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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!

June 25, 2017

MY CALL:  At first, this film feels like a typical bad 90s movie.  It’s not.  Give it a chance and franchise fans will be pleased by the revelations within even though the effects were largely lacking.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Phantasm IV: OblivionThere is little out there that compares to these films, so I’ll just suggest starting with Phantasm (1979) and Phantasm II (1988)—both of which are far better—and only then perhaps should one venture the subsequent sequels up to part 5. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) paled in comparison to parts 1-2, swerving away from original ’80s goodness right into ’90s bad movie-ville.

Where we left our ill-fated Reggie at the end of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994).

Writer/director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm 1-4, The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) returns with his fourth (and his final directorial) installment to explore the mysteries of the dimensional fork.  As Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) came to a close, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin; Phantasm 1-5) had fled the northwest and Reggie (Reggie Bannister; Phantasm 1-5, Wishmaster) was doomed.  Yet now we find that the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm; Phantasm 1-5, Subspecies, Wishmaster) mysteriously chose to spare him as it was “not yet his time.”  Meanwhile, Mike is having visions of evil dwarves during his cross-country Hearse tour, passing ghost town after ghost town, harvested of all life by the Tall Man over the last 20 years.

After the enigmatic and original foundation laid down by parts 1-2, Lord of the Dead (1994) really took a turn for the worse as a typical 90s “bad movie” and Oblivion seems to start out pushing that “bad 90s” envelope hard.  So much random crap happens that makes no sense.  And, no, I don’t mean it makes no sense now until they explain it later. No, no, no…this just feels like a bunch of random stupid scenes strung together.  Sure, it’s clear that there are some really cool ideas behind them (let’s stress the really cool)—and I’d love to hear Coscarelli explain it over a few pints.  But they seem wholly ill-explored, unexplained and prematurely forced on screen.  We need a Netflix series to re-approach the Phantasm film story arc!

Amid all this, Mike’s ghost/sphere brother Jody (Bill Thornbury; Phantasm 1-5) warns Reggie that Mike needs his help (and then we don’t see him again for half the movie), Reggie encounters a skinless demon state trooper who pukes yellow blood into his mouth (and we never find out why or what it was), Mike taunts the Tall Man with suicide only to not die because (like Reggie) it wasn’t his time (but the ends don’t justify the means…even though this “sort of” makes sense later), and then a portal just appears at Mike’s convenience to escape the Tall Man who seems content to not even try to stop or follow him.  Come on!  This stuff is inexplicable even for a Phantasm movie!  There’s even a scene featuring evil sphere BOOBS (Heidi Marnhout; Bubba Ho-Tep, Flight of the Living Dead)!  Do you think we get any explanation for how that happened?  Of course not. But, it was actually a pretty cool scene.

So now Mike is traveling through time to his own past in the 1970s (i.e., the Phantasm part 1 timeline), and even prior to that when we find a completely sane “Jebediah” Tall Man offering up fresh lemonade and southern hospitality.  This probably isn’t making too much sense yet, and it’s not you…it’s Coscarelli.  But, believe it or not (and much to my surprise), eventually some of this is actually going to congeal into a somewhat sensible storyline.  Not all of it, but the important bullet points.  However, one that they never clarify is how Lord of the Dead revealed that Mike himself actually is an evil metal sphere puppet of sorts.

As if the largely haphazardly disjointed (yet later somewhat comprehensible in hindsight) plot wasn’t problematic enough, I find great fault with the special effects in this movie.  Sure, the “sphere boobs” scene was actually really cool. But most of the movie relies on a few spurts of bright yellow blood and ugly dwarf make-up.  And we don’t have nearly enough flying sphere action!  Fine for a random direct-to-DVD 90s horror film, but not a worthy follow-up of the demonic back parasite or melting death or hair-pull reveal or sphere-in-the-mouth death of Phantasm II (1988; $3 million budget).  Even Lord of the Dead (1994; $2.5 million budget) had better effects than IV, but not II.  But Oblivion had a mere $650K budget, hardly more than double the $300K of Phantasm’s (1979) in the 70s!

It hardly seems fair to compare the best effect of part IV (ABOVE) to the highlights of part II (BELOW).

It’s funny, I spent an hour watching this thinking it was mind-numbing garbage, but a lot of things really did come together.  So…this isn’t garbage at all.  Were there stupid 90s-esque rando-scenes?  Yes, several, and they had no business being here.  But this sequel accomplished something that no other Phantasm film yet had—it actually answered as many questions as it created whereas parts 1-2 answered almost nothing while only raising hoards of questions.

This “apparently bad movie” turns out, when truly watched all the way through to the end, to rather, in fact, be the most comprehensible of the franchise so far.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2017 12:55 am

    I will definitely make time to catch this flick since I enjoyed the first 2 in the series. Coscarelli is one of my favorite directors so I look forward to it.


  1. John’s Horror Corner: Phantasm V: Ravager (2016), an unworthy apocalyptic end to a once great franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix

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