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John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm II (1988), the return of our favorite evil mortician the Tall Man, his evil dwarves, and his deadly balls.

June 12, 2017

MY CALL:  This largely serves to continue the story and madness of Phantasm (1979).  If you enjoyed part 1, you’ll enjoy this.  If not, you won’t.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Phantasm IIThere is little out there that compares to this film, so I’ll just suggest starting with Phantasm (1979) and perhaps the subsequent sequels up to part 5.

So here we are 8 years after the events of Phantasm (1979) with writer/director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm 1-4, The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep).  A psychic girl (Paula Irvine; Phantasm III), Liz, has been keeping tabs on the Tall Man with her premonitions, Michael (James Le Gros) has just been released from a long stay in a psychiatric facility, and Reggie (Reggie Bannister; Phantasm 1-5, Wishmaster) somehow doesn’t remember that anything from part 1 even happened.  Reggie and the psychiatrists say it was all just a dream Michael manifested to cope with the loss of his brother.

After Michael has a premonition that Reggie’s second house would explode (one in 1979, one now), now with his wife and child within, as a result of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm; Phantasm 1-5, Subspecies, Wishmaster) and his army of ugly evil dwarves…well, Reggie just decides to believe Michael that evil is behind it and they set out searching the country for the Tall Man using Michael’s newfound powers of dream clairvoyance.

PSYCHIC-AMNESIAC SEQUEL SIDEBAR: Okay, this gets a bit confusing.  Completely different from Phantasm (1979), amnesia and psychic powers are prominent themes in this sequel.  There is no explanation for Reggie’s amnesia regarding the events of part 1, yet once he decides to believe Michael’s story, he behaves as if he always knew everything about the Tall Man, his evil dwarves, his extra-dimensional nature, and his vile plans for our dead.  Likewise, Michael’s powers just seem to “be there” as if they were always there.  As they are presented to us, these things are treated as if they have been constants.  Moreover, we now have psychic Liz and the Tall Man using telepathy.  Just go with it.

There are some great shots of country sides—a nice and unexpected touch in an 80s horror film.  During their trek they prepare, making a four-barrel shotgun and flamethrower, and follow the dilapidated remains of ghost towns and mass exhumed graveyards in the wake of the Tall Man’s murderous influence as he builds his army of the dead.

Their journey finds many strange things, among them a woman with an awesomely gory slimy monstrous parasite delivering the Tall Man’s messages, disappearing dead naked women in the morgue, a cute hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips; Dollman), a chainsaw fight with a low blow, a funny sex scene and, of course, the return of the blood-lusted spheres—i.e., the floating metal balls from part 1 which now have some mechanized upgrades. You can’t discuss these movies without mentioning the balls.  The effects were great, with the murderous chrome spheres flying through the air (excellent and seamless rotoscoping, by the way), unsheathing blades and drills and buzz saws, impaling victims, and drilling into their heads!  The gore is sufficient as blood gushes in bright red and mustard yellow.

Overall the gore is very satisfying.  One of the ball scenes is among my favorites… when the ball enters a man’s back, bores through his torso and up his throat, and out his mouth.  The finale also has a melty, gooey flair to it.

Boasting a lot more dialogue, the Tall Man is somewhat hammed up in this sequel. But this is not a bad thing at all. It’s a tad cheesy, but a lot of fun. Even more fun are the evil dwarves, which are far more numerous than part 1. We also see more about their creation and their other dimension as we pass through the gateway to another world again.  We don’t really learn anything more than we knew in part 1, though.  The Tall Man is transforming dead people into his growling hooded dwarf servants and there is a portal to another dimension, to which he apparently outsources this labor force…to do…something.  Maybe part 3 will have some answers.

Like part 1, the surprise ending is totally random, makes no sense at all, and hinders the series’ ability to continue to a part 3.  But, also like part 1, it seems more concerned with being looney than credible.  Perhaps it was all just a dream.

WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING SIDEBAR:  These somewhat sci-fi concepts from Phantasm (1979) are introducing us to a greater theme that is only partially realized in part 1, and unfortunately no more so in part 2.  As if world-building, you’d think Coscarelli is setting the stage for something of grander scale by letting us know that these things exist, without getting into the why’s.  In part 1, Michael visits a creepy fortune-teller and her telepathically linked granddaughter who subject him to a Dune-like “fear box” test.  But why?  Why are there truly supernatural diviners and why do they “prepare” young Michael for his future challenges (i.e., the Tall Man)?  Why does the Tall Man turn into a young woman, in a lavender dress in part 1 and the form of the cute hitchhiker in part 2, and why not someone else?
There’s a lot going on here.  The Tall Man is reanimating human corpses as evil compact dwarves so that their now denser bodies can handle the greater gravity of another planet, in which the dwarves serve as slaves.  We don’t know why, or to do what, or exactly where or for whom.  This is all somehow revealed to Michael (through a telepathic link perhaps) when he momentarily passes the portal and witnesses the harsh world on the other side in part 1.  Is it Hell, or another planet in a nearby solar system?  Did this permanently give him the psychic powers that we find now in part 2?  Are there other portals?  Is the Tall Man the head bad guy, or the equivalent of a Vegas pit boss or regional salesman/recruiter?  Who knows?  After watching parts 1 and 2, we sure don’t!  As far as ambitious stories go, Phantasm 1-2 are like the horror Avatar (2009) of the 1970s.  Unfortunately, after setting the stage we don’t seem to take it anywhere new in part 2.  And yet again, Coscarelli uses a rather A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) style ending that could only confuse us more.

What makes this movie work is how satisfyingly unusual the story is.  It’s weird and doesn’t make much sense.  That said, I remain quite impressed with this original product.  This film may not feel organized, but it still has a lot of good to offer the genre and its story stands out even today.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2017 7:48 pm

    I love Don Coscarelli for the exact reason that you stated, John. He does highly unusual films. The Phantasm series definitely fits the bill.
    Angus Scrimm was terrific & so were Bannister & LeGros. I am going to binge watch the series soon. That would be a perfect day. Great review!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      June 18, 2017 9:50 pm

      I’ve been doing a movie a week and just saw part IV. Part V next week!

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), and more of our other-worldly mortician the Tall Man, his evil dwarves, and his deadly balls. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), finally we have some answers to the mysteries of the Tall Man, his evil dwarves, his deadly balls…and now time travel! | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm V: Ravager (2016), an unworthy apocalyptic end to a once great franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix

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