Phantasm: RaVager (2016)

We’ve come to the end, my dear Enamaniacs. Phantasm: RaVager is today’s feature and B-Movie Enema will finally complete Phantasm Sequels Month.

This one is interesting. I saw this at the Centerbrook Drive-In in Martinsville, Indiana in October of 2016 with a trio of friends. It played as part of a doubleheader with the original movie. It was the first time in a looooong time I had visited a drive-in, so that part was pretty awesome. It’s always fun to watch the original Phantasm. So that was pretty awesome too.

Then Ravager started. I ain’t gonna lie… The first time I saw this I was confused. I was not too happy about the movie. It felt really, really weird. In fact, I would argue that this movie, the only film in the franchise NOT directed by Don Coscarelli, though he did co-write it with director David Hartman, is maybe the most divisive one of the bunch. It’s got a lot of references to past movies, with even a returning character most would have no idea who she is if they hadn’t been watching the series recently just prior to watching this one. It’s not told in a very linear way. It jumps between at least two realities. It’s a strange movie.

But, undeniably, I think this puts a final stamp on the series and has a lot to say about something that we’ve had to question ourselves a lot during the course of this series.

I mentioned last time that Roger Avary, Quentin Tarantino’s writing partner on Pulp Fiction, loved the Phantasm movies. So much so, he had a plan for this epic, post-apocalyptic, end-all be-all entry. Oblivion came from that project stalling a bit and Coscarelli deciding to do something to act as a bit of a prologue. We saw the Tall Man striding through an empty Los Angeles. Ravager borrows from that concept quite a bit.

As we will see, there’s something else it uses to tell the story too. It’s a movie that allows for you to look at it from two different perspectives. It’s not a movie that you can, at all, choose to think both things are happening at the same time. Not unless you want to bring in a multiversal idea on top of the inter-dimensional idea. So, yeah, Phantasm is all about the Tall Man coming to our dimension, taking the bodies of the dead, reanimating them, using them as slave labor on his world, and just generally mucking everything up on Earth. Former ice cream man Reggie, along with family friend Mike, chase after the Tall Man to try to stop him, but they just can’t seem to figure it out, can they? The Tall Man, for a little while, seemed to want Mike to take over the inter-dimensional murder and reanimate business, but, by the end of the last movie, that seems to not be the case anymore. Oh, and Mike had a brother, Jody, who died in the first movie, and came back in the last two entries as one of the Tall Man’s spherical weapons.

Let’s dive in and see if we can bring this beast of a series in for a safe landing.

We begin things on a desolate road in the middle of nowhere. Reggie, still in his ice cream man duds and carrying his signature, four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun is keeping up with the good fight… At least what’s left of a good fight. He tells himself that he sure could use a rocket pop right about now. That actually sounds good. I should put that on my next grocery list.

Reggie says despite it being hot and hardly any water or food, it’s good to be home. If this was even home. He can’t tell what’s real anymore because of the Tall Man. Reggie also says that, indeed, Mike is gone. The guy he swore to protect is no more. So, yeah, as a direct sequel to Oblivion, Mike died. It doesn’t exactly say where Reggie’s been since the last movie, or if this is present day or supposedly right after Oblivion. The important, operative phrase was “I can’t tell what’s real anymore.”

Reggie’s on foot because someone took off with the Hemicuda that was stashed in the desert. As it so happens, the guy who took off with the car, is now pulling up to Reggie and honking to get him off the road so he can get by.

The guy has no idea how to care for the ‘Cuda as it sputters and stalls on him. Reggie, knowing where a gun is hiding, is able to get the car back from the thief and get his clothes so he has something cleaner to wear. Unfortunately for the thief, there are two spheres patrolling the highway too and one takes care of him while the other sphere chases Reg. After dealing with the thief, the second sphere joins the fray and Reggie has to shoot it, but avoid the second. Eventually, Reggie is able to shoot the second as well and continues on.

The scene suddenly shifts to Reggie in a wheelchair being pushed by… Mike.

