FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 15, 2010

so many balls

Ha ha ha, see what I did with the post title? I bet you're thinking "Oh no, she's going to write about sports!" Well, guess again, sucker! The balls in question are actually the Sentinel Spheres of the Phantasm series, the shiny silver orbs that zip around at The Tall Man's behest, merrily lobotomizing victims with a drill as they go. Ha ha ha, I made a joke!

All of this leads me to Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), or, in the interests of streamlining, Phantasm OblIVion. At any rate, it's the last film in the series which pits The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his trandimension dwarf labor force against a bunch of regular dudes. Or former regular dudes, I guess I should say. Quoth the Reggie, "I was an ice cream vendor by trade. Now I'm a soldier."

I haven't seen Phantasm parts II or III. I know...I know. The original 1979 has always been good enough for me- while I think the supremely creepy Tall Man is a worthy villain, I never felt the need to check out his further adventures. Slasher movies lend themselves best to the franchise treatment; the killers have a story but not to much story, and it's rather inconsequential anyway. Change the setting from film to film, perhaps, line up some characters for the kill, and repeat ad nauseum. Don Coscarelli, however, crafted a nearly perfect little slice of surrealist horror that leaves viewers reeling. Questions are raised and there's plenty of room for thought and discussion when it's over, but the movie is completely satisfying as an isolated experience.

So why am I jumping straight into the fourth film in the series? Well, because I found the tape for a buck. What're you gonna do, you know?

The "same ol' same ol'" approach of slasher franchises means that viewers jumping around in the series chronology won't be confused for long, if, in fact, they are at all. "Oh, Jason's dead now? No wait, he's alive. He's in New York? Okay. No wait, he's in space." In other words, it doesn't take long to catch up. Although I must say, I can't for the life of me remember if it's ever explained how Jason went from getting melted by toxic sludge in a Manhattan sewer to...wherever he was at the beginning of Jason Goes to Hell. Did that film start in New York? Bah, best not to waste precious brain power!

Unfortunately, Phantasm IV doesn't follow the rules associated with any subgenre and thus it was pretty confusing most of the time. As best as I can figure, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) spent the duration of Parts II and III going head to head and/or toe to toe with The Tall Man. Jody got smooshed down and transformed into one of those infamous spheres, as was the fate of his brother Mike. The process got interrupted somehow, and now Reggie and Mike are...driving somewhere. Separately. To do something. And Mike is, like, half-man, half-ball. This means that sometimes he has balleyes instead of eyeballs. SPHERES.

Mike has stolen The Tall Man's magic hearsemobile, which drives him out into the middle of Death Valley. There, he fights an transdimensional dwarf here and there, and I learn two things: 1) when scuttling around the never-ending tan landscape of Death Valley in their brown robes, transdimensional dwarves are not at all unlike the Jawas from Star Wars, and 2) it's best that we never see the faces of the transdimensional dwarves, because they look not at all unlike brown versions of that Ghoulie who busts out of the toilet on the cover of Ghoulies. As Phantasm proved decades before Part IV, less is so much more.

Reggie has lots of fightin' to do as well, on the road to find Mike. He's pulled over by a cop who's not actually a cop, but a...I don't know, some kind of skinless monster posing as a cop. Rather than just walk up to Reggie's car and kill him, the not-a-cop goes through an elaborate ruse wherein he takes Reggie's license and registration back to his cruiser. This ruse and the eventual battle serve to allow Reggie plenty of time to work in lots of cheesy action-hero one liners. After all, he's a soldier now, not some hippy guitar-playing ice cream man!

Thanks to a series of contrivances I can't be bothered to explain, Reggie ends up in bed with some random ex-stripper. Then this happens:

So, you know. There's that.

Mike finds one of those giant tuning forks/dimensional gateways out on the salt flats; he steps through it and lands back in a time before The Tall Man was The Tall Man. His name was Jedediah, and he was "obsessed with death". Then somehow he builds a steampunk machine and dimensional gateway and gets evil and turns everyone he meets into a Sentinel Sphere or a dwarf slave and we don't know why he decides to do any of this or how he does it or even why he's obsessed with death or anything at all it's all just explained half-assedly meaning it's not explained at all which means I'm way more confused than I was as a wee Final Girl back in 1979 and run-on sentence arrrrrgh.

Phantasm works because you get what's going on, but not what's really going on or why it's going on and that's FINE. The movie is more about feeling than about reasoning, and when that works in a movie it's magic. Phantasm IV expands the mythos of The Tall Man into...well, into nothingness. Fine, he used to be Jedediah. Then he walked through the tuning fork and became The Tall Man. ...okay? What do I do with that? I mean, if you're going to open that can of worms and try to explain, then fucking EXPLAIN. Why does he need to have a transdimensional dwarf labor force? What happened that turned him evil and gave him all sorts of powers? For that matter, why didn't Sphere Tits kill Reggie the moment she saw him, rather than trying to do so hours and hours later? Was she a monster, or was she possessed? Oh Lady in Lavender, I miss you so!

