The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Phantasm II
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #400: Phantasm II
The Phantasm Marathon: Week 2
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that thinks it’s high time that Reggie Bannister get the key to the city because, come on, he’s Reggie goddamn Bannister, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred (yes, 400. That number just seems so ridiculous), the Phantasm Marathon continues with the first Phantasm sequel, Phantasm II, which hit movie theatres back in the summer of 1988.
Phantasm II, written and directed by Don Coscarelli, is probably the most controversial/divisive entry in the entire Phantasm franchise. Some people really like it because it’s bigger than the first movie, more badass, and shows what Coscarelli can do with a biggish budget (he made part two for around $3 million, where the first movie was made for considerably less). And some people despise the movie because of a major cast shake-up (Michael Baldwin was replaced as Mike with James LeGros because Universal Pictures wanted a “working” actor as the star and Baldwin had left the movie business when part 2 was put into production. Coscarelli was allowed to keep Scrimm as the Tall Man and Bannister as Reggie, although Bannister did have to audition for the part. Universal was looking at having Larry Miller or Jeffrey Tambor as Reggie. Can you imagine how that would have worked out?). And some people claim that Phantasm II is just a kind of remake of the first movie, since a huge chunk of it deals with people trying to track down the Tall Man. I don’t really agree with that assessment (yes, it riffs on some of the sequences and ideas seen in the first movie, but sequels tend to do that. And, no, it isn’t exactly like the first movie). In fact, I love Phantasm II and think it’s a great movie, one of the best horror movie sequels ever made, and easily one of the most badass movies ever made.
The movie picks up seconds after the end of the first movie, with the Tall Man (Scrimm) and his cloaked demon midgets kidnapping Mike (Baldwin via clips from the first movie). Reggie, hearing a commotion downstairs, runs upstairs to investigate. Reggie sees what the heck is going on, runs back downstairs and grabs a shotgun. While trying to find some ammo for the shotgun, Reggie is attacked by a demon midget and forced to beat the creature to death with the butt of the shotgun. Reggie is then quickly overwhelmed by an army of the demon midgets so he comes up with a plan to kill all of them and, maybe, rescue Mike. So he turns on the gas from the stove, gets upstairs via a laundry shoot, and beats down a demon midget with a baseball bat. It’s at this point that Reggie rescues Mike and gets him out of the house before it explodes in one of the most awe inspiring house explosions in movie history.
The story then shifts to around ten years later with the now grown Mike (LeGros) checking out of a mental hospital he’s been holed up in since the end of the first movie. He lets his doctors know that he doesn’t believe in his Tall Man story anymore, that it was all a dream and a story that he used to try to cope with the death of his brother Jody. Mike is lying, of course. He knows that the Tall Man is real and that he’s still out there in the world, stealing dead bodies and turning them into demon midgets in order to send them to the red planet to do whatever it is the demon midgets are meant to do on the red planet. Mike has also been in psychic contact with a girl named Liz (Paula Irvine), a young woman who seems to know everything about the Tall Man and what he went through in the first movie. So Mike lies his ass off to his doctor and gets out of the hospital and heads to the cemetery to find out just how much nastiness the Tall Man has been up to. While in the cemetery, digging up graves to see just how many bodies the Tall Man has stolen, Mike meets up with Reggie. Reggie wants Mike to come home with him, to try to live a normal life because the Tall Man story is ridiculous, but Mike wants Reggie to help him find the Tall Man and kill him. The old friends argue, and Mike eventually agrees to go to Reggie’s house to hang out and whatnot. Mike knows, though, that the “visit” isn’t going to end well and that some bad stuff is going to happen. And, man, does bad stuff happen (Reggie’s house explodes, killing his wife and daughter).
So there’s a funeral, Reggie mourns his family’s demise, and he agrees to go on the road with Mike and find the Tall Man, the bastard responsible for blowing up his house. They break into a hardware store, steal/”buy” some equipment, make two very cool weapons (a flamethrower and a four-barrel shotgun), and hit the road. We see them travel in Reggie’s HemiCuda all across the pacific-northwest, driving through various small towns that have been destroyed by the Tall Man. In one small town, Mike and Reggie enter an abandoned mortuary that’s filled with eerie atmosphere, a dead body that may not, in fact, be a dead body (Samantha Phillips, who shows up later as a very much alive hitchhiker named Alchemy), and a woman that sort of looks like Liz but has a nasty creature in its back (the creature, an awesome practical effect, is nothing short of nightmare inducing). It’s at this point that Mike and Reggie figure out that they have to head towards a small town in Oregon called Perigord. It’s where Liz actually is. The Tall Man is there, too.