Okay, let’s tackle a couple things right now. First, this movie was made on a relatively light budget. There is a lot of computer generated effects, like the spheres and some other things we’ll see later. It’s not exactly well integrated. Maybe someday there will be a desire to clean it up a little bit more with the effects where possible, but the movie struggles a little bit with special effects. That’s okay. What I care about is more the story and what it’s trying to tell me anyway.

The second important thing to understand is, as I mentioned earlier, the story is told in fits and starts. The reason for this kind of non-linear storytelling is that the movie is told from, as best as I can tell, three different worlds/universes/dimensions. It’s hard to say exactly which one of those three nouns it actually is. The first, is the stuff that we have typically seen in the past three movies with Reggie driving through empty highways and finding out of the way places to lay low. The second is a more apocalyptic world that is mostly in darkness and shows the world totally overrun by the Tall Man and his various minions and devices. Thirdly, it’s a frail Reggie who is in a nursing home dealing with dementia. He’s often visited by Mike and Jody.

The crux of Ravager is understanding the three worlds and the three versions of Reggie’s reality. You are more than welcome to choose which one you think is the real reality. You are also allowed to say that everything is a construct and a machination of the Tall Man. That he, being an inter-dimensional being, is able to warp time and space around him. One step further, you can also believe they are ALL reality – from a multiverse or multi-dimensional perspective.

This means you can read this movie, and even the entire series, in multiple ways.

So, in this first scene at the nursing home, Mike does say that he’s there for Reggie because he looked after him after Jody died. Mike also reveals Reggie has early onset dementia. When Reggie says this is just another one of “his tricks”, Mike just shakes his head. Reggie was brought there after being found roaming the desert. Mike asks for Reggie to tell him the story about what he thinks is going on. So, Reggie does. He, being the horniest guy in all of horror, picks up a redhead whose car is broken down on the side of the road. She introduces herself as Dawn. Dawn is hot.

He takes Dawn to her home, which is basically a small farm. She explains that her parents were Bulgarian and their farmhand, Demeter, stayed on after they passed away. That night, apparently Reggie told Dawn about his story. She gives him this look as if to say, “Oh you poor old man…” Even Reggie seems to realize his story is kind of goofy. She decides to hit the sack and Reggie was going to ask to sleep with her, but he changes gears and says he’s going to write her a song.

As Dawn gets in bed, he works on that song. Reggie starts on the lyrics and he suddenly can’t remember that she introduced herself as Dawn. That’s not normal. She eventually decides that maybe she does want Reggie to occupy that empty side of her bed, but he’s out like a light. As the Tall Man watches from outside, he sends one of his spheres to check things out.

Reggie has a peculiar dream… He’s in an old-timey hospital in the bed next to his lies Jebediah Morningside. He asks Reggie why he’s there. Reggie says he’s looking for a friend and Jebediah says he’s lost so many friends and that he’s sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but he thinks this place is where people go to die. Jebediah’s tone changes as he tells Reggie he will never be safe and he’ll always be watching him.

Reggie wakes up on Dawn’s couch. He looks outside to see Demeter taking care of the horses in the barn. He then decides to go ask Dawn about hanging out for a couple days. When she doesn’t respond, he gets a little worried. He goes upstairs to see that Dawn is… Well, she’s not going to be asking him again about occupying that empty side of her bed.

The sphere then chases after Reggie. He gets to the ‘Cuda and arms up. He hides in a barn where he finds Demeter. Demeter is a big guy with an axe. Demeter doesn’t speak English. He also wants to yell at Reggie. They stop yelling at each other when they see the sphere attacking a horse outside the barn. Demeter opens the barn door, which lets the sphere in. Demeter hits the sphere which causes it to bounce off a support beam and come back at him and attach to his throat.

This whole scene is one of the issues with Ravager. In one regard, it does kind of stay up with the general comedic tones that past entries have used. That’s okay. No issue with the lighter stuff. But this scene comes across as farce. Plus, it’s not exactly shot well. This movie is very clearly shot on digital video.

