5/23/10

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994): A Film With Lots of Balls

Making a sequel is one thing, but creating a film series is something entirely different. Most films stumble with their sophomore effort, and by the time it gets around to the third installment both the audience’s interest and the creative imperative have waned. Sure there are a few exceptions, Nightmare on Elm Street 3 springs to mind, but I could list dozens of films that never needed a third movie. Take for example The Howling III: The Marsupials or Superman III, did anyone really need those films to be made? On other exception there’s the Phantasm franchise. After a nine year gap between Phantasm and Phantasm II, it only took Don Coscarelli five years to come back with 1994’s Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead.



Unlike Phantasm II, the third installment was made without backing from Universal Studios. So that meant that Coscarelli was free to replace Phantasm II’s James Le Gros with A. Michael Baldwin who had originated the role of Mike in the first film. With Baldwin on board, Coscarelli’s script would reunite the entire cast of the first film for the first time in fifteen years. Where the first film was a groundbreaking deviation from late seventies horror cinema and the second film was a balls out action-horror thrill ride, Phantasm III is a film built for the fans to further explore the mythology of the series. Not that this is a film weighed down by its own continuity, but if you’ve never seen a Phantasm film then this is not the place to start. I suppose I should also say that if you haven’t seen a Phantasm film then you might not want to read this review. While I won’t be spoiling Phantasm III, it would be quite hard to discuss it without talking about reveals in the other film.

As with the second film, Phantasm III opens with a brief look back at the events of the last two films, and then it picks back up right where we left Reggie and Mike last time, in a hearse driven by the Tall Man who has once again come back to life. Reggie saves Mike from the Tall Man once more and gets him to a hospital. While unconscious Mike has a near death experience where he sees his brother Joey (Bill Thornbury) who warns Mike not to come into the light where he will just fall into the Tall Man’s hands. Mike awakes and Reggie takes him home but when the Tall Man attacks this time Mike is taken away despite the best efforts of Reggie and Joey who gets turned into a silver sphere. Reggie once again takes his Hemi Cuda on the road to track the swath of deserted towns decimated by the Tall Man’s forces. Along the way he meets Tim (Kevin Connors) and Rocky (Gayle Lynn Henry) who have both lost their families to the same threat. The three will band together to find Mike, save Joey from his imprisonment, and defeat the Tall Man once and for all.

Even though it had only been five years since the last Phantasm film, Phantasm III once again benefits from the advances in technology. The Tall Man’s murderous orbs look great, and in an early use of digital effects, Jody’s image was put on one as if he was struggling to get out. Coscarelli had also once again grown as a director. The film is full of wonderfully shot moments with a great amount of sweeping shots that gives grandeur to the events. This was cinematographer Chris Chomyn’s first film, but it doesn’t show at all. Coscarelli must have been happy with him as well because he invited him back to film Phantasm IV. There's also a great score, but there’s little to say about it because it was cobbled together from the first two movies due to budget restrictions.

What really made the movie were the performances from the reunited original cast. I won’t spend much time waxing poetic about how much I love Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister (I’m a huge Reggie fan) because I think I’ve covered those bases in my other two reviews. Needless to say they are both great with Bannister infusing Reggie with everyman appeal without playing to the lowest common denominator and Scrimm being his usual menacing self. Instead, I would like to talk about the return of A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury as well as the new characters. While James Le Gros made a good Mike in Phantasm II, it was wonderful to see the original Mike take the part back over. Le Gros might have been a better actor overall, but Baldwin infuses his performance with a fervor that I didn’t find in his replacement’s performance. Seeing Bill Thornbury back as Jody was also great though he has a very limited role. I hate it when directors are forced to recast a role, and it was wonderful to see those actors back in the roles that were intended for them to play.

The new characters fit into the film very well also. Kevin Connors was especially fun to watch as the gun slinging kid who was forced to grow up way too fast. His opening scene where he saves Reggie from a group of thugs told me everything I would need to know about that character in about 30 seconds. Child actors are often hard to tolerate, but Connors was so good that it is a shame that he didn’t do more after this film with only small roles in Prehysteria 2 and Pleasantville to his credit. Another actor who performed wonderfully but hasn’t had an extensive career since is Gloria Lynne Henry. Her character, Rocky, the tough as nails nunchuck wielding woman who (lets be honest) looked a bit like a female version of Dwayne Wayne from A Different World was not only the first non-evil female featured in the series; she also kicked a lot of ass. I could have and wanted to watch a whole film about her character.

It’s a very easy decision to say that I would recommend Phantasm III. The whole Phantasm series is a wonderful watch and the third installment is no exception. The more I re-watch these films the more I like them, and I wish they had been seen by a wider audience. Unlike the Nightmare or Friday the 13th franchises, Phantasm never made the leap to mass appeal, and that is too bad. I still have one more Phantasm film I need to cover here so look for that sooner than later, and I hold out hope against hope that a fifth film could still be in the works.

Bugg Rating


3 comments:

  1. You picked an -awesome- bit of cover art to showcase for this PHANTASM III review, friend. Good ol' Angus looks his best in that shot, I'd say.

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  2. I love all the PHANTASM films- I think they're more fun than most of the horror franchises of that era.

    In fact I would be hard pressed to find any group of horror films that manage to straddle the lines between horror, sci fi and character comedy.

    The only things I've ever experienced with the same vibe is in British fantasy shows like SAPPHIRE & STEEL or DOCTOR WHO.

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  3. I'm still trying to stop laughing from the "female Dwayne Wayne" comment. I didn't have a problem with LeGros either but having Baldwin back gave the film more of a genuine film. Great review for a sequel that I have watched and enjoyed several times. And it ends with a great setup for Oblivion.

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