Warning! This review contains spoilers…
When I think of big Hollywood studio sequels to innovative independent films, I think of Halloween II (1981.) Like it, Phantasm II (1988) delivers more of the same thing as its predecessor, just more polished and shinier. Both make valiant attempts to continue their stories, yet just miss on the magic that caused their franchises to be special in the first place. Bigger is not always better.
The biggest disconnect between Phantasm (1979) and its follow-up is in the way the films treat their surreal natures. I’ve argued that the story of Phantasm is largely straightforward, even though parts of it are also undeniably ambiguous. Phantasm II isn’t ambiguous at all. This is good news for those who favor plot over execution; the biggest mysteries of the first movie are explained.
After a brief opening that introduces a new character, Liz (Paula Irvine), Phantasm II is revealed to be a direct sequel that begins where Phantasm ends. It was not a dream. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) did burst through a mirror to grab Michael (A. Michael Baldwin.) The action then continues when Reggie (Reggie Bannister) runs upstairs and witnesses what I call a “Jawa” pulling Michael across the floor.
Suddenly it’s seven years later. Michael (James Le Gros) admits to his doctor at Morningside Psychiatric, where he was committed, that previous events were all in his imagination. Of course, that’s a lie; Michael is committed to reuniting with Reggie to hunt down and kill the Tall Man. Reggie is reluctant until Michael proves to him that the coffins in the cemetery are all empty and Reggie’s house explodes, killing his family.
After the funeral, Reggie is on board, “Let’s go, Mike. We’ve got things to do.” Thus, the Phantasm franchise takes a turn that, if I recall, will continue throughout the series to become a common plot thread: the hunt for the Tall Man. Reggie and Mike hit the road, pick up a strange hitchhiker, and eventually encounter Liz in Perigord, Oregon, where the Tall Man has now taken residence to perform his otherworldly deeds.
Granted, it had been nine years since Phantasm was released, but Phantasm II really brings on the firepower, including custom guns and chainsaws. Plus, the silver sphere gets an upgrade. There are now three of them, one of which is larger and gold. While they still do their forehead drilling, one now does some ear slicing with its spinning blade. We see where the spheres are kept and learn that one of them can be used as a key.
While giving us more of the same, Phantasm II also inches the franchise forward by planting new seeds. We learn more about the yellow fluid that runs through the Tall Man’s veins, as well as more about how and why he collects the dead and transforms them into miniature slaves to serve him on another planet or in another dimension. We expand the cast of characters to include one that is psychically linked to Michael.
I like plot-heavy movies. The story is the thing for me. I liked the twist in Halloween II. Therefore, I like learning the secrets of Phantasm II. Unlike the former, though, the mystique of the latter is diluted by these revelations. In essence, they transform the franchise from an atmospheric horror series into an action-packed pursuit series. I’m not saying that’s bad; it’s just not what I prefer. I favor spheres over chainsaws.
Written by Don Coscarelli
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Starring James Le Gros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips, Kenneth Tigar
RT 97 min.
Released July 8, 1988
Home Video Blu-ray (Shout!)
Rating 6 slashers (out of 10)