[Blu-ray Review] ‘Phantasm II’ Juggles Absurdity, Comedy, and Suspense

Reviewed by Patrick Cooper

11 years after Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm became a cult hit, Universal decided to bankroll a sequel. By the late ‘80s, horror sequels were tremendously popular, so Universal figured they would pump a bunch of money into a Phantasm sequel and have another cash cow on their hands. Thanks to the enhanced budget, Phantasm II has got some fantastic special effects and explosions, but unfortunately, with great budgets comes great studio intervention.

As Coscarelli explains in Scream Factory’s Blu-ray commentary, Universal wouldn’t let him recast A. Michael Baldwin as the main protagonist, Mike. The studio said they wanted a “working” actor and since Baldwin hadn’t done much in the decade since the first Phantasm, they wouldn’t let Coscarelli bring him back. They had faith in the immense drawing power of actor James LeGros though. The Solarbabies star had a devout band of worshippers at the time (maybe) and seeing his name attached to the sequel would surely have admirers lining up outside the theaters.

I’m just kidding. James LeGros does a fine job as grown-up Mike. They get around the actor switch by having Phantasm II take place a decade later. Part two initially picks up right where one ends and shows what happened to Reggie (Reggie Bannister) while Mike was upstairs. The Tall Man takes Mike and when Reggie runs upstairs he encounters the dwarf-corpses – who are now enhanced with great looking animatronic faces. After some clever gas-oven trickery, Reggie and Mike escape from the house just as it blows up. It’s a fun action sequence – particularly when Reggie has to climb up a shaft while the dwarves are nipping at his heels.

The film then jumps a decade into the future. Mike is in a psychiatric hospital and has recently been dreaming of a blonde girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) who is experiencing Tall Man problems herself. The two achieve a telepathic link and when Mike prophetically senses that Liz is in danger (not just dreamland danger), he escapes from the loony bin to save her. Shortly after, he teams up with Reggie, who seems to have forgotten that a decade earlier he had to blow up his own house to save their asses. He’s convinced himself it was all a hallucination or dream or something, so as he and Mike are driving up to his new house, it explodes to remind him the Tall Man is real.

Mike and Reggie hit the road using Mike’s dreams and psychic hunches as a map to the Tall Man. They create some pretty badass makeshift weapons, like a 4-barreled shotgun and a fire extinguisher flamethrower, and cruise cross-country in a muscle car. The film cuts between their vengeful road trip and Liz’s encounters with the Tall Man. Things really don’t pick up until the two parties meet and go after the Tall Man in his funeral home headquarters. At a nearby bed and breakfast they set up some great booby-traps, like a hand grenade in a beer can attached to a string and the ol’ shotgun aimed at the door gag. All the real action happens at the funeral home though.

The balls are back (as the tagline reads) and they’ve got some souped-up tricks. One can burn through a door and another has a motion-sensor laser. There are a few great ball-POV shots when they’re chasing Mike and Liz. One continuous POV shot goes through some doors – like the spirit in Evil Dead. All of the special effects look great and stand up decades later. With these 1080p HD Blu-rays of older horror films, a lot of times the clearer definition and details can spoil the effects. It’s easier to spot zippers and things like that. There are none of those effect blemishes on the Phantasm II Blu-ray. The effects and gore look like they were shot yesterday. In particular, the hunchback puppet and crawling dwarf-fetuses look amazing.

Because of test screenings mandated by Universal, Coscarelli was forced to create a more linear film and tone down the hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness storyline that made the first one so unique. The result is a more action-orientated film and I’m fine with that. Most importantly, the fun of the first one is there. Coscarelli is a master of juggling absurdity, comedy, and suspense in his films and Phantasm II is no different. It’s a great sequel and is finally getting the packaging deserves via Scream Factory.

A/V

Scream Factory presents Phantasm II in 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 DTS Master Audio. The transfer is pretty damn flawless. Like I said in the review, it looks like a brand new movie. Colors pop, blood glistens, and embalming fluid sparkles. The details are stunning – you can count the wrinkles on Angus Scrimm’s face.

Special Features

AUDIO COMMENTARY FEATURING DON COSCARELLI, ANGUS SCRIMM, AND REGGIE BANISTER: Coscarelli talks about Universal’s restrictions and the compromises they led to. The usual process aspects are covered (writing, casting, filming) with some fun anecdotes thrown in.

THE BALL IS BACK: THE MAKING OF PHANTASM II (47:00): This making of features Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Paula Irvine, and Kenneth Tigar. Coscarelli talks about the reasons II has a more linear approach, the creative compromise that led to A Michael Baldwin not being recast as Mike, and the deleted love making scene, and several other aspects of the film. The rest of the cast throws in their two cents, most notably Angus Scrimm, who reveals what he believes the Tall Man really is.

GORY DAYS (22:00): This vintage featurette looks at the career of special effects artist Greg Nicotero. Greg talks about his involvement in the project and the crew’s approach to Phantasm II’s gnarly effects. There’s loads of fantastic behind the scenes footage of the effects crew taking care of business.

DELETED SCENES (7:00): Scream Factory restored a few deleted scenes from 35mm archival footage. There are extended scenes of Liz going through her notebook, Reggie’s house exploding, and Liz and her grandma driving to the funeral.

WORKPRINT SCENES (7:00): Alternate takes, scene extensions, deleted sequences, and additional elements of gore. Includes the deleted sex scene!

BEHIND THE SCENES FOOTAGE: Two 10-minute segments of behind the scenes footage.

VERY BIZARRE AND RARE SHORT FILM STARRING ANGUS SCRIMM AS ANOTHER TALL MAN, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

STILL GALLERIES, TRAILERS & TV SPOTS

 
Source: B-D