September 4, 2017

DVD Review: Phantasm - 5 Movie DVD Collection

The Phantasm franchise is an odd one to approach. It is one of those franchises that has a lot of fans, but still seems to fly under the radar. You don’t often hear it spoken of in the same context as other horror franchises, like the big slasher series, or even a questionable series as Leprechaun. Of course, it does seem that the longer the series go, the more steep the drop off in quality becomes. Still, there is a lot to like about the series, it is as the budgets go down, the surreal and experimental side goes up. The later entries aren’t for everybody, but if you watch them in close succession, things become much clearer. I will say that initially it doesn’t help that there is so much time in between entries.

One thing that has hurt the franchise, so far as the DVD era is concerned, is the difficulty in locating parts 3 and 4. It seems they were on store shelves for a minute and they were gone, long out of print and going for exorbitant prices in the secondary market. That changed somewhat earlier this year with a remastered set of all five films was released on Blu-ray, along with solo releases of the original and Ravager, the fifth and presumed final entry. That set went out of print rather quickly and it is unknown when or if it is going to get reissued. That brings us to this set.

Well Go is releasing the entire franchise collection in a budget minded DVD release. This is good for those who missed the Blu-ray set and don’t want to pay Ebay prices, and it is good for those who have never been able to get all of the films. It is funny, prior to the Blu-ray release of the remastered original and Ravager, the only Phantasm film I owned was part 2, and that was in one those 4 pack collections of random horror titles. This set turns out to be pretty perfect for me.

I have seen the first four films on their earlier DVD releases, and I have to say these transfers look much better. No, they are not Blu-ray good, but they are solid DVD releases that do the films justice and look much better than the earlier releases. Another thing that is great about this set is that it is far from a bare bones release. One would think that being at the budget price point you would be lucky to get a trailer included, that is not the case here.

Each film is presented on its own disk, stacked spindle style in a slim case. All five films feature a commentary track with Don Coscarelli, he is joined by a variety of folks during the tracks, including Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, and Bill Thornbury. Also included are trailers, behind the scenes clips, deleted scenes, bloopers, and featurettes on things like the classic Barracuda and the crazy car flipping stunt in part 3.

Previously, I wrote a lengthy series of reviews on the first four films, below are excerpts and links to the full reviews.

Phantasm is a movie that relies heavily on atmosphere. This movie is creepy, weird, bizarre, and definitely stands apart. I can honestly say I do not think I have seen another movie quite like it. It is a movie that gnaws at your brain as it toys with reality. It defies explanation, things happen and you have to accept them. The great thing is that it works.

Phantasm II 
This sequel is a road movie that sees everyone involved taking a much more active role in the proceedings. Considering that the nightmare theory is out and this is a very event being perpetrated by a very real entity, it is only logical that everything be treated as such. The Tall Man, who seemingly worked under cover of darkness for a long time, according to the first film, has stepped up his efforts and is actively going from town to town, harvesting the dead and the living to be used as his servant dwarves. I am guessing that knowing that Mike is still out there poses some sort of threat. He is still a pompous evil who always feels he has the upper hand, but I guess even he knows when he has to step up.

Phantasm III - Lord of the Dead 
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.

Phantasm - OblIVion 
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.

Phantasm - RaVager
The one film I have not been able to do a full review of yet. I can forgive the shoddy effects and the fact that it looks worse than a SyFy Original, it was shot without anyone knowing and with no money. It is an odd film that suffers from Coscarelli not directing it. This entry (final?) is probably the most surreal of the bunch and follows a confusing multi-pronged approach with Reggie in a nursing home and being visited by Mike, and also pursuing the Tall Man and looking for Mike out on the road in full on survival mode, then there is the full on apocalyptic future. I do like how the series gets more and more bizarre and once they jump the shark they go all in on the weird and the nonsensical, which is one of the things I admire most about the franchise. Still, this one is a hard one to watch because I am still trying to figure out how it fits with everything else. I refuse to call it a bad movie, but it certainly is odd.

There are some things that make the series standout.
-The theme music is amazing.
-Reggie Bannister is awesome and one of the select few that can rock a skullet,
-The Barracuda is a badass car.
-Angus Scrimm is supremely intimidating as the Tall Man.

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