Phantasm II Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli
1988, Region A, 97 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on March 26th, 2013
Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man
Reggie Bannister as Reggie
James Le Gros as Mike
Paula Irvine as Liz
Samantha Phillips as Alchemy
Kenneth Tigar as the Father Meyers
The Phantasm franchise follows the ever growing adventures of Mike and Reggie, a pair of reluctant heroes in search of a villainous Tall Man, a strange figure that leaves death in his wake. Each installment thrusts the viewer deeper into the fever dream existence that grows more confusing and enthralling along the way. The series has proudly maintained an air of mystery for more than three decades as each sequel expands upon the mythology while tantalizing viewers with some answers before ruthlessly posing more questions. Our heroes are always left in a perilous cliffhanger and “phans” of the series must patiently wait for the next chapter to calm their nerves. If casual viewers want to keep up, they had better pay attention because they are in for a wild ride.
Phantasm II offers a five-minute heads up recap of the final moments of the original film before jumping in with both feet for the first explosive action sequence. Soon, the story resets itself many years later with our hero Mike in an institution, as it is believed the events of the previous adventure have all been in his imagination. Mike is certain others know the truth, as he is telepathically linked with Liz, an unknown girl dreaming of both Mike and the Tall Man. He secures early release from the hospital and before long is reunited with a newly invigorated Reggie in the quest to stop this evil being.
What follows is a trip into the unexpected as the journey leads them across several states to a mortuary in a small Oregon town where the Tall Man awaits. There are many challenges that must be faced before reaching the final level of this game of cat and mouse, each more bizarre than the last. A series of dreams and weird visions chase Mike to his goal of confronting the man that haunts him, but not everything is as it seems in the Phantasm universe.
Director Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster) created a unique story filled with nightmares and obsessed with death, and shared it with horror fans in 1979’s Phantasm. Almost ten years later, he returned to the story with a bigger budget and made a sequel that has more of a road picture vibe with bigger stunts and larger set-pieces. The key elements of the original film are all revisited and expanded upon to great effect, especially the murderous flying spheres. The movie never takes itself too seriously, but doesn’t dip into camp either. Coscarelli has fun with his characters and seems to enjoy putting them into different environments to see how they react.
The cast is especially strong, led by James Le Gros (Living in Oblivion) and the awesome Reggie Bannister (Cemetery Gates). Longtime followers of the series complain about the absence of actor Michael Baldwin, who plays Mike in the rest of the series, but studio pressures led to Le Gros getting a shot and making the role his own. He gives a strong performance and shares a great onscreen chemistry with Bannister that keeps things on track during some of the more bizarre scenarios. Paula Irvine (Doin’ Time on Planet Earth) and Samantha Phillips (The Bare Wench Project II) balance the testosterone vibe of the picture and each holds her own throughout the film. Phillips brings a much needed sense of levity to the proceedings, most successfully during her bedroom scene with Bannister.
Of course the highlight of this series is Angus Scrimm (Mindwarp) as the Tall Man, a role that confirmed his place in the pantheon of horror icons. His presence is unquestionable, his expressions intimidating and that gravel filled snarl of a voice spits his dialogue with nightmarish glee. The man is simply amazing and Coscarelli couldn’t ask for a better face to his franchise. On a side note, Scrimm makes regular appearances at horror conventions around the country--do yourself a favor and pay him a visit.
Video and Audio:
Phantasm II has been neglected by Universal home video for years, and only received a minor DVD release long after the rest of the franchise was given the deluxe treatment. Anchor Bay UK released a fantastic box set for Region 2 viewers, but the picture was a bit muddy. This new edition from Shout! Factory goes a long way to correct the previous missteps. The film shines with a newly spruced up picture in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with strong colors and natural flesh tones. Contrast levels are a bit spotty at times and black levels occasionally soft, but this may be a result of the source material. The Universal logo at the head of the film (absent from the UK release) is a bit shaky, but the image soon clears up and the film has never looked better… and likely never will.
The film is presented with a default DTS 5.1 HD master audio mix that expands the music and effects tracks. The flying sphere sequences offer a workout for surround speakers, but dialogue occasionally suffers from the mix. A traditional DTS 2.0 HD track is provided and is probably stronger overall, with dialogue, music and effects properly balanced.
English subtitles are also on hand for anyone in need.
Shout! Factory delivers another solid collection of supplemental treats that fans will greatly appreciate.
First up is a commentary track featuring director Don Coscarelli with actors Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. The three old friends share endless tales of production, including the studio pressure to recast the lead before filming began. The track is ported over from the Anchor Bay UK DVD collection and is a welcome addition.
The Ball is Back (47 minutes) is a long overdue retrospective look at the making of Phantasm II, with new interviews of several members of both cast and crew. This is another solid effort from our friends at Red Shirt Productions and definitely worth checking out.
The Gory Days (22 minutes) is another holdover from the import DVD featuring a chat with the always-charming effects artist Greg Nicotero as he reflects on his efforts for the film.
Deleted Scenes (7 minutes) is an unexpected treat, as director Coscarelli provides the material from the original 35mm elements and they look fantastic. This rarely seen material was cut early in the process and remained absent from the workprint cut that circulated on VHS. There is nothing revolutionary on display here, but fans will enjoy seeing the wisely trimmed footage.
Speaking of the workprint, up next we are treated to roughly 20 minutes of highlights from the early cut. While it would have been nice to see the entire print included as a separate DVD for this release, we are instead treated to essentially a greatest hits reel featuring the additional gore and extended ending.
This is followed with a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 9 minutes each, the first focusing on the many makeup effects, while the second provides a glimpse of the rigging for the exploding house sequence. These are both rarely seen glimpses into the making of this film and worth checking out.
A little-seen educational film from the 1950s starring Rory Guy (aka Angus Scrimm) as Abraham Lincoln is included as yet another rare gem turned up for this truly impressive edition.
Rounding out the special features are promotional still galleries and additional marketing materials including TV spots and theatrical trailers for the first three films in the Phantasm franchise.
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