Where the other entries were shot on film, this one doesn’t look quite the same. It’s too crisp. Digital always has that look and feel of being kind of fakey. There’s not as good depth of field in digital and medium and close up shots look almost amateurish. I can allow for some iffy effects. Fuck… I have seen a lot of iffy special effects. But when a little too much is attempted with a digital camera to make a scene or shot feel a little more kinetic, it doesn’t go over too well with me.

Would that necessarily mean that if this was shot on film the scene would be better? I don’t know. Like I said, it comes off a tiny bit farcical. It’s hard to say how I would have felt with a little different way of it being presented.

Anyway, this brings us back to Reggie and Mike at the hospital. Reggie says that things are starting to all run together. He asks Mike about a threat and if he’s seen it. Mike says no, but agrees the graverobbing guy would be formidable. Mike explains that it’s possible Reggie is experiencing some sort dimensional shift. He and all his other selves are shifting on a timeline together. Maybe he’s in two places at the same time. We’ll come back around to this in a bit.

Reggie wants to hear none of this. This doesn’t defeat the Tall Man. Reggie starts yelling that Mike needs to wake up because the Tall Man has put them both in this place. Mike tells him to calm down and maybe it’s time to take him back to his room.

After leaving Dawn’s farm, Reggie wanders through the wilderness alone trying to figure out where to go. He looks desperate and worried. It’s not a normal look for him in these movies. He hears someone calling his name, but he doesn’t see anything. He eventually finds something familiar – one of the inter-dimensional forks. Worse, what’s in the sky is even scarier.

Back at the hospital, Reggie laments to Mike that he doesn’t want to die there. He wants to go out on his feet while blasting these demon fuckers with his four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun. He then realizes that Mike isn’t there and he’s alone. So he gets out of his wheelchair and looks around. We hear the hum of a fork, and Reggie eventually sees it right there on the grounds of the hospital.

In both realities where he’s standing at the fork, he considers putting his hands on it to stop it, but doesn’t. Instead, he decides to walk through it. At the one by Dawn’s place, this Reggie enters a white room with the Tall Man just standing there. When he moves, he turns to face Reggie and states that their paths have crossed again. Reggie wants to know where he is. The Tall Man says it’s not where, but when. They are basically in Morningside just before everything started in the original. The Tall Man tells Reggie he will return his wife and daughter as long as Reggie stays out of the way. The Tall Man has plans for something that will be good for everyone. Reggie wants him to return Jody and Mike too. The Tall Man refuses that. He says he will give Reggie time to think it over, but it must be quick. Things are already in motion.

When Reggie emerges from the fork, he’s in a mausoleum. Like so many others, it’s quiet and empty. Oh, well, except for the dwarf minions. There are some of those there too.

There’s somebody else here too. Remember waaaay back in the first movie, there was the lady in purple? She would seduce men and send them to their deaths. She’s here too. It’s also the original actress too. She floats toward Reggie and attempts to kiss him but she then screams and turns into a demon like thing and Reggie shoots her in the face. Here’s the thing, though… Wasn’t she the Tall Man too?

Never mind. They got the original actress to do this scene. It’s cool. It’s fine. Let’s move on.

Where she was originally seen, it now looks like a big cave. Reggie decides to go into the cave. There are dwarves all over the place. They’re skittering around. They are climbing the walls. They’re everywhere! The cave crumbles and Reggie is confronted again by the Tall Man. The Tall Man asks if he’s had a chance to think over that proposal he gave him, like, five minutes ago. Reggie tells him to get bent.

Again, Reggie asks for Mike and Jody. He declines the offer for his wife and daughter because Reggie doesn’t want reanimated zombies. Instead, he wants his friends out a sense of loyalty. The Tall Man sees that as a real dumb concept. His generosity is at an end. He sends Reggie back to the world, but this is a nightmare world.

He wakes up strapped to a chair and a dwarf, not one of the Tall Man’s but a real person one, enters this room and cuts Reggie out of his bindings. A second person comes in and reveals herself. She looks just like Dawn. However, she introduces herself as Jane. The little fella is Chunk.

