After the confusing denouement of 1998’s Phantasm: Oblivion, it seemed that Don Coscerelli’s far out horror odessy had finally been laid to rest with no chance of resurrection and nothing else signified that the franchise wouldn’t be able to rise again more than the tragic death of the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm who passed away of natural causes in 2016. However, one day, all of a sudden, there it was; a fifth Phantasm movie just popped up out of the ether just like the creepy, extra terrestrial mortitian does with startling regularity and taking us all thoroughly by surprise. How did this happen? How was this possible? Even the most devoted Phantasm phans were taken completely unawares by the return of this unkillable franchise that had risen from the grave, without warning, in true Tall Man style.
In many ways, Phantasm: Ravager finally lives up to the franchise’s aim to be proudly independent with this final installment being filmed completely in secret with no one having the slightest clue it existed until a full trailer turned up online one day out of the blue.
The culprit was a super-phan by the name of David Hartman who, with Coscerelli’s blessing, managed to create an entirely new sequel that not only brings back almost all of the major players (including Scrimm with random footage shot before his dearh) but actually attempts to bring the series to a (sort of) definitive close that, while being utter nonsense to newbies, turns out to be a suprisingly poignant closure to the franchise that started all the way back in 1979.
After the head scratching conclusion of the seemingly final battle between the Tall Man and friends Reggie and Mike, it seemed that the malevolent undertaker and part-time space despot had things pretty well wrapped up. His decades long pursuit of Mike finally drew fruit as he ripped what appeared to be on of those deadly silver spheres from his head and left with his prize back home through a dimensional gate with a distraught Reggie close behind him, willing to hurl himself into the unknown to get revenge for his fallen friend.
We pick up years later with Reggie seemingly reappearing in the desert and still looking for his otherworldly prey only to immediately run into more of the Tall Man’s spheres whom he manages to fight off after a Mad Max style car case. Desperate to get back on the trail of his villainous target, Reggie suddenly starts having visions of other places and times where he is in a hospital being treated for dementia and being cared for by a Mike who has no knowledge of all the horrors that Reggie claims have befallen them. Soon Reggie is having serious doubts as to what is real – is he really slowly dying in a hospital bed or is he actually staggering around a dystopian warzone after the Tall Man has seemingly ticked ruling the world off his bucket list? As killer spheres, ferocious dwarf foot soldiers and numerous re-animated ghouls roam openly through the streets while huge, battleship versions of the spheres rain death from above, Reggie re-teams with an Mike and his fellow resistance in order to fight off the Tall Man’s hordes – but what if the visions Reggie are experiencing aren’t visions at all and he’s bouncing throughout the multiverse, living different experiences at the same time? Could he actually choose which reality he stays in permanently and if so, isn’t deciding between either wasting away thanks to a brain ravaging disease or fighting an apocalyptic zombie invasion a impressively shitty choice?
How much you take away from Phantasm: Ravager really depends on two things; firstly, if you aren’t a fan then this film was emphatically not made for you – only the Phantasm faithful are really going to appreciate all the callbacks and fan-baiting images that the movie flings at you at a hyperactive rate with a reckless disregard of plot or pacing. Secondly this movie was made on the cheap… like, REALLY cheap with a suprising amount of visual effects not looking that much better than those seen on that old 80’s kids game show, Knightmare. However, ignore the basic CGI work and Phantasm: Ravager is the most energetic of the last couple of movies by far and whose breakneck speed sort of makes up for the wonky nature of the green screen work.
The Spheres in particular seem to be liberated by the use of cheap CGI and haven’t been this spritely since Phantasm II as they wantonly whizz around the place chasing cars, drilling the majority of the supporting cast and at one point even casually murdering the shit out of a passing horse – also the shots of a massive, hot air balloon sized sphere lazering a building to pieces like a much blingier Death Star is legitimately pretty fantastic.
Something else that could have been fairly awkward is the inserting of Angus Scrimm into the film posthumously but even though his lines seem to have no bearing on whatever scene he’s in (his stuff was shot on green screen before his death and possibly even before a script was finished) but the Tall Man gets to have a fairly decent final outing either literally surrounded by his minions or actually almost explaining some of this shit away.
Anyone turning up for a simple, easy to understand explanation as to what this all has been about has obviously not been paying attention for the last 37 years (after all a whopping 98% of the first movie was revealed to be a fucking dream during the last 3 minutes) but the film does manage to have an ending… of sorts. Ok, so maybe not a definitive ending but it stops in a good place.
Scrappy and episodic as hell, Phantasm: Ravager is barely more than a fan film that’s somehow gone legit and is loaded with cameos and moments that only hardcore fans will give a shit about (a big welcome back to The Lady In Lavender herself, Kathy Lester and Gloria Lynn Henry’s Rocky from film III), but David Harman has pieced together a genuine, honest-to-god blood splattered love letter that’s barely a cohesive filmatic experience, yet still manages to be a minor movie miracle that makes sure he end the Tall Man’s misadventures ends appropriately on a high note…