Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be doing a master review of all five of the PHANTASM (1979-2016) movies. Since I can fairly easily describe the entire saga with just a few lines, I will save the individual summaries and stick to this:
"This is the saga of Reggie, Michael, and Jody who find themselves in conflict with a mysterious grave robber named the Tall Man who seems to be able to warp reality to his will."
Before I begin to mention each feature individually, allow me to just say that this is one of the most consistent horror movie series currently on the market. Each entry keeps as much continuity with the preceding entry as humanly possible making it so that even when there is a cliffhanger or final scare, the audience can rest easy knowing that it will be addressed in the next film. This also makes this series come across as somewhat of a passion project that is serving its audience just as much as it is serving its creators.
That being said let us move on to the grandfather of them all, PHANTASM (1979).
To say that this picture was influential is an understatement. Boasting a modest budget, a cast of mostly unknowns, some cool visual effects, and a story that plays out like a fever dream, it is hard not to see where movies like A Nightmares on Elm Street took inspiration from. Seeing this feature with the new transfer has made it even more enjoyable as the many late night graveyard scenes are now even crisper and more harrowing than before.
Now let us move on from the progenitor and tackle the second chapter PHANTASM II (1988).
This is what a Phantasm movie can look like with a nice little budget to back it up. The effects are even better than what they were before, the weirdness is just as strong, and it looks like a full-fledged motion picture. Sure, there was a casting compromise made along the way (which only lasted for this one entry), but overall this was a strong indicator of what was to come with the third part.
Speaking of the third part, we might as well move on to talking about PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994) now.
To be honest, this is my absolute favorite entry in the series. It maintains the bizarre sense of humor, the cool effects, the out there story, and adds in the best character in the series, Rocky. I could probably spend the rest of this review just talking about her character, but I have other things to write and only so much space, so I will move on. Apart from Rocky, this started to show some traces of the larger story at play as we begin to get some hints that the Tall Man might just be having fun with our protagonists. This idea helps to explain why he has seemingly let them survive for so long while also setting up both the last two entries.
Now let us turn our attention to the penultimate chapter PHANTASM: OBLIVION (1998).
Speaking plainly, this is a hard one to review. This has some of the worst production values since the original, uses mostly footage that was cut from the other features, and takes place mostly in the desert so there are few actual sets. These strikes all come before the fact that the destruction of the Tall Man in this entry is completely lackluster compared to the death scenes found in the previous three. Now the really nice touch is, this provides us a good amount of backstory on the Tall Man while also really digging into the idea that he is having fun torturing Michael, Reggie, and Jody. These touches help to bridge the gap on the other shortcomings, but it is definitely a bit of a comedown from the contact highs of the preceding three.
Finally, we come to our grand finale with PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016).
The thing about this chapter is, it is definitely not for the uninitiated. While aspects of it could definitely stand alone, as a whole those unfamiliar with the series will not get much satisfaction. Now longtime fans, on the other hand, are in for a real treat as they give us our favorite characters, our beloved weirdness, more questions, and a surprisingly emotional conclusion. To be honest, this is not at all the sort of ending I saw coming, but now that I have seen it I could not imagine this series concluding any other way.
All in all, those unfamiliar with PHANTASM should definitely get this box set and educate themselves. It is rare to find a series such as this where everyone involved seems so passionate about their work, so I would highly recommend creative types sit up and take notice. Fans of movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or John Dies at the End (2012) need to see these flicks immediately.
The Creeping Craig
The PHANTASM 5 Movie DVD Collection is now available to own on DVD