The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #401: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
The Phantasm Marathon: Week 3
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been attacked by anyone wielding a Frisbee with razor blades attached to it, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and one, the Phantasm Marathon continues with Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, which received a limited theatrical run in 1994 before hitting home video later the same year.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, like the previous two entries, written and directed by Don Coscarelli, is the first Phantasm that was basically made for the home video market. Yes, it did receive a limited theatrical release in a few markets (I read in the Rue Morgue Phantasm book that the movie was released in Michigan as part of a “test” by Universal Pictures), but more people likely saw it when it was released on home video. That’s where I saw it, renting it from a now long gone video store on VHS. I had no idea that the movie had existed until I saw it on the video store shelf. And when it made its debut on cable TV, man, I watched the shit out of it (it was on all of the time on The Movie Channel). It’s an action packed horror flick that kicks ass from the second it starts until the very end, and what it lacks in budget it makes up for it with gory carnage and pure cinematic insanity. There are people out there who don’t really like the movie because it doesn’t really advance the overall story and is full of comedy that some deem “inappropriate” to the franchise. They’re obviously entitled to their opinion but I think they’re dead wrong. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is awesome.
Lord of the Dead picks up where Phantasm II ended, with Mike (the returning A. Michael Baldwin) and Liz (Paula Irvine via footage from the end of part two) stuck in the back of a hearse, with the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) driving and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) on the side of the road, beaten and bloody. The hearse suddenly drives off the road and explodes. Reggie gets up and runs to see if anyone survived the crash. Mike managed to survive, but poor Liz didn’t (her face is smashed in, the Tall Man’s demon midgets try to eat her, and the Tall Man eventually decapitates her corpse and throws her severed head around like a football so, yeah, Liz is dead. Which is a damn shame because I really liked Liz). Reggie tries to get Mike away from the Tall Man but the Tall Man and his demon midget minions are persistent. Reggie takes out several of the Tall Man’s minions with his trusty four barrel (I’m going to assume that he made several four barrel shotguns because I believe he left the one he used throughout Phantasm II in the basement of the mortuary after shooting those four demon midgets with one blast) and then threatens to blow up himself, Mike, and the Tall Man with a grenade. The Tall Man decides to retreat at that moment but tells Reggie that he’ll be back to get Mike at some point (the Tall Man doesn’t want Mike “in pieces”). When the Tall Man finally disperses and Reggie tries to get Mike back on his feet. Something is wrong with Mike, though. He’s hurt. Bad.
So the scene then shifts and we see Mike in the hospital, hooked up to various machines and hanging on to whatever life he has left inside of him. He’s dreaming about the afterlife and sees his dead brother Jody (the returning Bill Thornbury) and wants to “go to the light” to be with him. Jody tells Mike, though, that he shouldn’t go towards the light, that bad things are waiting for him on the other side. So Mike “wakes up” in the hospital and is attacked by a nurse who just so happens to be a minion of the Tall Man. Mike fights the nurse, stabbing her in the neck with a needle, which then leads to a silver ball popping out of the demon nurse’s head and menacing Mike and Reggie, who just showed up to visit his old friend in the hospital. After some very gross yellow blood dispersing, Reggie takes Mike out of the hospital and drives him back to his place, which is now out in the desert (when did he get this place? Didn’t his house blow up in part two? Was this a second house he just so happened to have?).
It’s at this point that Jody shows up, “for real,” in Reggie’s living room and tries to reveal how the heck he’s still alive despite being killed, off screen, at the end of the first movie. But before he reveals too much, the Tall Man shows up and Jody transforms into a silver sphere and tries to attack the Tall Man. Since the silver spheres belong to the Tall Man, the Tall Man prevents the Jody sphere from attacking and burns it up in mid-air (the ball goes from silver to black). Reggie tries to attack the Tall Man next but he, too, is smacked down. The Tall Man then grabs Mike and brings him through a space gate. Reggie wakes up in the morning and decides, right then and there, that he’s going to have to hit the road himself and try to find Mike and rescue him. The Tall Man can’t win.
