As promised, here we are at Phantasm Sequel Month on B-Movie Enema.
Earlier this year, I went deep into what I felt the themes of the first Phantasm from 1979 were. I tied it a lot to loss and dealing with death as a teenager, the time in which most people feel pretty invincible and don’t have to deal with the specter of death looming closely behind them. It was pretty clear that Mike had some unresolved issues with the loss of his parents and was scared of losing his brother Jody as well. Naturally, Jody would be lost, so were the events dealing with the Tall Man all in his head or was there some sort of other other-worldly, inter-dimensional, metaphysical thing going on?
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Did the movie scare you? Did you have a good time watching the movie? That’s all that Don Coscarelli was going for. Okay, sure, maybe he had themes and ideas he was exploring, but he made the movie he wanted to show audiences plain and simple. No one was asking for a sequel. It maybe didn’t need one.
Then, on July 8, 1988, Phantasm II arrived.
I will admit, as a kid, I thought EVERYTHING got a sequel. Star Wars, Friday the 13th, Rambo, and Freddy Krueger got sequels. Why not everything else? Shit, even Pee Wee Herman had two movies. Anyway, I thought everything got more movies to continue the story or saga or whatever. Now that I’m older, I realize sometimes things don’t need, or should not get, sequels.
However, I must have also been the head of Universal Pictures in the 80s because they were trying HARD for franchises. After Jaws, they made three more of decreasing quality and diminishing returns. After Halloween, Universal wanted to throw money at it and made Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. They even made Psycho sequels. The point I’m trying to make is that Universal wanted a franchise. So, eventually they heard that people liked Phantasm and Universal had three million bucks to spare. Phantasm II was a go.
So how do you continue a story like Phantasm? Forget about that it was nine years ago made by a guy who cast a trio of nobody actors that maybe weren’t even currently professionals. Should you tell a wholly new story with the Tall Man? Do you try to solve for the last nine years and age everyone up? At that point, you don’t have to bring back the original people if Universal wasn’t too into it.
Let’s not forget that the original wasn’t a straight-forward story either. It was weeeeeird, man. You had situations that didn’t seem to go in linear storytelling fashion. You had nightmares that might have also been real. You had situations that disjointingly didn’t fit together from one moment to the next. You had characters die only to live and characters who lived only to die. You see what I’m getting at?
This isn’t exactly Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia continuing their fight against Darth Vader and everyone shooting pew pew laser guns at each other.
However, this would start a franchise that would comprise five films. Each one of the sequels, much like the first film, would explore some different themes that wouldn’t be all that common to horror films – especially of the era in which these movies were coming out. Don Coscarelli certainly did not seem to be interested in making your run-of-the-mill slasher. He wanted to do some weird shit to your eyeballs!
As we go through this slate of movies this month, I’ll be trying to explain some of the things I think about as I watch them. Maybe not all the things I think about, or land on thematically, will be the exact thing the movie was going for. Maybe I put a little too much thought on some of the stuff that happens in the movies. That’s okay. I bet Coscarelli would still appreciate that someone is thinking that much about his creations and the series that he put together over a few years in the late 70s.
So, let’s dive right into Phantasm II and start this month off by answering the question of how you make a sequel to one of the most original and bizarre horror films of the 70s.
Alright… Well, how do you start a sequel to Phantasm? Well, as mentioned previously, you put that Universal logo at the beginning, but, even more accurately, you open with a blonde girl, Elizabeth Reynolds, waking up from a nightmare and checking to make sure the stove isn’t on so her place blows up. She then reads from her journal about how, eight years ago, she began having dreams that connected to Mike from the original. This leads to us getting a continuation of what happened that night that Mike was grabbed through his mirror while packing up and getting ready to hit the road with Reggie.