The scene then shifts to Perigord, where we see Liz preparing for her dead grandfather’s funeral. Along with her sister Jeri (Stacey Travis) and grandmother (Ruth C. Engel), Liz arrives at the funeral home with a strange feeling. Something is off about the place, including the surrounding area. The priest, Father Meyers (Kenneth Tigar), also sense something off about the place. But what? What the heck is going on? Liz has a feeling she knows, but the priest? Not really. We know what’s going on, though. It’s the goddamn Tall Man.
So then some stuff happens, Father Meyers stabs Liz’s grandfather’s corpse, Liz’s grandfather becomes a kind of zombie that terrorizes the priest and Liz’s grandmother, and Mike and Reggie arrive in Perigord with Alchemy, who has family in the area. Mike and Reggie go with Alchemy to her family’s abandoned bed and breakfast, where they decide to make a kind of base camp before they travel into the town proper and find the Tall Man. After booby-trapping the place with hand grenades and shotguns on strings, Mike and Reggie go into town, find the cemetery, and suddenly the shit is on. We see Meyer confront the Tall Man, Meyer killed by one of the Tall Man’s silver spheres, and Liz rescued by Mike and Reggie after she’s attacked by the Tall Man and his graver minions (they’re like the demon midgets except they’re not midgets).
It’s at this point that we find out that Alchemy really has a thing for Reggie and his balding head (one of the funniest sex scenes you’ll ever see) and that Liz and Mike were meant for eachother. We find out that their psychic connection is so deep that they communicate without actually speaking to one another (they have a scene in bed where they only speak via their minds. It’s kind of sweet the way it plays out). It’s also at this point that we find out that the Tall Man knows that everyone is within his vicinity that now is the time to kick ass and take names. The Tall Man sends a demon midget into Alchemy’s house to set off the booby-traps (this happens off screen. We only see the aftermath) and the Tall Man kidnaps Liz. Mike and Reggie go after the Tall Man, there’s a pretty nifty car chase, the HemiCuda flips wildly and explodes, and suddenly it’s on for Mike and Reggie, too. They’re going into the Tall Man’s lair and they’re going to try to kick his fucking ass.
The rest of the movie is a special effects extravaganza, with all sorts of cool practical effects on display (sphere effects, gunplay, gore, and a wicked chainsaw fight between Reggie and a masked graver, not to mention one of the greatest body melt scenes in movie history). It’s all great stuff, and if you’re not amazed by it, well, there must be something wrong with you. If you’re a horror movie nerd, I can’t fathom or explain why you wouldn’t enjoy what Coscarelli and company put on the screen at the end of the movie. It still blows me away.
Now, I may be a tad biased when it comes to Phantasm II as it’s the first Phantasm movie I saw. I saw it on TV (I can’t remember if it was HBO or Cinemax. I don’t think it was The Movie Channel) and then rented it several times from various now long gone video stores. It was always such a great experience. In fact, it’s still a great experience, either on TV or on DVD. I haven’t seen it on the big screen yet, although the movie sure seems to be making the rounds on the nostalgia/specialty screening circuit. I’m sure I’ll see it one day in a movie theatre. Wouldn’t it be cool if Universal Pictures actually re-released the movie as part of some anniversary deal? In 2018 Phantasm II will be celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. What better time to do one of those Fathom Events deals?
James LeGros does a great job as Mike. He plays Mike as an assertive character, which makes sense since the story is more action oriented than the first one. Baldwin probably would have done a fine job in the part, but since he couldn’t be a part of the movie LeGros does a fine job filling in for him. And while LeGros’s presence messes up the franchise’s continuity, having a “different” Mike in part 2 actually helps ratchet up the franchise’s weirdness factor. Because, really, when you look at the whole thing, you really don’t know what to expect or what the hell is going on. I don’t think LeGros gets enough credit for the work he does in the movie. He has good buddy chemistry with Bannister, excellent chemistry with Irvine, and he kicks ass in the movie’s action scenes. I do think, though, that LeGros, who seems to be a steady character actor at the moment in both movies and TV, should embrace his part in horror movie history. He doesn’t seem to do the convention thing, and he doesn’t appear in any of the extras on the Scream Factory DVD. Why not? I bet people would pay to see him talk about his experience on Phantasm II, and I think it would be cool to see him meet up with his old pal Reggie again. Anyone out there know why LeGros doesn’t participate in Phantasm II nostalgia?