After looking at a map, getting his shit together, and asking for some info from a weirdo at a gas station that also sells guns, Reggie heads towards Holtsville, another small town that’s been conquered by the Tall Man. It’s here that Reggie runs into three scumbags named Henry (John Davis Chandler), Edna (Cindy Ambuehl), and Rufus (Brooks Gardner). The scumbags beat and mug Reggie and steal his HemiCuda, putting him in the trunk in order to dump him someplace else (man, Reggie had two HemiCudas. Maybe that’s why he had that place out in the desert. It was the only place deemed safe enough to hide such an awesome muscle car). The scumbags stop at a house with all sorts of weird stuff outside and figure that it’s a good place to hang out for a little while. Unfortunately for the scumbags, they don’t know that the house is inhabited by Tim (Kevin Connors), a badass kid who has been living on his own since the Tall Man killed and stole his parents. Tim’s house is booby-trapped and Tim is handy with all sorts of improvised weaponry. Tim makes short work of the three scumbags and rescues Reggie from the trunk of the Cuda.
So Reggie then helps Tim bury the three scumbags in his front yard, Tim tells Reggie what he knows about the Tall Man (an awesome scene featuring two wicked jump scares and one of the greatest kid jumping out the back of a car scenes of all time), and Reggie “agrees” to allow Tim to tag along with him on the road. I say “agree” because, after a few miles on the road, Reggie tries to leave Tim at a house he spots that’s full of kids. Reggie doesn’t want to put Tim in any more danger, and he’d rather fight the Tall Man by himself anyway. Tim, though, wants to stick with Reggie and hides out in Reggie’s trunk as he drives away from the house with the kids.
It’s at this point in the story that Reggie enters a mausoleum where he thinks the Tall Man might be holding Mike. Reggie is quickly attacked by a flying sphere and two women, Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) and Tanesha (Sarah Davis), who are local survivors trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Tanesha is attacked and killed by the sphere and Rocky tries her damnedest to fight off the dangerous flying object. Tim shows up and shoots at the sphere, killing it. After rescuing him for a second time, Reggie agrees to allow Tim to tag along, for real, to find the Tall Man and rescue Mike. Rocky eventually agrees to tag along, too, although that takes a few minutes to happen.
After some funny attempted sexual shenanigans (Reggie, once again, tries to hook up with a hot babe on the road and it doesn’t end well for him) and a dream where Reggie gets it on with Rocky, Jody shows up again and reveals where Mike is being held by the Tall Man. We find out that the Tall Man has Mike trapped in a box in some weird place where there are incessant strobe light effects every so often. So Reggie, with Jody’s help, rescues Mike and removes him from the weird Tall Man place, bringing him out into the desert via a space gate. The Tall Man attempts to pursue them, but Reggie shuts down the space gate and cuts off the Tall Man’s hands. So then the Tall Man’s hands become killer demon bugs, the heroes fight off the bugs, and it’s time to find the Tall Man’s real world lair and take him out.
Well, that’s the hope. It doesn’t take long, though, for the three scumbags from Tim’s house to show up as killer zombies driving a pink hearse and attack. After a nifty car chase and one of the greatest car flips in cinema history (go ahead and watch that pipe ramp stunt and sit back in awe of it. It’s goddamn insane), it’s finally time to face off against the Tall Man. It’s also here where we find out what, exactly, is inside one of those spheres, what a demon midget looks like in the middle of the demon midget process, and that Mike may not be Mike anymore.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead may be more action packed than part two and is a great example of a director trying to outdo himself with less money than he had for the last movie. It isn’t as badass as Phantasm II but it comes damn close. I also dispute the complaint that the movie doesn’t advance the overall Phantasm story. We find out that Mike and the Tall Man are linked somehow and that the Tall Man needs Mike for some nefarious purpose. We’re not told what that nefarious purpose is, but then that’s what a part four is for. As Coscarelli notes in the Rue Morgue book, most people were upset with the lack of revealed details because they were under the impression that the franchise was ending with Lord of the Dead. If the franchise is ending you’d hope that the last movie would reveal what the hell is really going on. Obviously, Lord of the Dead isn’t the last Phantasm, so you really have to look at Lord of the Dead as the third chapter in a five chapter story. It’s the middle. We find out just enough to keep the story going. And that’s fine and that’s cool. Why the heck did fans believe that part three would be the end? Was there an advertising campaign that mentioned that in some way?
