It’s a common fact that when your horror franchise continues over an extended period of time the audience tends to shrink until only the faithful remain. It’s hardly surprising after all, with multiple movies worth of continuity and back story it’s inevitable that sooner or later the series becomes all but inpenetrable.
Inpenetrable is pretty much the best way to sum up the fourth entry in Don Coscerelli’s Phantasm series which at this point seemed only interested in catering to hardcore fans and little else. The proudly independent franchise had always prided itself in hurling logic to the wind and embracing fuzzy dream logic, but even by Phantasm standards Oblivion (the IV neatly fits within the subtitle – cool, huh?) strongly puts out a no newbies allowed vibe which vehemently enforces it’s indie credentials at the cost of being even remotely coherent.
After a lengthy prologue finally clears a few things up, we join the action exactly where we left things with Reggie pinned to the wall by two dozen of those bastardly lethal silver spheres and Mike running off into the night after finding out that he was transforming into something inhuman thanks to the operation performed on him by the malevolent Tall Man. Curiously choosing to omit the fate of Timmy, Reggie’s 12 year old partner who was last seen being yanked off screen by a screeching wraith (I guess he’s dead, but the script doesn’t even bother to address it…), the film then immediately let’s Reggie off the hook by having the Tall Man oddly choosing not to kill him (for interdimensional undertaker reasons… I guess?) and then vanishes with his shiny balls in tow.
What follows is less a road movie and more a string of sequences that the filmmakers seem to be making up as they’re going along we follow both the leads as they both embark on a trippy odessy in order to get to the bottom of what in the nane of blue hell is actually going on.
While Reggie searches for Mike while blundering into various creatures on the way, Mike finds himself in the middle of the dessert on a metaphysical journey through the self that would make Carlos Castaneda empty his bowels like a newborn as he traverses time and space in order to learn the Tall Man’s origins in order to embrace his newly discovered inhumanity.
If you listen carefully around the one third mark, that wet slopping sound you can hear over the (still) awesome score is the Phantasm franchise finally disappearing completely up it’s own butthole. Coscerelli’s attempts to draw all this out and appeal strictly to fans starts off both laudable and genuinely sweet, even going as far to include never before seen sequences deleted from the original as random flashbacks that heaps on the raw, untapped nostalgia with the same gusto as a gluttonous child at a self-serve ice cream machine. However, this scrappy mix of fan service, goofy gore gags, introspective desert wandering and surrealistic dream logic is ultimately tough on even the most ardent Phantasm “phan” and feels like the filmatic equivalent of an aging prog rock band who’s just released a long awaited new album only for it to be pretentious shit. I’m tempted to weigh in as a fully signed up fan to suggest that a good Phantasm film is supposed to be bluntly enigmatic and devoid of understandable answers but that still wouldn’t explain why I’m so bored every time I watch it.
The pace of the feature is pretty much what you’d expect from a film that one minute has one character pondering his very existence in death valley and then switches to another character accidentally gargling the dribbled goo oozing from the lips of a vanquished zombie; but it really feels like Coscerelli and his mates met up on weekends and patched this thing together just for an excuse to hang out, jam on the guitar and shoot the shit – something that probably isn’t that far from the actual truth…
There’s also a strong “this is the end” feel to the film, unsurprising considering that Coscerelli originally intended this to be the final installment but the attempts to clear everything up only serve to muddy the waters further. Even an origin story of sorts for the Tall Man, explaining him away as a kindly inventor from the century whose work with dimensional travel leads him to somehow become the high pocketed villain we’re more familiar with leaves us with yet MORE fucking questions.
To the credit of the filmmakers, Oblivion still manages to conjure up some legitimately arresting images like the Tall Man striding down the streets of a deserted LA or the genuinely jarring sight of a woman’s breasts revealed to be concealing a couple of silver spheres (talk about implants…) but this “final” trip through the dimensional tuning fork ends up being the equivalent of the most boring peyote trip you’ve had.
This time, the Tall Man has come up short.