Judge Eric Profancik both fears and covets the spiky-headed golf ball.
The Ball is Back!
The little series that could, Phantasm has spawned three sequels over the years. Like many of its brethren, it appeals to a niche subset of the horror market. I think I've seen all four of the films, but I'm not completely certain. What I do know is that I have always had an unusual affection for the second movie in the series, and I'm delighted that after all these years it's finally making its way to DVD.
Facts of the Case
Upon surviving the harrowing events at Morningside Cemetery and Funeral Home, Mike (James LeGros, Ally McBeal) has spent the past few years in a mental hospital. Though he still believes the gruesome events did happen, he lies to the staff to get his release. Waiting for him is his best buddy and fellow survivor Reggie (Reggie Bannister, It Came from Trafalgar). As the two drive back home, Mike tells Reggie that he is having visions of the evil Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, Alias) and of an innocent young girl, Liz. Reggie is skeptical, but seeing their house blow up as they draw near, they realize that the Tall Man is back and won't leave them alone. The two set out to find the him and put an end to his enslaving the dead to use in another dimension.
Reasons are wide and varied why some movies attract you and stick with you. Those reasons usually skew a bit more to the bizarre when it comes to horror and slasher films, but it really just boils down to two things. First, you like the bad guy/killer—like Freddy Krueger or the Tall Man; or second, you like the way people die—as in The Final Destination series. For Phantasm it's mostly because of the Tall Man. He is just such an awesome looking guy, so naturally imposing and intimidating, you pray you never meet him in real life. Imagine going to a funeral home or cemetery and seeing this man there. It would send shivers down your spine.
But the Tall Man also has another ace up his sleeve: his instrument of death, the flying sphere (or ball). The sphere is an awesome way to kill people. Release the ball, watch it fly through the air giving accurate chase to the intended victim, see it impale and implant itself in someone's forehead, and then delight in the brain matter spewing out in a storm of effluence. Yummy! When you have a great killer and an excellent method of execution, you have a film that tickles your fancy. The Phantasm series is certainly not great cinema, but it is great fun.
In all honesty, I don't know if I've seen all four films. It been ages since I saw the original, but I can't remember what happens in three or four. But that's not important because I've always had a soft spot for the second one. There's no good reason beyond what I said above, but I just like this film. (Maybe it's because as with a lightsaber I want one of those spheres.) It's just a cheap, silly little B-horror movie that is what it is and does it well. The original took the risk and made its mark in horror history, but the sequel doesn't carry on the tradition. It doesn't do anything new like its predecessor being another helping of the Tall Man and his sphere chasing the same people and killing them the same way. It's a creature of the eighties, giving in to those trappings as well with corny dialogue, big hair, and at least one gratuitous boobie shot.
Don Coscarelli is the man behind the sphere. He's brought us the Phantasm series and other cult favorites The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-tep. If you've seen those others but not this series, then that should give you a clue as to what you'll get from this horror experience.
After many a year of being held back from DVD release (in some silly, convoluted bickering over rights and whatnot—as the other three have been on DVD for years) fans can finally rejoice in completing their collection. What do you get with this release? On the side of the transfers, video is a 1.85:1 anamorphic print while audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. Being a campy, older cult flick created on a flimsy budget, I wasn't expecting much from the video; but I was pleased with the transfer as it fared better than expectations. Though not especially rich and vibrant, colors are accurate; blacks are just average and lack crisp definition—which is what you need with so many night shots. Contrast and definition are the surprising strength, coming together to show more detail than anticipated. Overall the picture is good but doesn't jump out at you, but I didn't notice any significant transfer errors. For that audio track, it's not spectacular but gets the job done. Dialogue is always clean and understandable, the cheesy soundtrack comes across clear, but the general presentation sounds a touch thin and tinny.
The DVD is practically barebones with just the trailer included. Such a cult favorite deserves just a little more to it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You can't really say much against a niche, cult horror classic. As I said, you either like it or don't. Let me say that you don't need to have seen the original to pick up on this one. The first five or so minutes give a good recap of the first film (since there was a nine year gap between the two), allowing anyone to join in on the fun with the Tall Man.
Phantasm II is simple, shlocky fun. If you like horror films with a compelling antagonist, nifty methods of execution, and just a modicum of story, then this movie is for you. Too long absent from the digital medium, it's great to finally have the chance to own this one. If you're a fan, there's no reason to skip this disc. If you're new to the series, give it a spin. You'll like it.
Phantasm II is hereby found guilty of drilling without a license.
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