The thing that surprised me about Lord of the Dead is the lack of demon midgets. The Tall Man has plenty of gravers and other henchmen to use, but where the heck did the demon midgets go? We see at the beginning of the movie, but after that they’re nowhere to be found. Did the Tall Man send all of the ones he had left to the Red Planet? Why would he do that? And how the hell could he run out of them in the first place? People fighting the Tall Man couldn’t have possibly killed hundreds of them at a time, could they?
I love how we see A. Michael Baldwin in the costume worn by James LeGros at the end of part two at the beginning of part three. It helps make the switch from LeGros to Baldwin a smooth process and, to me, it shows that Baldwin could have kicked ass in part two if he had been able to be in it (he doesn’t look ridiculous in LeGros’ clothes). We also get to see some of the deleted scenes from part two in the beginning of part three, something I didn’t realize until I saw the deleted scenes on the Scream Factory DVD of part two. And I love how the deleted scene that shows a new Tall Man appearing through the space gate and disposing of the Tall Man killed at the end of the second movie is explained later in the movie with the cryptic line that “there are thousands of them.” Does that line actually refer to the Tall Man, the killer flying spheres, or both?
The whole “Jody is inside one of the spheres” thing is weird as hell. Why can Jody reveal himself as being inside one of the spheres but no one else can? It sure seems that Jody really isn’t the Jody from the first movie, that he’s been compromised and is part of whatever scheme the Tall Man is ultimately engaged in. I mean, Jody, as a sphere, tries to attack the Tall Man and fails but, unlike the sphere that unsuccessfully attacks the Tall Man in part two, the Tall Man doesn’t crush or destroy the Jody sphere. He just “burns it” and leaves it behind. Why would the Tall Man do that?
Why didn’t we ever get a Rocky spin-off? She manages to survive the movie, one of the few secondary characters to do so, but then what happens to her? Where did she go? I know that something is revealed in Ravager regarding Rocky, but, heck, did Coscarelli and company think a spin-off movie could be made with Rocky? I have no idea who she would end up fighting in a spin-off (maybe a Tall Man minion that the Tall Man allows to be a sort of regional governor of a conquered area?). It would have worked, though. It’s too bad that, after the considerable success of Lord of the Dead, no one funded a Rocky spin-off. But then, heck, you’d think that someone would have given Coscarelli more money than he had for part 4, Oblivion, to make the legendary Roger Avery script or something else. That didn’t happen, though. Lord of the Dead was made for around $2 million, and Oblivion was apparently made for less than $1 million. How the hell does that happen, especially with a proven property?
I’d also like to know why Coscarelli hasn’t done a commentary track for Lord of the Dead. The only Lord of the Dead commentary track that I’m aware of involves A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm. Why wouldn’t someone want to pay Coscarelli to talk about the movie he made? I’d love to hear him talk about the specific issues he had with the movie’s production while watching it. The upcoming boxed set doesn’t contain a new Coscarelli commentary track for part three, does it?
That pink hearse flip stunt… man, that’s a thing of true beauty. It really is. And insane.
Reggie Bannister once again kicks ass as Reggie. He handles star duties as a total pro, and it’s fun to see the Reggie character become a full action hero here. He gets his ass kicked multiple times but still manages to find a way to keep fighting. Again, I would like to know why he has that house out in the desert, why he has a second HemiCuda, and where the hell he got that second four barrel shotgun, but perhaps that’s just something we’re not meant to question. Lord of the Dead is a Phantasm movie, and, well, Phantasm movies are known not to make much sense. Awesome job, though, Reggie, Groovy and whatnot.