Bannister kicks ass as Reggie. It’s kind of weird seeing him play two versions of himself in this movie, as the 1979 version of himself at the beginning of the movie, and then the 1988 version of himself for the rest of the movie. He really isn’t a sidekick but, even when he’s in “let’s kick some ass” mode he isn’t as assertive as Mike. His big “creating the four barrel shotgun” scene is one of the ages, and his chainsaw fight scene is a thing of beauty. And his sex scene with Alchemy? It’s insane that she would be interested in him in the first place, but when you’re a guy like Reggie and a hot babe is into you, you can’t ask questions, man. You just have to go with it. Sure, it very rarely, if ever, works out, but, again, you gotta take chances, man.
Irvine is amazing as Liz. She’s sweet and nice but, when she has to kick ass, she can go, which is always cool. As I said earlier, she has tremendous chemistry with LeGros and it’s damn sad what happens to her at the beginning of the next movie. Phantasm II was Irvine’s last actual acting role before, according to imdb, going to college and doing something else with her life. I bet she would have had a great career as a character actress if she had stuck with acting. She also probably would have had a great career as a full on “scream queen” if she continued acting. I bet she would have headlined several horror flicks in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. And, yeah, I’ve always had a crush on Liz. She’s exactly the kind of girl 1980’s nerds would want to hang out with.
Scrimm is actually more terrifying in this movie than in the first one as the Tall Man. He seems meaner here, nastier, and that’s always a good idea when it comes to your horror movie villain. His scene with Meyers in the hallway where he utters his classic line “You think that when you die you go to heaven. You come to us!” still gives me the chills. I’d imagine that for most people, either consciously or unconsciously, think of this movie when they think of the Tall Man. Scrimm is that damn good in it. Awesome stuff. And, man, look at what he has to deal with at the end of the movie. That make-up is insane. And what about that little “licking the yellow blood off the end of that pin” scene? Heebie jeebie time.
Kenneth Tigar does a nice job as Father Meyers. It’s interesting see him try to deal with the weird shit going on around him. Because, really, what the hell is going on around him? The Tall Man seems to be demonic, but is he the devil? Is he something else? It’s also cool to see Meyers muster up the courage to confront the Tall Man as one of “God’s servants.” Meyers gets his ass kicked in the end, but, still, at least he had the courage to confront the man in that hallway.
And then there’s Samantha Phillips as Alchemy. Phillips does a great job as Alchemy. She’s fun, free spirited, she’s into bald guys for some reason. It’s kind of ridiculous but Phillips manages to make it work. I do question, though, if her character was always a female version of the Tall Man, like the Lady in Lavender in the first movie. We see her dead body in the autopsy room earlier in the movie, and then we see her in Mike’s dream and then again in “real” life. We also see her trying to find a way to get out of town after she takes Liz’s car and the car breaks down. She hot wires the Tall Man’s hearse and drives off. Is it possible that she was a “real” person up until that point and only became the Tall Man when she stole the hearse? I think it’s possible. But then again, so much stuff in the Phantasm franchise makes no sense so who the heck knows.
The sphere effects are a big step above the ones in the first movie. The gold sphere is one of the nastiest goddamn things I’ve ever seen in a movie (look at what it does to that goddamn graver). And, I can’t stress this enough, the practical effects are insanely cool throughout the entire movie. Mark Shostrom, along with Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman, deserve major props for what they managed to accomplish. And the music, by Fred Myrow and Christopher Stone, ups the energy from the first movie and ends up feeling more iconic than the first movie’s music. The end credits theme will get your blood pumping.
Phantasm II is a true classic. It kicks ass, it rocks, it still brings the goods. It’s a movie that fans of horror movies, action/horror hybrids, 1980’s cinema, and badass movies absolutely need to see. It’s a movie that will stick with you after it’s over, and it’s definitely a movie you’ll want to revisit every now and then. If you haven’t seen Phantasm II, good God, what the hell have you been doing with your life? You need to see it now! Now! Now! Now! You won’t regret it.
