A review of the fifth and final Phantasm film Phantasm Ravager
This will be a relatively short review, readers.
Not because I don’t have plenty to say about the film. I do. But almost none of it is positive. And really, if you’re a hardcore Phantasm fan — which I am not — you don’t want or need someone tearing apart a film that you’ll watch regardless and that you’ll respond to in ways in which I cannot.
Now, all that said. From a casual Phantasm admirer’s point of view, Phantasm Ravager is pretty damn dire.
Directed and co-written by franchise newcomer David Hartman and co-penned and produced by series brain-trust Don Coscarelli, Phantasm Ravager exemplifies defiance of the tried and true indie film adage that if you cannot afford to realize your ambitions convincingly, don’t try. Take another route. Play to your strengths. But with this fifth and supposedly final kick at the Tall Man’s can, from its first frames, it’s clear that there were not nearly enough coins in the coffers to bring the world as written to proper life. Not that there ever was, mind you, save for the considerably lush Phantasm II. But the original film and the spotty 3rd and 4th efforts were designed within their fiscal means and were realized with primarily practical special effects. They relied on judicious use of those effects and played with music and disorienting narratives to keep us engaged and forgiving of their shortcomings. And of course, in the first film anyway, there was a heavy sense of mystery and innovation to propel us along.
Ravager just feels tired and bloated and impoverished. In it, series mainstay Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is still wandering the world with his homemade shot gun and driving his souped up ‘Cuda. The car looks great and so does Bannister, who is clearly having a blast reprising his signature role. The original film’s co-stars A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury also show up to the party again and, as usual, fantasy and reality smash together and timelines jump around and the late Great Angus Scrimm’s regal fiend The Tall Man lurks in the shadows, this time with intent to take over the world with his big balls. Yeah, the balls are back too, but this time they’re realized as flat, CGI cartoons that would make even the folks at The Asylum blush. Even when they’re practical, like in one scene where they puncture a door by Reggie’s head, they look cheap and flimsy. Hell, even the door is cheap and flimsy, And what’s with the blood overload? The once fearsome spheres and the skull-drained gore they once ejaculated used to be a punch to the head. Here, those scenes just go on and on and on. They’re dull.
Coscarelli brought atmosphere and a skilled hand at action sequences to his previous four Phantasm films, but Hartman shows no such gift for visual storytelling. The framing here is weak, the editing is tone-deaf and the score (by Christopher L. Stone) is epic and yet obviously created by software and thus is cheap too, like everything else in the film.
Many fans have embraced the movie, by the way it closes the series in a sensitive, moving way. But I didn’t buy it. If I wanted to watch The Notebook, I would have done so. Still, the gimmick at the core of the picture would be acceptable if anything else in the film was up to par. Nothing is. The dialogue is ham-fisted and faux-tough guy nonsense. And hearing Scrimm call Baldwin “Boyyyyy” is just goofy fan-service now, seeing as the sort-of actor is well into his 50s.
Phantasm Ravager could have been a contender. But sadly, it’s just another indie action horror movie with too many ideas and not enough tools in the box to convincingly realize them. But, as I said, I don’t think I’m the audience for this film. Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release is packed full of extras, including a commentary from Hartman and Coscarelli. I’m sure if I had listened to that, I would have appreciated the picture more. But I’m past 40 now and as we know, life is very, very short.
If you loved the movie, feel free to call me an a**hole in the comments section below…