Michael Baldwin does a fine job, once again, as Mike. He picks up where he left off at the end of the first movie and where LeGros left Mike at the end of part two and the whole thing just works. He isn’t the main character this time (Reggie is) but it’s still great to see him back in action. Baldwin definitely makes Mike more sensitive than LeGros did, but then Mike did just go through yet another horrendously terrible ordeal. It makes sense that, after Liz is killed, Mike wouldn’t be as gung ho or as full on badass as he was in part two. Great job, A. Michael Baldwin.
Bill Thornbury’s return to the franchise is welcome as he basically picks up where he left off as Jody. Thornbury seems a little tentative in some scenes, but he does a good job anyway. It is damn cool seeing all three original movie characters together in one scene right before Mike is taken away by the Tall Man. Kevin Connors is excellent as Tim, the killer kid. He comes off as a seasoned pro and his character works brilliantly. It’s also messed up how he kills all three of the scumbags, especially the older one. We don’t see what he does to him, but we sure as heck hear it. It’s too bad that Connors didn’t appear in part 4, Oblivion, or any other Phantasm flicks. Yes, he’d look much older if he appeared in Oblivion since that came out like four years after Lord of the Dead, so it makes sense that he’s gone. But it sure as heck would have been cool to see him, even as an older version of himself, in a later movie. Think about what a Tim spin-off would have been like.
Gloria Lynne Henry is great as Rocky. She’s funny, she’s badass as hell, and she doesn’t take Reggie’s shit. She’s also the only “secondary” Phantasm character to survive through the end of a Phantasm movie. Rocky gets to drive off. What sort of adventures did she have after the end of Lord of the Dead?
And then there’s Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. He isn’t as viscerally scary in this one, but he’s still pretty dang creepy. The scenes where he’s sitting in the room full of candles and holding the silver sphere in his hand are iconic (that image is what adorns the upcoming Well Go USA Blu-ray franchise set). I was a little disappointed in the way the Tall Man gets it in the end, as the movie doesn’t really try to top the body melt scene at the end of Phantasm II. But then, when you think about the ending used in Lord of the Dead, it’s satisfying enough. The Tall Man doesn’t like the cold.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is yet another top notch entry in the Phantasm franchise. It adds new, cool characters to the story, it brings back old favorites, and it kicks all kinds of ass. If you haven’t seen it, man, you need to see it as soon as you can. It’s well worth it.
See Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: About 10.
Undead bodies: Lots. Demon midgets, the scumbags, a few gravers. Lots.
Doobage: A rehash of the end of Phantasm II with Mike narrating and some deleted scenes from the end of part 2, exploding hearse, face eating, exploding demon midget, three very dead demon midgets, off screen decapitation, a flashing grenade, the afterlife, needle to the neck with gross yellow blood, a silver sphere popping out of a dead nurse’s head, face wiping, remote viewing, transformation, kidnapping, a massive scorch mark, car fixing, an old doll, a mugging, door kicking, dummy shooting, a booby-trapped home, a drop down clown full of knives, tomahawk throwing, tomahawk to the head, a Frisbee with razorblades, throat slitting, a hole in the ground, a flashback, zombie attack, jumping out the back of a hearse, hose to the face, flying silver sphere attack, door attack, bondage, silver sphere to the head with head drilling and blood spurting, nunchuck hooey, a kid driving a muscle car, attempted flirting, attempted bondage, double graver attack, a sex dream, blue laser hooey, space gate hooey, demon bug hand attack, extreme nose picking, demon bug burning, a badass car chase, one of the greatest car flips in cinema history, exploding hearse with two subsequent explosions, a big metal drum full of severed heads, demon midget creating, attempted sleeping, brain removal, some gross fellatio, a room full of dangling spheres, zombie fighting, spinning head removal, shotgun blast to the face, drill to the head, cold spear to the chest, hand melting, a silver sphere that bursts through a dead body, gold sphere right through the head, plunger attack, and a wicked jump scare.