Reggie sees the Tall Man and one of his Jawas trying to snatch Mike so he arms himself with a shotgun, but, uh oh… No bullets. He goes looking for bullets and out pops one of those dwarf dudes. After Reggie finally gets the upper hand on the little monster, he beats the shit out of it with this shotgun. Too bad there are, like, a whole gaggle of them in the kitchen to eat Reggie. So, he puts out the pilot light on the stove, turns up the gas, shimmies up the laundry chute, and saves Mike while he waits for the place to explode. Before the place goes up, he has to escape the dwarves by jumping out of the second story window.
There is a really cool shot of Angus Scrimm walking away from Mike and Jody’s house from the first movie with it exploding in the background. Then he just turns back and sees what’s going on, and then turns back, puts the coffin in the back of his hearse, and he leaves. Elizabeth explains that she and Mike grew up together connected by their dreams and shared worry over the Tall Man. In particular, Elizabeth is worried that her grandfather will die soon and the Tall Man will come for him.
Mike has grown up to become James LeGros. Prior to this, LeGros was known for Solarbabies, Near Dark, and *batteries not included. After this, he’d go on to be in some relatively significant movies, at least to me, in the 90s, like Point Break and Singles as well as a ton more. His inclusion in this movie is because Universal wanted a working actor and A. Michael Baldwin, the original Mike, was not in the business at the time of production. This, of course, was met with some controversy because people cannot stand it when situations call for changes like to be made in their beloved childhood movies or whatever. But I digress.
Mike has been in psychotherapy for the past seven or eight years since his whole ordeal with the Tall Man. Mike just tells the doctor what he wants to hear so he can get released. Immediately, Mike goes to a graveyard and digs up a few graves. Reggie is there to try to stop him, but Mike shows that all three of the graves he’s dug up are full of empty coffins. Reggie goes on to even say the stuff we saw at the beginning with the exploding house and what not? Yeah, that wasn’t real. It was all part of Mike’s delusions. Mike asks for Reggie’s help. He needs to get to Elizabeth, who he’s psychically connected to. I’m sure none of this sounds crazy to Reggie with what he revealed about the opening scene and all.
And, yeah, let’s dissect this a little bit more, yes? Again, the series is playing fast and loose with reality. If the house didn’t explode, was that just Mike conjuring up that Reggie needed to save him from the Tall Man in his own head? It goes back to the idea that Mike might just be trying to reconcile some issues or worries or concerns he has with death, loss, being an orphan, etc. There could also be a metaphysical element too in which the imagination is crossing over into the real world. This won’t be the last mind fuck we’ll get in this series.
Speaking of… There’s one right now. As Reggie drives Mike home, he tells Mike how excited his family is to finally meet him, but, as Reggie says this, Mike has a vision of the Tall Man turning up the gas similarly to how Reggie did at the beginning and it blows his house up killing everyone inside. Now, Reggie, realizing that Mike did see this coming, is not bullshitting or just imagining things as part of a psychic break. The Tall Man must be a real thing.
So Reggie, pissed that his family is dead, decides they are going to hunt down this Tall Man motherfucker.
They break into a gun and hardware store, take a bunch of shovels, make a four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun and flamethrowers. Reggie narrates and explains that they followed the Tall Man’s path to the northwest. It wasn’t hard to see the path he took. Graveyards are all dug up. The towns are in ruins. He explains that some towns die a natural death while others are murdered. It’s easy to tell which ones were murdered and how it was done by the Tall Man.
I like the idea of the Tall Man cutting a swath through a part of the country like this. It makes you feel like you are in a nightmare or hell. You’d think people would notice that whole towns are razed and murdered like this, but no. Part of it could be the remote nature of some of these small towns. Part of it could be that, yeah, the existence of the Tall Man rots the world around him to the point that people don’t realize what he’s doing until it’s too late. It also makes it easy to put this world in a metaphorical and metaphysical world of being inside Mike’s head.
Again, though, what are Mike and Reggie doing? creeping around cemeteries, mortuaries, and the like. Do you want to be around these things? I mean, Mike already had some issues in the first movie, and he’s constantly dealing with death and things that deal death. It’s not a great place for anyone who has a generalized fear of dying or being left alone because of death.
