Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide ’16: Phantasm Ravager

Could this be the end of Don Coscarelli horror/sci-fi franchise? Say it isn’t so. Phans are always down for more, but the death of Angus Scrimm means the iconic Tall Man will no longer menace Mike Pearson. Arguably, Scrimm was the greatest surviving heir to the horror tradition embodied by Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. He will be missed, but perhaps Kat Lester’s Lady in Lavender can tag in for him. At least Scrimm provides Phans some final creepy moments in David Hartman’s Phantasm: Ravager (trailer here), co-scripted and produced by Coscarelli, which is now available on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.

Reggie the ice cream man is having a bad day, but he has not had a lot of good days in the last thirty-seven years. As a close friend of Mike and Jody Pearson, the horny troubadour was pulled into the battle against the Tall Man and his intergalactic hellions years ago. So far, he has survived, but the Pearson Brothers’ status is uncertain.

Reggie is desperately looking for Mike, his one-time ward, but he keeps slipping through time in planes of existence, roughly a la Slaughterhouse-Five. Each version of the world offers its own particular perils, but they all involve the Tall Man. There is the dystopian Terminator-like world and the Potemkin-feeling interludes, in which Reggie is a sanitarium patient diagnosed with early dementia. However, the most Phantasm-like sequences involve Reggie’s attempts to woo a stranded motorist that will eventually be interrupted by the Sentinel Spheres.

Frankly, there is so much jumping around for Ravager, any sense of narrative cohesion goes out the window. Naturally, the ending is also maddeningly indeterminate, so it is highly debatable whether it adds up to anything. On the plus side, there are a lot of cleverly executed Phan favorite call-backs, including a long chase scene featuring the ‘Cuda muscle car and the Spheres. The Sentinel Spheres themselves are badder and bloodier than ever. Scrimm does his thing with relish and the bond shared by Reggie and the Pearsons is as potent as ever. There is even a return trip to Morningside Mausoleum.

In fact, it is those themes of friendship, family, and loyalty that give the Phantasm franchise way more emotional heft than most low budget genre movies. Reggie Bannister (in the role he was born to play, since it was written expressly for him) maintains the energy and attitude Phans expect and Scrimm could still kill small animals with a withering stare. Depending whether you are a glass-half-full-or-empty kind of person, you could either say there is too much crammed into Ravager or just enough. Yet, as always, something about the characters and their travails will stick in your subconscious. Phantasm: Ravager is mostly recommended for Phans, whereas every genre enthusiast should either catch up with or revisit Phantasm: Remastered (seriously, the original essentially has the same plot as A Monster Calls, with Scrimm and Liam Neeson playing the monsters). Both are now available on DVD, BluRay, and digital, from Well Go USA.