AUGUST 23, 2008
Most fans consider it the worst sequel, but I actually think Phantasm III is the best followup to the (unmatched) original. After watching all four back to back, it seems that III, while not without its problems, is the one that Coscarelli had the best of both worlds: the resources of II and the freedom to do what he wanted in IV.
For starters, A. Michael Baldwin is back as Mike. Not that there was anything wrong with Le Gros (he’s certainly a better actor), but it just puts III on the right track almost from the start. Bill Thornbury also returns as Jody, another highlight (his character was entirely absent in II). But in fact, neither of them have much screentime; this movie is almost 100% Reggie Bannister. There are only 2-3 scenes in the entire film in which he doesn’t appear, and he really comes into his own here. The script even helpfully returns his four barrel shotgun to him, despite the fact that he left it in the mausoleum basement at the end of II.
Another highlight is the fact that the spheres actually commit some badass murders in this. Instead of the usual drilling/yellow goo stuff, we get a great bit where the sphere begins rotating around, twisting the victim’s head right off. And later, a sphere merely forces itself through someone’s head, leaving a Looney Tunes style hole in the broad’s noggin. We also get to learn a bit more about what the spheres are, and there are more of them to boot. It’s probably the most iconic image of the entire series, and yet in the first two films they barely appear. III finally gives them their due.
Then there are a lot of little moments I like. One is when the kid goes into a walk-in freezer, and the door shuts behind him. For the first time in horror movie history, I think, this doesn’t mean he is trapped inside. When the time comes for him to leave, he opens the door easy peasy. Speaking of the kid, he’s not annoying at all. He helps Reggie on a few occasions, and since Mike is MIA for most of the movie, it’s nice to have that sort of father/son bond again. The traditional “seamless” continuation from the previous film is also improved over the original’s; Reggie hasn’t noticeably aged this time, and even though Le Gros’ footage needed to be obfuscated or reshot entirely, it’s definitely a quality attempt to keep continuity.
Some other stuff is not as successful. The humor isn’t as bad as others seem to think (all four movies have their share of unfunny comic bits), but it’s still a bit much at times. And the inconsistency is a bit jarring here; since when do dead folks become full sized zombies instead of little jawa goblins? Some of the smaller budget limitations are a bit too obvious as well; a major villain is blown away and we don’t even see the corpse hitting on the floor.
And people may want to know why the Tall Man does what he does or whatever, but I only have one question: where the hell does Reggie get all his money? He dropped like a grand in the last movie, and he pulls out another wad of cash in this one when he tries to ditch the kid at an orphanage (Tall Man was kind enough to leave a bunch of kids alive in the last couple towns he wiped out I guess). Not to mention the costs of constantly repairing his Hemicuda. The guy’s an unemployed ice cream man for Christ’s sake, yet he seems to be operating on a bigger budget than the film itself.
Like usual, there is a commentary track, although neither Don Coscarelli or Reggie Bannister are involved. It’s just Baldwin and Angus Scrimm, even though they are offscreen for about 75% of the film. Most of the track is just the two of them singing the praises of every single crew member, and occasional technical details. Scrimm in particular seemingly has a photographic memory; in addition to remembering every single person’s name, he also recalls their other roles/jobs. He’s also possibly the most positive and gentleman-ly actor in Hollywood; he never has a single negative thing to say. Even when Baldwin mocks his own performance, Scrimm will reply how wonderful it is.
The other extras are a bit slim; in addition to a wordless behind the scenes piece (just a bunch of random footage), there is a deleted scene that takes longer to load than to watch. It’s nine seconds of The Tall Man walking down a corridor of some sort, and even though I had only finished the film a few minutes before, I couldn’t even tell where it would take place in the film. Plus there is no explanation of why it was cut or any other sort of information, which means it’s pretty much entirely worthless.
Luckily the film is fun and has a sizable amount of action, and again, seeing Reggie go into full blown Ash mode is great. Coscarelli’s absence is a bit puzzling (and lamented; this is an uncut version, which means he obviously would have something to say about the changes), but oh well. Still worth a purchase.
What say you?