PHANTASM V: RAVAGER (2016) – Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with a review of what is supposedly the final installment of the Phantasm horror film series and what is DEFINITELY the final appearance of Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. Scrimm passed away early this year, so that’s why I wrote “definitely” and given the obsession with reboots that’s why the “supposedly.”
This 5th Phantasm film answers the musical question “Ya mean there was a Phantasm FOUR?!” Yes, there was. It was released directly to video and was called Phantasm IV: Oblivion with the “iv” in Oblivion forming the Roman Numeral 4 in the title. Similarly the “v” in Ravager forms the Roman Numeral 5 in the title.
From 1979 to this calendar year the movies in this under-appreciated horror franchise forever changed the way we look at funeral homes. And funeral home directors. And Roman Numerals for that matter. For better or worse writer/director Don Coscarelli never sold out, never let the sinister Tall Man become an outer-space joke like Jason Voorhees or a Borscht-Belt Charles Manson like Freddy Krueger. (And it’s hard to believe the first Phantasm was rated X for violence in 1979.)
The down side to all that is that it left Coscarelli assembling financing in a catch-as-catch-can manner that meant Phantasm lovers only got 5 films. But hey, even the many false-starts over the years were fun. Coscarelli was supposedly trying to coordinate with Sam Raimi to have a Phantasm movie tie in to the original ending of Army of Darkness by featuring Evil Dead‘s Ash and Phantasm‘s Reggie meeting up on a Post-Apocalypse Earth being fought over by the Deadites and the Tall Man & his minions. Insert your own favorite rumor here.
Obviously I’m trying to postpone having to express harsh sentiments about Ravager. (I wasn’t thrilled pointing out what a joke Freddy Krueger became, either.) I’ll deal with the bad elements first so we can end on a high note. It is VERY apparent that many scenes had to be redone with poor CGI. This was necessitated by switching from the originally planned Web Series format for Ravager to a theatrical release.
Coscarelli oversaw the production but abandoned writing and directing chores to David Hartman, who seems to have been too much of a Phan to assert himself in the collaboration. The end result is that we got a movie that was more like Phantasm IV: Part TWO instead of a fully-realized sequel of its own. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Remember how Oblivion presented circles within circles of parallel events, sort of like a horror movie version of the recurring events in the Back to the Future comedies? I found that to be a tremendous way of moving to the next level with the “man dreaming about being a butterfly or butterfly dreaming about being a man” theme of the first 3 installments of Phantasm. “Something in the wind” moments have replaced “deja vu” references for me and many of my friends.
Unfortunately Ravager recycles that approach a little too much and dilutes it with aspects of All Good Things Must Come to an End from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And maybe even Bubba Ho-Tep. Reggie’s nuts, Reggie’s not nuts, the Tall Man is real, the Tall Man has already conquered the Earth with his Dwarves, Gravers and Orbs and is just sadistically screwing with Reggie. Over and over. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Positive elements: Knowing that Angus Scrimm is dead in real life adds a certain unearned grandeur to Ravager. The Tall Man represented everything humanity fears about the Great Beyond from the most primal level to the most cerebral. As you watch the movie you realize Scrimm is either in a black nothingness or already reborn or in “Heaven” or in one of those horrific modes of posthumous existence that the Tall Man often hinted were in store for us mere humans.
The gore and scares are adequate so that’s a plus. The built-in creepiness of what the Tall Man does to dead bodies is still very effective. And virtually everybody who was ever in the previous Phantasm films shows up, either in reality or dreams or hallucinations. Many Phans hate what happened to the Lady in Lavender and opinion on the cameo by the sexy Rocky is equally divided. I won’t spoil any more.
Ultimately what disappointed me the most was the way Coscarelli kind of wimped out. In this post-Cabin in the Woods world of horror films I was hoping Don had one more mind-blow up his sleeve. Unfortunately he didn’t, but at least we got closure of a sort by knowing in advance that it was the last time we were seeing Angus Scrimm in the role he owned as surely as Robert Englund owns Freddy Krueger.
Phantasm V: Ravager is worth seeing ONLY for devoted followers of the series. Others will not be impressed. They might not even be entertained. ++
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