January 15, 2014

Movie Review: Phantasm III - Lord of the Dead

Phantasm arrived in 1979 and proved to be a unique voice with a wicked bad guy at its core, a movie that stood out in the early days of the slasher cycle. It was not a slasher, but the bad guy easily stands with the most evil of that bunch. It took nine years for its sequel to arrive. Phantasm II gave the franchise a new, more straightforward focus, as well as cementing the series' reality, its bad guy, and the hero's desire to stop him, as well as bringing some more action and even some road movie elements. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead arrived in 1994, fifteen years after the original, with another slice of eerie road movie horror.

"We Tried To Warn You. If You Don't Get It This Time We're Going To Have To Drill It Into Your Head!"

The second film did not perform all that strongly and due to its weak performance, Universal did not have a lot of interest in bankrolling a third film, although they did offer to distribute it should Coscarelli and team make one. This must have been a bittersweet moment for the writer/director as it meant his creation was not doing so well on the box office front, but it did afford him a little more creative control, including allowing for the return of A. Michael Baldwin in the role of Mike that he originated in the original movie. Now, this movie received a very brief theatrical run in late 1993 (so brief that I could only find mention of it and no numbers) before going wide on home video in 1994.

The second film ended on a note similar to the original, the Tall Man is believed defeated and our heroes are making their getaway. Of course, the movie ends on a note that indicates the Tall Man lives on and has gotten the drop on the unsuspecting heroes. The third picks up where that one left off, except it backs it up a few moments. Reggie is having some trouble in the front of the escape hearse while Mike and Liz are trapped in the back. Reggie gets tossed out just before an crash and explosion light up the night. Reggie catches up and finds Mike hurt, Liz dead, and a mess of the Tall Man's dwarf slaves. They escape, barely.

Before long, Reggie and Mike are on the run. Unlike the second film, which saw the Tall Man stepping up his plans and keeping ahead of our heroes, this time he is pursuing Mike and it does not look like escape is going to be an option. Tall Man catches up to them and gets a hold of Mike, although we do get the return of Jody (Bill Thornbury), who can transform into one of those little killer spheres, only he is a black one.

Well, part three sees Reggie (the returning Reggie Bannister) step up as the full fledged hero. It is interesting to see how he has transitioned from sidekick in the first, to partner in the second, to leading hero in this one. He may be one of the unlikeliest of heroes, face it, he isn't exactly a leading man type. Don't get me wrong, the guy has charisma to spare and is absolutely perfect for this role.

Following the kidnapping of Mike, the movie transitions back into a road chase as Reggie heads out in search of Tall Man and Mike. Along the way we get a couple more sidekicks. There is a kid, Tim (Kevin Connors), introduced while defending his home, Home Alone style. The other is a woman named Rocky, she comes with a set of nunchuks and is a dead ringer for Grace Jones. Together, they head out to rescue Mike and catch the Tall Man.

Phantasm III is a good deal gooier than previous installments, with plentiful use of the balls and plenty of blood spewing, goo oozing action. We also finally get some answers, we see more of what he does with the corpses as well as where the balls come from. It does not nearly explain everything, but it is something at least. We also see more of Tall Man's use of zombies as more tools. A group of thieves, killed off early in the movie are brought back as comical adversaries. It is never explained why this method pops up now, but I guess the Tall Man is not used to this sort of opposition and is looking for alternative ways to defeat his foes.

Three movies deep and the series remains as obtuse as ever. Sure, we learn a little more, but it doesn't feel like it actually explains anything. In a way, the series has gotten less scary and more bizarre, which is saying something considering what they do in the first movie. It is kind of hard to wrap my head around the various pieces. Nothing is ever explained and I suspect that helps keep the scariness of it alive, the idea of not knowing. Through three movies we will never know exactly how it all fits together. The character of Jody probably puts it best when he says: “Seeing is easy, understanding takes a bit more time.” Make it a lot more time.

In a way, I think this movie might bring in more of the nightmarish feel of the first film, albeit in a different fashion. The movie used nightmare as a way to deal with death and abandonment, a way of processing something that cannot be understood. The second film brought the nightmare into reality as our heroes embark on a cross country chase through middle America. The third film may not have a nightmarish feel exactly, but it has a nightmarish aura, as if you are stepping into a collective nightmare where a variety of folks have nonsensical evil thrust upon them and you have to try to comprehend its nature.

I find it a little hard to explain. You are presented with a series of events and things that loosely fit together but do not add up to anything and you are struggling to piece it together the best you can. However, when adding up the pieces does not work, you resort to fighting to survive. It certainly is a trip. Logic need not apply, there is no need to search for an explanation, just accept that it happened and move on. It is brilliant in a way, there are lots of pieces and plenty of ways to try and put them together, figure it out yourself or just accept and move on.

The joys of not being spoon fed all of the hows and whys is rather brilliant. It allows for so much more. This element helps the Phantasm movies remain interesting and allow them to stand apart from the crowded horror scene.

This is not my favorite of the series, but I still quite enjoy it. Do not let the direct to video nature dissuade you from seeing it, it is a worthy addition to the franchise. Let the oddity wash over you, squash you into a dwarf slave and squeeze your mind into a silver ball. Boy, this thing is weird. Err.... Booooooooyyyyyy!


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