In the basement of this mortuary, Mike and Reggie find Liz huddled in the corner. She’s barely responsive and we find out it’s because she’s in shock and her mouth is taped. As if that’s not enough of a concern to have for her, her back is… undulating. When the throw the blanket off her, she’s got a monster in her back. A monster that looks sort of like the Tall Man and definitely sounds like him beckoning the pair east, if they so dare. Reggie roasts the shit out of the thing.
However, they do decide to move east toward what Mike thinks is the girl from his dreams. There’s one last town before the Oregon border – Perigord. That’s Mike and Reggie’s destination. In Perigord, unfortunately, Liz’s grandpa has passed. Liz tries comforting her grandma who laments those she’s had to bury in her life. The priest in the town also seems to have some bad feelings about what’s on the horizon.
Liz is left alone with her grandma because her sister has to leave to get back to her family. As her sister, Jeri, leaves, Liz tries to follow, but loses track of her. She instead ends up in the mausoleum where she starts hearing and seeing some little things shuffling around. She realizes she’s not in a dream, so she contacts Mike psychically. He tells Reggie she’s in trouble and they head toward the town.
Back in Perigord, the preacher begs forgiveness from God because he’s seen too many terrible things and it must be stopped. He takes out a giant dagger and plunges it into Liz’s grandpa’s corpse. Unfortunately, Liz’s grandma witnesses it and collapses in terror. Meanwhile, in the mausoleum, Liz sees a steaming, dirt-covered coffin. She approaches, but is interrupted by the Tall Man who tells her that the gravesite services are about to begin. That night, disturbed about what he’s done, the preacher drinks, but also hears a scratching at his door. At first, he just thinks it’s the wind, but we all know better, don’t we? It’s a dwarf or a ball or a Tall Man or all three. Well, it’s at least a vision of Liz’s grandpa.
He also starts showing up elsewhere, like in Liz’s grandma’s bed which causes her to freak out and then kidnaps her.
The next day, Mike wakes up in the Hemicuda with Reggie driving. Unexpectedly, there’s a third member of the team inside the car, a hot ass babe named Alchemy. She goes by Chemmy – because sure. Mike tells Reggie that he’s seen Chemmy in his dreams. But in those dreams, she’s dead. He doesn’t think she should get mixed up with them. Reggie takes Mike’s dreams as coming true “not all the time” to say that, man, they’ve been out here a long time and he kind of wants to get his dick wet… Like REAL wet.
Chemmy is played by Sam Phillips. She is a model and radio show host. Up to this point, she got her start in music videos as a video babe. That was a whole thing in the 80s. Anyway, she’s hot and I kind of don’t blame Reggie for wanting in on that.
Okay, so yeah, Liz’s granny was kidnapped and she gets a message from the Tall Man saying that if Liz wants her, she has to come to the mortuary tonight. At the same time, Reggie, Mike, and Alchemy are coming into town. She comments on how the place seems dead and abandoned. She says that her uncle runs a bed and breakfast in town and she’s sure he will give them a room. The place is closed down. In fact, the town looks similarly to other towns Mike and Reggie have seen on the road. Locals are even shuddering themselves into their homes and pulling blinds to not be seen or notice what’s going on outside. As they get settled in, Reggie and Mike set up booby traps to make sure there are no Tall Man shenanigans while Chemmy catches some sexy z’s. Sezzy Z’s? Eh? Meh.
Not only is Liz roaming around the mortuary, and watching some of those Tall Man shenanigans happening there, but that priest from earlier is too. He notices a humming and kind of rattling box, and, instead of finding a copy of U2’s Rattle and Hum inside, he finds some spooky stuff. So he goes around blessing everything. The Tall Man comes out from behind a corner and tells him they have no need for his services anymore. He then suspends the priest in the air by his own rosary and says, “You think when you die, you go to heaven… You come to US.” That’s a bad ass line.
