Halloween Top 13: The Sequel #8- Phantasm II (1988)
Sometimes when a director has to make a film in the studio system, it means that he’s going to have to reign in his vision, acquiesce to casting demands, and suffer heavy cuts in the editing process. Yet if the director stands tall, then he might get some of what he wants, and such is the case of Phantasm II. After nine years and one Beastmaster film, Don Coscarelli finally returned to make the sequel to the 1979 film Phantasm. Partnering with Universal Studios, it would be a production fraught with compromise, but in the end, Coscarelli made an action packed, bloody, and literally explosive film that many consider the best in the franchise.
The film picks up where the last left off. Through the dreams of a girl named Liz (Paula Irvine), we return to Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) commiserating over the death of Mike’s brother. Mike is convinced that The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) took his brother away, but Reggie assures him it was a dream. When the house is invaded by The Tall Man’s killer dwarves, Reggie and Mike blow it up and dive out a second story window to safety. Mike (now played by James LeGros) ends up in a mental institution, and it's not until Liz, who has a psychic connection to him, calls out for help that he tries to get himself freed. Upon his release, he returns home and begins to dig up graves which he finds empty, Reggie, who had been expecting him, finds him and gets Mike to come with him before he gets sent back to the loony bin. On their way back to Reggie’s house, Mike has a premonition that Reggie’s house will blow up, and it does with Reggie’s wife and children inside. Reggie finally believes that The Tall Man might be behind all their troubles, and they hit the road following a trail of decimated towns and graveyards intent on stopping The Tall Man from enslaving the dead.
Like Hellraiser II, Phantasm II gets a lot of its strength by using footage from the first film, along with newly shot scenes, to propel the audience straight into the action. It gives the new viewer a jump off point and serves as a reminder to those of us with short-term memory loss. Unlike the Pinhead vehicle, The Tall Man’s second film doesn’t require you to be entrenched in the mythos of the series to get into the film. While I always think that it’s better to start with the first film, the decision to make this sequel, made so long after the original, easily accessible is probably a wise choice.
Directly after the first Phantasm film, Coscarelli had been offered a chance to follow it up with complete creative control, but when the financing for Beastmaster came through, he moved ahead on that project. When he finally decided to make a sequel, he became partially beholden to the wishes of the studio. They dictated that the finished film would have a clearer narrative than the first, be devoid of impressionistic dream sequences, and he could bring back one of his two leads from the first film. Since A. Michael Baldwin’s character, Mike would have aged from twelve to nineteen, Coscarelli felt he had more leeway with the look of Mike and chose to recast him rather than replace the unique actor look of Reggie Bannister.
For Mike, Coscarelli had a choice between two actors, James LeGros and Brad Pitt. The director went with LeGros and gave him his first starring role. LeGros has previously landed bit parts in films like *batteries not included and Near Dark, and I think he was a good replacement if one had to be made. LeGros’ Mike was much more assured and confident which was needed for the many action set pieces that Phantasm II includes. While some fans, and A. Michael Baldwin, might have felt it was a slight to bring in a new actor, LeGros handled the material well, and his chemistry with Reggie Bannister really sold the part. LeGros would go on to appear in several high profile films including Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, Point Break, and Living in Oblivion. In the subsequent Phantasm films, the role reverted to Baldwin, but there’s been some rumors flying around recently that LeGros would return for Phantasm V as an alternate reality version of Mike.
As I said in my review of Phantasm, I am a much bigger fan of Reg than Mike, and that has everything to do with performance of Reggie Bannister. As Mike points out in Phantasm II, “I’m nineteen years old, and you’re a bald middle aged ex-ice cream man.” That’s what makes Reggie such a great character. He’s such an unconventional horror hero, and Reggie gets to do a fair amount of kick ass hero stuff in this flick. The highlight has to be when he has to battle one of The Tall Man’s goons in a chainsaw to chainsaw duel. There’s very little that I like more in this world than a chainsaw battle, and this is only the first one that will be showing up on the countdown. It’s just such a great sequence and really kicks off the action packed ending.