Kim Richards?: Big time at the end.
Gratuitous: Deleted scenes from the end of Phantasm II, A. Michael Baldwin as Mike again, Reggie shooting three demon midgets at once, the Tall Man sitting in a room full of candles, Bill Thornbury, a nurse grooving to some tunes, a gas station with a sign outside talking about gun selling, a pink hearse, a killer kid, a convoy of hearses, a strobe effect, space gate hooey, cooking food in the cremation chamber, and a wicked jump scare.
Best lines: “Hey! Oh, shit!,” “I don’t want him in pieces. That’s the only way you’re gonna get him!,” “It’s all right. It’s natural,” “Stay away from the light,” “Boyyyyy!,” “It was Jody. I saw him,” “Jody? What the hell are you doing here? You’re dead,” “It’s time now, boy,’ “Well, Jody, I guess even you couldn’t stop him,” “What are you doing here?,” “Give me the goddamn gun,” “You’re in trouble! You’re in trouble!,” “Christ, it’s just a kid! Well, he ain’t never gonna grow up!,” “Goddamit! Now you’ve done it you little bastard!,” “So, is this your family? No, the Tall Man got my family,” “They forgot to cover him up,” “Where the hell is that pink hearse?,” “Little kids shouldn’t be playing with guns. I ain’t a little kid anymore, Reg,” “It looks like caught ourselves a fish, girlfriend,” “What the fuck was that? That’s… kind of hard to explain,” “This town is dead. There’s nothing left but the damn sentinels,” “Come on. We’ve got things to do,” “I hope that ball has a better sense of direction than mine do,” “Picture that, the three of us facing down the forces of evil,” “See the floor. You’re bunking there tonight,” “Come on, Rocky,” “Shit,” “Damn. Where’d they go?,” “Goddamn grave diggers,” “Hey Jody. How’s it going?,” “Tell me something. How does he get you into that ball?,” “I’m too old for this shit,” “That was close. Close to what?,” “Friends of yours?,” “Cold,” “Shit. What the hell are those?,” “Some folks never know when to give it up,” “Smells like something is burning. Just me, baby,” “Down! Much better,” “Welcome home, boy,” “Damn you’re ugly,” “I have plans for you. Later,” “Hey, bitch! Hands off my boy! He’s mine!,” “Let me release you from this imperfect flesh that ties you to time and space. What is known and unknown to you will be revealed,” “Reg, don’t believe everything you see,” “It’s been nice knowing you boys, but this kicking zombie ass just ain’t my gig,” “Well, keep your balls in the air, Reg,” “Run, dammit, it’s all over!,” and “It’s never over.”
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Things to Watch Out For This Week
–American Violence: This low budget thriller with an all-star B-movie cast recently had a very limited theatrical run (it played in New York City and somewhere in Los Angeles and probably a few other places), so there’s a chance that you may have went and saw it in an actual movie theatre. It didn’t play anywhere near me so, obviously, I didn’t see it. I think it looks kind of weird, one of those deals that’s all about a criminal telling someone his story for whatever reason (in the case of this movie the criminal is on death row). Definitely worth renting, just to see how weird Bruce Dern is and if football player Rob Gronkowski has what it takes to become an actor (I read something somewhere where he said he wants to become an action movie star). Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all? Is Denise Richards awful in it?
–Elle: Directed by the Paul Verhoeven, this foreign film won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and star Isabelle Huppert won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. It looks and sounds weird as hell, despite its pedigree as an “art” movie (it’s in French! French!). And, heck, when has Verhoeven let us down in the weird department? I hope he gets another chance in Hollywood and gets to make another outstanding science fiction/horror movie, like Robocop or Total Recall. Anyone out there see this?