He lets the priest go, for now, and we get to see what was in that humming and rattling box…
When you see anything spherical in Phantasm, you should probably expect what is going to happen next. Liz gets nabbed by the priest who tells her that the whole town is being harvested and they need to tell everyone. As they hear something whirring toward their location, he goes to see what it might be. One ball flies by and cuts off his ear. The second does what we know best… Sticks in his head and drills into his brain, killing him. The Tall Man grabs her and throws her to the ground and has a dwarf come in for an attack. That dwarf? Liz’s grandma. Liz knocks her out and runs away. She runs right into Mike. This makes her lady bits tingle and she kisses him, which makes his guy bits tingle.
After getting out of there with Liz, they go back to the bed and breakfast. Liz tells of what she’s seen, and it confirms all the bonkers shit Mike saw in all his dealings with the Tall Man. Mike goes to watch over Liz while she sleeps. Reggie and Chemmy decide to fuck. Reggie is a bit out of his element as a balding, middle aged man because she wants to ride him like a crazy bull, and he can barely keep up.
The Tall Man begins his assault on the foursome as he creates a distraction so that he can grab Liz from the upstairs bedroom. Reggie and Mike chase after the hearse to save Liz. And you know what? We ALMOST get to see that four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun in action, but, alas, we’re only teased it.
A quick turn of the wheel on the hearse, causes the Hemicuda to go flipping over after being forced into an embankment. Mike is thrown, but Reggie is trapped by a jammed seatbelt. The car’s gas tank is leaking pretty bad and that leak is headed toward a tree that’s on fire. They barely get away from the car before it explodes. The Hemicuda going up in a blaze probably broke a lot of muscle car enthusiasts’ hearts.
Mike and Reggie make their way to the Perigord mortuary where Liz has been taken to the crematorium. Reggie finds some hydrochloric acid and dumps it into embalming fluid with the expectation that it’s gonna fuck up any plans to reanimate anyone. They also find a door that looks like it uses one of those flying balls as a key. Mike suggests that is probably the door to the Tall Man’s world. Liz wakes up just in time before being sent into the crematorium’s furnace and throws one of the Tall Man’s assistants in there instead.
Next, the balls come for Liz, but Mike is able to push her out of the way of one. It comes back and gets the Tall Man’s other assistant in the hand. To get away from the second ball, the assistant has to chop his own hand off. The ball then chases after Mike and Liz who hide from it in a room. The ball eventually busts into the supply closet, but it’s got a heating element that allows for it to bust into the room. It even has a laser it uses to blow up a rat. It ultimately uses a teeth like set of drilling ability to drill into and through that now one-handed assistant and kills him pretty horribly.
In another room, Reggie is taking on a guy wearing a gas mask. Reggie thinks he’s going to be able to big dick him by getting his chainsaw out and prepares to take the guy on. Well, that guy has an even bigger chainsaw? So that causes all sorts of problems. Eventually, Reggie puts the guy down by chainsawing him in the balls.
But, look out, Reg… There are dwarves in this basement too! Looks like you’re finally going to have to show us how fucking awesome that four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun is!
But, see… This kind of sucks. Reggie just tosses the gun to the side. Is that bad ass gun one a one-time use thing? What gives?
Mike gets the ball that is sticking out of the one guy’s hand so he can use it to open that door. Outside, Alchemy is trying to get to the mortuary. She finds a hearse and hotwires it to drive to where our heroes are. Don’t worry… We’ll see her again with that hearse in a short bit.
Sure enough, the ball is able to open the door to a room with one of the tuning forks for the Tall Man’s dimension. Reggie plans to torch the place, but before doing so, he and Mike get pushed into the tuning forks. They have fight their way back to our world as the Tall Man plans to embalm Liz.
They get back through the forks and stop the Tall Man from killing Liz just in time. Mike uses the ball to attack him. However, it has pretty much no effect. So while he tries to kill Mike, Liz sneaks up behind the Tall Man and sticks him with the embalming… thing. Wand? Hose? What is that called? Anyway, Reggie’s quick on his feet to turn on the thing and it starts sending that hydrochloric acid-mixed embalming fluid into the Tall Man and it seems to kill him.