There’s not so much to be said about Angus Scrimm and his performance as The Tall Man in the film. I gave a good bit of his background when I reviewed the first film, and I won’t rehash that again. Suffice it to say that Scrimm, who I understand to be a really nice guy in real life, has a seriously intimidating presence, and as with all the Phantasm films, he puts in a great performance. Of course, you can’t have The Tall Man without his deadly balls. (Wow, there’s really no good way to word that.) This time out they really kicked up the effects budget when it came to the deadly orbs, and we discover they can slice and dice better than anything Ron Popeil ever hawked. You really have to watch out for the golden ball that comes equipped with a laser that makes a sound like a light saber when it comes on. All the Phantasm films have their great moments, but we all know we’re just waiting around for the balls to do their thing and cut some people up. On that front, Phantasm II surely does not disappoint.
When Universal agreed to do the sequel, they gave Coscarelli a budget of 3 million dollars, more than any other Phantasm movie would get but less than any other film produced by the studio the same year. The best money spent has to be on the house that blows up at the beginning of the film. At the time, California was building a new highway, and for the price of $200, the production bought a house that was in directly in the path of the construction. The state sold it to them with the agreement that they would move the house, which they did, after blowing the whole thing sky high. It’s one of those magical moments that makes me long for the days of practical effects, and it gives the film a great note to start on with a literal bang. For the rest of the running time, the action rarely ceases, and Phantasm II moves as a breakneck pace right up to its last frame.
If you haven’t seen Phantasm, then you should, but if you get your hands on a copy of Phantasm II, go ahead and watch it anyway. This sequel could nearly be a stand-alone film, and in many ways, it surpasses the original. I like the other films that follow it, but they never had the same manic pace and ferocity that the second installment showed. As the tagline read, “The Ball is Back”, and it was back with a vengeance.
Today’s bonus sequels list comes to us from good ol’ Johnny Boots of Freddy in Space and Win Free Horror Shit. Not only does this guy know his sequels, he’s a good egg as well. If you haven’t checked out the link in my sidebar to Johnny’s Trick r’ Treat UNICEF campaign, you really should. It’s a great cause, and a great time for horror fans to celebrate Halloween by giving a Treat for those less fortunate. Enough of that heavy stuff, lets see what Mr. Boots has to say about his picks:
Wrong Turn 2 - I was never a huge Wrong Turn fan but I loved what Joe Lynch did with the far superior, and far more fun, sequel. Mutant sex, off the charts gore, ROLLINS, it's just so much fun and the characters actually have more than one dimension, to boot.
Evil Dead 2 - Sure it's essentially a remake of Evil Dead but I much prefer the comedic Evil Dead over the scary Evil Dead, so this is more my cup of tea. Campbell and Raimi are at their best when they blend comedy with the horror and ED2 showcases both of them at the top of their game. Again, it's so much fun to watch, no matter how many times you've already seen it.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - It's a childhood favorite of mine and I still consider it the best Elm St. sequel out of the bunch. Kincaid is a golden god, as far as I’m concerned.
Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter - Another childhood favorite and the fact that Feldman and Crispin are both in it certainly doesn't hurt. Combine that with Savini effects and you've got good old-fashioned Friday fun that surpasses even the original, in my book.
Halloween 3 - I've said it before and I'll keep on saying until I convert every last H3 hater on the planet - if this movie was simply called Season of the Witch, it'd be mandatory viewing for every horror fan every Halloween. It's a truly awesome movie, one of the best Halloween (the holiday) movies of all time - it's just that nobody can get past the fact that Myers isn't in it. Get over it, accept it, and watch the movie as the standalone Season of the Witch and you'll see what I mean.
That’s a great list there, Johnny, and there’s a few that are still to come on the countdown. I don’t think I knew Rollins was in Wrong Turn 2, and I may just have to check that one out for myself. That’s it for today folks. So join me back here tomorrow as we continue counting them down as Halloween approaches quicker every day.