Mind you, everything could be laid out plain as day in Parts II and III. That would be swell. Perhaps I'll find out, so long as they don't cost more than a buck.

Oh, and about 95% of this movie takes place in and around cars. Of the remaining 5%, 3% is unused footage from 1979, forced into awkward "Hey, remember that time...?" flashbacks.

Also, it seems that there is room in a human skull for both a fully-functioning brain AND a full-size Sentinel Sphere.

Also, you can apparently build a nearly-fully-functioning Sentinel Sphere from your carburetor.

Also, boo Phantasm IV. BOO I SAY.


CashBailey said...

I never really got into the PHANTASM movies, to be honest. Although I always respected Reggie Bannister for rocking a fierce 'skullet'.

Although I do recall that Roger Avary wrote a script for a fifth film called PHANTASM'S END that never found its funding.

And after the dog's breakfast Avary made of SILENT HILL I'd say that might have been a good thing.

Robert H. said...

PHANTASM II is worth seeing, although it doesn't really advance things - after a really kick-ass start, it bogs down and treads water in the middle, then revives in the last third for a Raimi-inspired chase. James LeGros takes the reins as Mike in this one, and Baldwin returns as Mike for III and IV.

III is filler - although the one thing of note is that we discover what the metal spheres are actually housing, and Jody's ghost comes back to help out -- unfortunately, the movie never really goes anywhere.

Basically, you're absolutely right about only NEEDING to see one PHANTASM, and that's the first one.

Lee Russell said...

Good review.

Parts two and three don't really make any of it all that more clear, sadly. I'm not sure if I'm remembering wrong or not, but I think the idea was that when Jedediah stepped through the portal an evil being of some sort took over his body. Thus the Tall Man as we know him came to be. Jedediah's body is just a disguise, essentially, so he could get a hold of our dead and turn them into slaves for whatever evil operation he's got going on in his dimension.

I really hope they manage to get part five off the ground. Scrimm isn't getting any younger.

Anonymous said...

Actually, two and three make about the same sense. But that's why I like the series. It's just a long series of "huh?!" It's never really, "Eh, been there done that."

Didn't Sphere Tits get taken over while she slept? I thought when they got to the hotel she had no spheres in place of the breasts.

Anonymous said...

Phantasm 2 is worth seeing and way fun. I'd even argue that 3 is worth seeing, it's massively stupid, quite clearly made up as they go along and there's a "home alone" style kid with a razorblade frisbee. RAZOR. BLADE. FRISBEE.

Andre said...

Wooohoo balls!

I've never been a huge fan of Phantasm either because I always felt like a major plot piece was missing. But according to everyone's comments that's what suppose to I guess I DO like Phantasm after all. What a day!

Anonymous said...

Last year I actually did a review series on my blog and over at Brutal As Hell, taking on all four of the movies in quick succession. In the end I actually found the first and fourth movies in the series to be the best because they both have the same weird, dreamlike quality where things kinda-sorta fit together but then start drifting apart in strange ways.

If you're looking for a definitive statement on Phantasm and what it's all about, Phantasm IV fails miserably, but if you're kind of just going along with the ride you've gone something

Lee Russell said...

Poor Reggie: he can never get a break. Either his women are getting killed or they turn into freakish monsters on him. He can't catch a break.

Paul said...

Hey Miss Final Girl, I own the three first Phantasms and Phantasm 4 makes no sense to me either! I really like Phantasm 2, and to a lesser extent 3, but 4 is the bastard child of the series to me. It spent too much time explaining too little.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem with four, Stacie is that, it is not the end. They were planning to make another, but it just keeps getting pt off for it wasn't meant to bring things to a close at all, but feels like maybe it should have.

Craig Blamer said...

I'll agree with Lee... Reggie needs to catch a break.

Cagey said...

It being my FAVORITE Horror film ever (Next to the original Nightmare on Elm Street) I would be more than willing to ship my VHS (YES!) copy of Phantasm II to you. Along with the rest of my horror movies on VHS that I have on DVD that I was just going to throw out anyways.


Timmy Crabcakes said...

How can something like 'Phantasm V' not get funding but (choose from long list of utter crap that people have squirted money at) can find a way to be made.
Gah! It boggles me!... though somehow I'm guessing it has something to do with not having the right sorts of drugs and whores in the party van.

The Trick said...

Phantasm II is actually worth watching. It's no Phantasm I, but it's definitely entertaining.

Phantasm III is one of the worst things I've ever seen. Highly skippable. It made me give up on ever wanting to see oblIVion.

FangsFirst said...

As someone else noted: it's all about I and IV.
II and III are fun, in a totally different way. A ridiculous and insane "badass fun" sort of way I would say.