Reggie torches the place and they go outside just in time for Alchemy to pull up and offer them a ride out of town. They drive off and everything seems to be coming up Reggie and Mike. Reggie says to Alchemy that she could have taken off, so it’s kind of great that she didn’t… But then he peels her hair off her scalp revealing that, no duh… She’s been dead the whole time. She was that naked chick on the slab back at that one town they were ate earlier.
The car starts to swerve and soon it stops to let a bleeding and, seemingly, fatally wounded Reggie out before it drives off again. Mike tells Liz that it’s all a dream. They’ll wake up and none of it will have happened. Liz smiles, agrees that it’s only a dream, but then the Tall Man opens the privacy slot and exclaims…
“NO! It’s not!”
The movie ends on yet another what the fuck moment. But, boy howdy, we need to get used to that in this series. Phantasm II will either be the favorite sequel for many or the least favorite. It will either be the most watchable out of the sequels or the least watchable. It’s a peculiar entry.
It’s easily the lightest on themes. It feels more like a soft rebooting of the series after nine years. It also feels the most like an 80s sequel in a horror franchise. It’s not until the next three that the series really pushes far out ideas. There is a little at play here, though. The idea that things that Mike claim to have occurred that doesn’t just exist in the primary plot of the first movie, but also the end, and the bridge over to the start of this movie was completely not part of anything Reggie remembers or was involved with. Yet, something does happen. Mike’s mental state makes the viewer question what’s really happening here.
Then again, just like I said earlier, you could argue that the Tall Man and everything that happens around him is creating a literal hell that the world sinks into. There’s also this psychic thing between Mike and Liz that is kind of weird. It’s like that was really popular at the time with Freddy dealing with a girl who could psychically pick up the abilities of her murdered friends and Jason soon to be taking on a form of Carrie in their respective series. Either way, dreams becomes an important part of this movie for Mike and Liz and even ends the movie with them hoping what is going on is just a dream.
Still, the movie is very stream of consciousness. Some ideas are brought up only to be tossed aside relatively quickly. Reggie picks up a hot piece of ass that Mike KNOWS is dead, but he relents very quickly and it’s forgotten until the semi-reveal at the end. Liz is very concerned for her family because she knows that will bring the Tall Man, but once her grandma dies and is turned into a dwarf minion, she doesn’t have an issue with bashing grandma in the head with a vase. ALL of that is completely forgotten once she connects with Mike in the real world because, fuck it, she’s got the guy whose name she’s written in her journal surrounded by hearts. I suppose there’s something that will be explored a little more with the religious stuff in upcoming sequels, but even that doesn’t go very far. The Tall Man is here. He’s gonna fuck stuff up, squish you down, and send you to his fucking world. What more do you need to know, asshole?
It is relatively clear that this is the movie Phantasm would have resembled in 1979 with the proper budget. A world wrecked. More than just one ball. Yellow goo spraying out of Angus Scrimm. Explosions. You name it. For that alone, this movie is an incredibly fun watch. Besides, I have a great deal of nostalgia going to see this with my brothers that summer it came out. I enjoy revisiting this one more than any of the other sequels – likely due to its lightness on themes and that nostalgia.
However… It’s not my favorite sequel in the series.
Okie dokie… We’re off and running on Phantasm Sequels Month. Next week, no duh, we’re going to take a deep dive into Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. This was the first of a pair of direct-to-video sequels in the 90s and one that really ramps up the what-the-fuckness. In addition, summer vacation is over for B-Movie Enema: The Series. Tomorrow, tune in for the tenth episode of this third season with 1980’s Phobia, directed by the legendary John Huston. Use all the links on the top of the column on on the right to follow the various socials as well as where you can watch the new episode tomorrow.
Until next time, remember, kiddos, piracy is NOT a victimless crime… BOY!