See Phantasm II. See it, see it, goddamn see it!
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: 12
Undead bodies: Tons. There are hooded demon midgets everywhere in this movie. And there’s one actual zombie in it.
Explosions: Four, and three of them are insanely awesome.
Doobage: A very cool title screen, a hot psychic blonde chick, dream notetaking, the very end of the first movie, attempted shotgun, multiple midget demon attacks, midget demon killing, gas, window diving, exploding house, digging up empty graves, a second exploding house, burglary, shopping, chainsaw hooey, badass weapon creation, different journal writing, an empty cemetery, hole cutting, a disappearing dead body, light bondage, one of the most disturbing practical special effects of all time in someone’s back, a creepy funeral home, corpse stabbing, needle licking, zombie hooey, a shotgun booby-trap, bald head kissing, a box full of killer spheres, hanging by crucifix, bloody flying sphere attack with ear removal and head drilling, choking, vase to the head, kissing, lighting a fireplace with a flamethrower, boobs, bald head slapping, an off screen explosion, a wicked car chase, a wild flip a flaming tree, a jammed seatbelt, exploding HemiCuda, more light bondage, hand drill hooey, bone smashing, an embalming machine that has hydrochloric acid in it, crucifix stealing, body burning, drill to the armpit, a chainsaw duel, multiple exploding doors, an absolutely disgusting gold sphere attack, gun belt cutting, chainsaw up through the crotch, killing four demon midgets at one time, hearse stealing, space gate hooey, red planet hooey, sphere to the head, sphere crushing, bug head, embalming needle to the back, one of the greatest body melting scenes in movie history, exploding eyes, a massive fire, coffin checking, hair pulling, and a jump scare ending.
Kim Richards?: None.
Gratuitous: A. Michael Baldwin from the first Phantasm, Reggie Bannister in 1988 trying hard to look like he did back at the end of the first movie, a disappearing/reappearing guitar, a laundry shoot, no reaction from Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man when a house explodes right behind him, multiple voice overs, the HemiCuda, a hat that says “Boogie Down” on it, a naked female corpse, an open casket viewing, peeing on the side of the road, a tombstone that says “Alex Murphy” on it, a hand grenade booby-trap, dead body embalming, the blessing, a psychic conversation, a chainsaw duel, a gold sphere, and a jump scare ending.
Best lines: “Shit,” “I was afraid I’d find you here,” “The Tall Man? That story about me blowing up my own house because it was infested with midgets. Mike, that wasn’t real. Your doctor said that it was your own paranoid delusions caused by your brother’s death,” “Welcome home, boy,” “You knew. Before it happened. Let’s go, Mike. We have things to do,” “Let’s go shopping,” “Small towns are like people. Some are old and die a natural death. Some are murdered,” “Liz, what has he done to you,” “You play a good game, boy. Come east if you dare!,” “Damn. It’s not a dream. Mike!,” “Forgive me, Lord. I must end this sacrilege. I can’t close my eyes to what I’ve seen. It must be stopped,” “Graveside service is about to begin,” “Damn this wind!,” “You know, we’ve been out here a long time. It’s hard on the road,” “If you want her, come. Tonight,” “Looks like a ghost town,” “Jesus. What the hell,” “They have no need for your services,” “Who are you to question the work of God’s servants?,’ “You think that when you die you go to heaven. You come to us!,” “Hello, again. And goodbye,” “Sorry, grandma,” “What the hell is going on here?,” “So you’ve seen it! The sphere! She’s seen it, Reg,” “God, Reg, I love your head,” “I’ll get the gear,” “Well, shoot the fucker!,” “Come on. Let’s go kick some ass,” “Come on, you mutha!,” “Goddamit!,” “Hey! Suck on this!,” “We nailed that sonofabitch!,” “Hey, babe, you could have run, but thanks for sticking with us,” and “Listen to me. This isn’t happening. We’re going to wake up. It’s a dream. It’s only a dream. No, it’s not!”