–Solace: Yeah, the premise of this movie is pure bullshit (a psychic helps the FBI track down a serial killer), but it has an all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Colin Farrell, Abbie Cornish) and looks sort of interesting. I’m shocked that this movie didn’t get a major theatrical release, but then, apparently, according to imdb, the production company, Relativity Media, sold the movie off to Lionsgate, who then decided to give it a “limited” theatrical release and a major Video On Demand release. And, heck, apparently the script for the movie was considered as a sequel to Seven at one point, so it has that going for it, too. Very rentable.
–Door to the Other Side: This low budget horror flick looks kind of creepy, but then the trailer is just the trailer. The actual movie could very well be terrible. I’m just glad that it isn’t found footage. There are way too many low budget horror movies featuring that particular gimmick at the moment.
The Big Question: Should you own Phantasm Exhumed and Rue Morgue Magazine’s Authorized Phantasm Film Companion?
Yes, you absolutely should own both, doubly so if you’re a Phantasm nerd. If you’re not, but you’re a movie fan in general and are interested in reading about how movies are put together, both Exhumed and the Rue Morgue book are worthwhile reads.
Now, if you’re a Phantasm nerd, a “phan” if you will, both Exhumed and the Rue Morgue book are absolute must haves. Exhumed, by Dustin McNeill, really gets into production detail and how each movie went day in and day out. The book features interviews with the actors and several production people. Some of the stories told are more interesting than others, but it’s great to get a look at what it took to get each movie made. There isn’t much about Ravager in Exhumed, but then that movie really wasn’t available when Exhumed was released. I’d imagine that a second edition of Exhumed would feature a more extensive look at Ravager. Let’s hope that happens one day because I’m sure there are plenty of cool stories about how that movie was made.
Now, the one thing you’ll notice about Exhumed, the “unauthorized” companion to the Phantasm franchise, does not include an interview or any sort of participation from Don Coscarelli. I have no idea why Coscarelli didn’t participate since just about everyone else involved in the franchise did, but then Coscarelli does participate in the Rue Morgue book. In fact, the Rue Morgue book is basically one long interview with Coscarelli. There are other short interviews in that book, too, but the bulk of the book is Coscarelli talking about the franchise and his filmmaking career with John W. Bowen. It’s a great interview that offers some real insight into what Coscarelli himself went through in getting the franchise made.
So, in the big scheme of things, it’s best to get both because each one contains info that the other one doesn’t. You’ll get a better overall picture of the franchise if you read both.
I do wish that the Exhumed book was in color, though. There’s some great behind-the-scenes photos in Exhumed but they’re all in black and white that’s really more of a gray. There is a version of the book called “The Red Planet Edition,” which is in color and is “expanded” in some way. The Red Planet one is also a hardcover book, sort of like that Crystal Lake Memories book about Friday the 13th. But then, heck, the Red Planet one is only available through a specific website and costs twice as much as the black and white version. The black and white one is easier to get. So, that’s a good thing.
I do think, too, that it’s time for the Phantasm franchise to get the deluxe documentary treatment, like the Crystal Lake Memories and Never Sleep Again documentaries. I’d be down for a six hour documentary that looks at each movie, in detail. Anyone else want to see that kind of thing? Anyone at all?
Next Issue: The Phantasm Marathon continues with Phantasm IV: Oblivion!
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
Reggie Bannister– Reggie
A. Michael Baldwin– Mike
Bill Thornbury– Jody
Gloria Lynne Henry– Rocky
Kevin Connors– Tim
Angus Scrimm– The Tall Man
Cindy Ambuehl– Edna
John Chandler– Henry
Brooks Gardner– Rufus
Irene Roseen– Demon Nurse
Sarah Davis– Tanesha
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Screenplay by Don Coscarelli
Distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment, and Well Go USA.
Rated R for graphic violence and gore, language, and brief nudity
Runtime– 91 minutes