unsuspecting horror fans. Now, over 37 years later, we are about to celebrate the release of Phantasm: Ravager, the final installment of the iconic franchise that recently enjoyed its world premiere at the 2016 Fantastic Fest. It’s a project that Phantasm fans have been waiting to see for a long time, and I have to say that by and large, longtime Phanatics should be absolutely pleased with how Ravager has turned out.
Co-writer/director David Hartman’s genuine passion for this franchise is engrained in every single moment of this sequel, which perfectly embodies the scrappy “can-do” attitude that has gotten the Phantasm series this far. The film is also a beautiful tribute to the legacy of the franchise’s villain, The Tall Man, portrayed by Angus Scrimm, who sadly passed away earlier this year. And while I’ll be totally honest and say that all of the teasers and trailers for Phantasm: Ravager didn’t instill a lot of confidence in me going into the premiere, this final chapter in the Phantasm series won me over with its ambition and charm, making Ravager one of the biggest surprises of the fest for me.
Is it perfect? Far from it. But for me, the Phantasm films have never been about trying to achieve cinematic perfection, and are more about giving horror fans the opportunity to explore bigger themes like life and death, what happens to us after we leave this existence, and, of course, parallel universes and timelines. Ravager delivers all that and more, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me.
In Ravager, we pick up with the always determined Reggie (Reggie Bannister), who’s still on the hunt for his friends Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury) after they’ve been transported to another dimension by the iconic Tall Man (Scrimm), also known by his human counterpart’s name, Jebediah Morningside. But true to form for the Phantasm series, things aren’t that simple for Reggie, as we see him maneuvering through various realities, including one where he’s been diagnosed with dementia and is now forced to live in a nursing home (which feels like a nod to Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep).
Some of the alternate realities that Reggie explores are a bit more action-oriented, particularly when our favorite four-barreled shotgun toting hero finds himself in a world where The Tall Man’s plan for world domination has come to fruition thanks to the assistance of some oversized killer spheres that have laid waste to our society. Considering all the leaps Reggie takes between the differing timelines, Ravager does ask its audience to pay great attention from beginning to end, but I appreciated the ambition behind the various scenarios, and found the ways they overlap each other to be rather ingenious.
As mentioned, Phantasm: Ravager does have a few weak spots, particularly in the CGI department, as the digital fire in the futuristic wasteland scenes stuck out to me like a sore thumb (it’s something that will just scream out at me for a film at any budgetary level, though). Some of the action sequences were a bit clunky at times, too, but nothing so egregious that it detracted from my overall enjoyment of Ravager. To me, the Phantasm films have always had some rough edges, and I am willing to overlook those imperfections when a film’s story tries to go above and beyond with its intentions, and Ravager feels perfectly in line with all that has preceded it (and is absolutely a stronger note for the franchise to go out on than Phantasm: OblIVion).
What’s probably the most interesting aspect to Phantasm: Ravager is its ending. I’ll be interested to see if it’s received with controversy from fans, as I was rather surprised after speaking with a few folks after the premiere, as many of them felt that the ending was not the ideal note for the series to go out on (I’m keeping it vague here for a reason). I interpreted things much differently, so I’m looking forward to seeing other people’s reactions after it’s released in early October (it’s also something I’m going to address in a future piece as well, as it is far too spoilery of a discussion to be having here), as there are interesting discussions to be had.
Something else I was surprised about was just how much of an emotional journey Phantasm: Ravager took me on as a viewer. It goes without saying that seeing Scrimm in all his formidable glory in what has become his final film was a bittersweet experience, and one moment in particular, when we see The Tall Man’s other persona, Jebediah Morningside, lying in a hospital bed, lamenting that his time was growing short, actually knocked the wind right out of my lungs—it just hit me out of nowhere.
As a whole, Phantasm: Ravager is a triumphant conclusion to this franchise, and I had a great time seeing the entire original cast together onscreen one last time, as they all brought an infectious sense of enthusiasm to the table with their performances. Hartman was an excellent choice to hand over the reins to, and I do believe that Ravager will be well worth the wait for most Phantasm fans.
Movie Score: 3.5/5