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Things to Watch Out For This Week
–Man Down: This movie received a brief theatrical release not that long ago, so there’s a chance that if you’re an adventurous movie watcher you may have made an effort to go see this. Or if you’re a Shia LaBeouf fan you may have made an effort. The terrible Jai Courtney is also in this for some reason. I’m not sure if this is meant to be a drama or some kind of weird thriller. The trailer really doesn’t explain much, so there’s a chance that this is a bizarre effort from all involved. Very rentable, just to see what the heck it’s all about. Anyone out there see this?
–Incarnate: This horror flick, which WWE Studios had a hand in releasing for some reason (there are no wrestlers in it as far as I know). Aaron Eckhart stars, and it has something to do with a guy being able to enter the minds of possessed people in order to get rid of their demons or some bullshit like that. The premise is fucking ridiculous, but I like the trailer and, heck, who knows? It might be good. Maybe. Anyone out there see this? Is it obvious that the guy that directed San Andreas (Brad Peyton) also directed this?
–Cold War 2: The DVD cover for this action sequel makes it look like some sort of sci-fi deal, but it’s really a full on action flick. The great Chow Yun-Fat apparently has a supporting role in it, and, man, it looks pretty decent. It’s probably too long, but it still looks pretty dang good. I want to see the first Cold War, too. That’s an action flick of some stature.
–Slasher.com: This looks like some sort of wacked out low budget horror deal about people going into the woods for some reason and then being attacked by murderous loonbags. One of those loonbags is apparently modern horror movie legend R.A. Mihailoff, of Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Trancers III: Deth Lives fame. The trailer is pretty dang disturbing and messed up, so I’m going to assume that the movie is, too. Rentable. And who is that woman with the massive thighs? What’s the deal with her eyes?
The Big Question: How the hell did Mike and Reggie afford to go after the Tall Man in Phantasm II?
Now, I know that it’s probably a fool’s errand to try to figure out what is and what isn’t plausible in the Phantasm franchise since so much of what we see is possibly a dream. I mean, what the hell is really going in this franchise, man? Because it sure as heck seems that anything is possible. Look at how many times the goddamn Tall Man comes back after being destroyed. How the hell does he keep doing that?
When it comes to Phantasm II, I’ve always been bothered by the reality of Mike and Reggie’s quest to find the Tall Man and kill him. I mean, how the heck did they afford living on the road for months? I believe that both Mike and Reggie say that they’ve been on the road for months looking for the Tall Man. How the heck did they do it?
The insurance money from the death of Reggie’s family. The way I figure it, after Reggie’s house explodes and his wife and child die, Reggie collected the life insurance money from that incident (and maybe some money from the house blowing up. I’m sure his homeowner’s insurance paid him something after the place exploded). He then used that money to pay for the big road trip with Mike.
Think about it. The HemiCuda needed gas (it’s not a solar powered car and it didn’t run on magic). We see Mike and Reggie staying in at least one hotel (so it’s safe to assume that they did that kind of thing quite often). They also had to eat and get haircuts and wash their clothes and whatnot while on the road. All of that stuff costs money.
And then there’s the wad of cash that Reggie drops into the cash register of the hardware store they break into towards the beginning of the movie. That had to be a few grand, right? Look at all of the shit they took. I doubt that Reggie had that kind of money just laying around from his old ice cream business. So it had to be life insurance money, right?
What do you guys think? Do you think Mike and Reggie used Reggie’s dead family’s life insurance money to pay for their road trip to take out the Tall Man? Am I thinking about this stuff too much?
I’d also like to know what you guys think about the cool weaponry in Phantasm II. Which weapon would you rather have, the flamethrower or the four barrel shotgun? I’m partial to the shotgun, but the flamethrower seems like something worth having. What do you guys like? The flamethrower or the shotgun?
Next Issue: The Phantasm Marathon continues with Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead!
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
James LeGros– Mike
Reggie Bannister– Reggie
Paula Irvine– Liz
Angus Scrimm– The Tall Man
Samantha Phillips– Alchemy
Kenneth Tigar– Father Meyers
Ruth C. Engel– Grandma
Rubin Kushner– Grandpa
Stacey Travis– Jeri
A. Michael Baldwin– Young Mike (archive footage)
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Screenplay by Don Coscarelli
Distributed by Universal Pictures, MCA/Universal Home Video, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Shout! Factory/Scream Factory, and Well Go USA
Rated R for graphic violence, language, and some nudity.
Runtime– 97 minutes