Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Posted: October 6, 2016 in horror

Phantasm Ravager (2016 Film).jpg

The Phantasm films were always strange. The original introduced flying spheres of death, an evil funeral director who could shapeshift into a beautiful woman, made a hero out of a balding ice-cream man, and featured a musical interlude where the leads dropped character and turned into the acoustic jam band “Hot as Love”. And that was the most “normal” of the bunch. The deeper into the series you get, the more bizarre the mythology became.

In that context, it almost feels like praise that the latest (and almost certainly final) instalment is the most bizarre of the lot, although it is hard to say that is of a benefit to the film as a whole.

The plot, such as it is, follows Reggie the heroic ice-cream-man, as he searches for Jody and Mike, his co-stars from the first movie; despite the fact that both were killed off in previous instalments of the franchise. But, don’t think too hard about that. Really this is just a frame-work to hang some cool scenes on, and that is the most important thing. There is some mumbo-jumbo about alternate realities, parallel universes, and a possibility hanging in the air that the whole series may just be a shared delusion; but again, it’s not treated seriously in the film and you aren’t supposed to take it seriously yourself.

Instead, the intent is clearly to have the viewer revel in the fan-service. A chase scene where two spheres barrel after a car. A full-scale invasion with giant spheres hanging overhead. A trip back to the magnificent marble halls of the first film’s mausoleum. Cameos from every major player in the franchise and a final goodbye for the late Angus Scrimm. There is even a chance for Reggie to break out the guitar and knock out a tender ballad. This is not a film made for newcomers to the franchise and even the most hardened of fans will have a hard time following exactly what is going on.

You can almost see elements of something tangible amongst the borderline gibberish of the plot. Reggie’s road-trip quest to find his buddies is clearly the main through-line, before being completely discarded. Another thread presents us with a scenario not dissimilar to the later entries in Resident Evil franchise, with a band of mercenaries fighting back against the Tall Man’s hoards under apocalyptic blood red skies. This element in particular feels undercooked, and as cool a character as newcomer to the franchise Chunk is (getting without question the best lines and the most heroic moment), if more attention had been given to building this properly, the pay-off would have been a lot sweeter. Holding all this together is a sub-plot set in a hospice, offering what explanation there is, and allowing us a tender goodbye to characters we have grown to love. It is here that the themes that have run through the films, grief and friendship, are dealt with; but in truth it feels like three unfinished scripts were mashed together with not a great deal of thought.

The most jarring aspect of the film is that it looks terrible. While it was made on a low-budget, all of the films in the series were, and it misses Coscarelli’s sure hand as a director. The CGI is awful, and David Hartman (who made his name directing cartoon series such as Transformers: Prime and Astro Boy) seems reliant on ridiculous and off-putting zooms; out of place camera trickery that does little more than detract and distract. The other Phantasm films were cheap, but this looks cheap; reminding you of micro budget productions like Kung Fury and early Astron 6 offering Manborg. And not in a good way. While it may be fan-service, it looks like a film made by fans, and not professionals.

Those who love the series will find a lot to love in this film, although even they may find it hard to genuinely like the film as a whole. If the thought of the Tall Man reprising his “Boooooyyy” catchphrase fills you with a warm, nostalgic pleasure, then you will be able to forgive many of the film’s myriad of faults. Those who are not fans should avoid. This is the worst film in the series by a distance, a silly cartoonish addendum that definitely has it’s moments, but barely hangs together.


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