January 16, 2014

Movie Review: Phantasm - OblIVion

Following the release of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead in 1994, plans were made for a fourth film. A screenplay was penned by none other than Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Silent Hill) with an eye towards a release in 1999. Well, it took a little while to try and pull it together so Don Coscarelli made his own fourth film, OblIVion. The intention was to use this as a bridge to the Avary penned film. Unfortunately, it appears that the ship has sailed and this supposed bridge has more of an air of finality to it. This is not really a bad thing, as the movie really is not all that bad and definitely has a few things going for it.

"You Can't Go Forward Until You've Gone Back."

One of the things that Phantasm: OblIVion has in its favor is the fact that writer/director Don Coscarelli continued to keep tight control over the rights, ensuring that he had creative control. This series, whether you enjoy it or not, is not quite the same as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, it is not a series where just anyone cam come in and put their spin on it. While the original intention may not have been to create a cinematic universe, the seeds were there and the only to make sure they got planted and treated properly was to keep them in house. This fourth film proved to be more in house than most.

This fourth go around for the gang with familiar faces brings the series full circle and while this may have only have been intended as a bridge to another film, it does serve as a decent enough finish. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that Coscarelli found something special in his archives. You see, the original Phantasm had a cut that topped three hours. This was clearly too long for release and the final cut of the movie clocked in just shy of 90-minutes. It just so happened that he had a lot of this old excised footage. Now, what better way to make sure it was not wasted than to use it here and expand the mythos even more. It is not often you get to have flashbacks with younger versions of your main cast.

As the movie begins, we get some voice over to get us up to speed. Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is being changed and would seem to have one of the Tall Man's spheres in his head. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) has been left in the catacombs of the Tall Man's lair, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and the Tall Man is out looking for Mike. This time promises to give us more insight than ever before. Just don't expect full explanations.

We get much more of a creepy vibe this time around. The action and humor that built up over the second and third films is scaled way back and a creepy pall of dread is allowed to cover everything. It is not entirely devoid of humor, but the tone is much more serious. What else would you want from a movie trying to get back to its roots?

This movie focuses on more on the relationship that has developed between the Tall Man and Mike. Way back in the first film it seemed to be an adversarial relationship where the boy had to be eliminated to stay out of the bad guy's plan. The second and third films saw that morph into something else. It became clear that the Tall Man wanted something else from him and now it looks like he wants Mike to be his successor or something. It still isn't clear, but he wants his brain for something.

We do learn interesting things like the Tall Man was not always the Tall Man, he was once just a man, a curious friendly old undertaker during the Civil War who perhaps got a touch too curious. It was his curiosity that ended up changing him into this maniacal monster mortician with a desire to make slave dwarves for the red planet. Is it important to know this? Perhaps not, but it is still interesting to see more of his origins.

Phantasm IV also features Reggie wondering if what he is doing has any purpose or if it is just putting himself in danger. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter as he is not the sort to abandon his friends. He keeps on looking for Mike, eventually finding him and bearing witness to the final moments that will surely leave you and anyone who watches scratching their head.

I quite liked this movie, but it fails to answer much of anything. That pretty much suns up the whole series. I feel fairly certain that Don Coscarelli is the only guy who knows where this story is going, where it came from, and what it means. To that end, the Phantasm series, despite some studio meddling in the second, has had a persistence of vision. The same man, and most of the cast, have been there to nurture the universe, to help grow, breathe, and live. If anything, the series is consistent in its inconsistency. While nothing seems to be explainable, everything still seems to fit together in its proper place. If nothing else, it creates an enigmatic reality in service of a different purpose.

Phantasm: OblIVion is the final (?) tale of an epic proportions. While the cast has always remained small, the tale is epic in scope and much more ambitious than it probably has any right to be. At the same time as the scope expands, there is still a sense of it being a small and personal story. It has a flow like a bell curve, it began small in the first film with its themes of death and abandonment as seen through the eyes of a young boy. The second two films see the boy dealing with the same themes in new ways while the audience is distracted by the creepy, charismatic bad guy. The final film brings it back down to a level much more like the first film, a resigned Mike must make peace with the inevitable.

In a way, the Phantasm series seems to be working its way through the five stages of grief. It has taken an atypical approach, surrounding the steps in an epic horror tale where the horror is personified as a nasty mortician, which makes sense if you are dealing with a sudden death where someone close to you is ripped out of your life and shuffled off to the next phase of life by an anonymous stranger with no real personal connection. The first film deals with the first stage of denial, the second and third step in to work on the anger and bargaining phases. The last film tackles the last two stages, depression and acceptance.

Who knew something like that could be wrapped up in a movie about a bad guy who crushes corpses into dwarf slaves that look like Jawas only to ship them in barrels to a rocky dimension with a red sky for an unknown purpose? Oh yeah, he also sticks their brains in little silver killing balls that fly through the air. Not to mention a sidekick turned leading man hero who has a skullet and used to sell ice cream? Seriously, this is a strange series of movies that is always inches away from flying completely off the rails. Thank goodness for a man like Don Coscarelli who was able to come up with and control this wild concoction of horror and science fiction, action and adventure, comedy and melodrama, and wrangle it into an examination of the process of grief brought about by a boy losing a close family member to a tragedy that may or may not have occurred (based on what you believe the ultimate reality of the series is)?

Phew. What a ride, Booooooyyyyyy!


Related Posts with Thumbnails


Post a Comment