Okay, so this is the third world shown in the movie. The first, I’ll call the Dawn world. That’s where Reggie met Dawn, escaped from her place, and then went through the fork to get the offer from the Tall Man. The hospital world is often referred to as the dream world, but I don’t refer to it as that for reasons I’ll explain later. This is the nightmare world. This is the post-apocalyptic world where the Tall Man has completely taken over and the world is completely fucked.

This nightmare world feels more like the answer to a lot of the questions I had before about what is going on in larger cities. I think this feels more like something Roger Avary was probably thinking of. I’m sure some of it has been changed, but this is a world that the Tall Man has done everything he wanted. Chunk and Jane found Reggie with his head between two smaller versions of the inter-dimensional tuning fork. Chunk says the Tall Man uses that to extract information he needs. It also tends to drive people crazy or remove all hope and happiness from them. Eventually, Reggie finds Mike in this nightmare world.

Mike says Reggie’s been asleep for a decade. He survived the whole thing in the desert and Reggie’s been missing since. So the nightmare world is, I suppose, the direct sequel to Oblivion. I wonder if the Dawn world is maybe a continuation from a different movie or a split timeline from Oblivion or what. Potentially, they could have set that up to be the case if they wanted. It’s also possible the Dawn world is related to the so-called “dream” world.

Meh… I find it a lot easier to maybe just not think too much about it.

In the hospital, Reggie comes out of one of his confused states. He thinks he’s alone there at first, but he does see another old-timer there with his walker shuffling around. A nurse finds him and tries to calm him down and put him back in his room. In the nightmare world, he’s simultaneously getting attacked by one of the gravediggers with the gas masks. Mike explains that they are sometimes one of their own guys who got put down and brought back by the Tall Man with added strength.

In this nightmare world, there are some new tools in the Tall Man’s arsenal. One of which is a red ball that has spikes all over it like a morning star. It also explodes. So it lodges itself into some poor schmuck’s head and then it explodes it.

At the hospital, Mike comes to see Reggie. Reggie rambles on about how he can’t seem to get himself situated. He can’t stay in any one place or time for long. But Mike says he had one of Reggie’s dream. After they blew up the Tall Man in the desert with the hearse, eventually, Mike woke up and couldn’t find Reggie. So he went looking for him. However, things had gone south. The Tall Man was taking over the world with giant spheres. Governments and societies collapsed. An alien virus was let loose on the population and most people died. The virus would make their heads swell until they popped.

While Mike tells the story to Reggie in the hospital, Mike is telling him the story of what happened in the nightmare world. Reggie tries to tell Mike he’s done. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. The Tall Man and his cronies start to approach. Mike tries blowing him up with a bazooka. In the hospital, Mike comes back and tells Reggie they gotta go and fast.

In the nightmare world, Mike and Reggie try to save a captured Jane by going directly to the Tall Man’s home world. I mean… I guess they would one day have to take this series to where the Tall Man is from, right? Right? But one of the primary issues I had with Ravager from the first time I saw it was that it really felt like there were three movies trying to be made here. Any two of the movies worked, but trying to do all three was a bit overblown, especially as we enter these last, oh, 20 minutes or so.

There is a nugget here of a great idea. Letting the Tall Man’s effect on these characters ramp up to an incredible level. Letting him really fuck with Reggie is interesting. The problem is that the movie could really only sustain about an 85-90 minute runtime. All this jumping around, messing about with inter-dimensional travel and messing with a character’s head, it really starts to take its toll on the story. it’s disjointed. It’s a little too heady for what the movie is also trying to accomplish. It’s rotting the movie from the inside out. It’s…

Heh… It’s ravaging the movie. Well, you got me there, movie.

Okay, so this is now a straight up damsel in distress situation where Mike and Reggie are trying to save Jane. Okay, fine. I’ll allow all of this for one reason alone that I’ve been teasing for a while and am getting very close to finally fleshing out. The Tall Man says the pair can use their weapons, but it’s not going to do anything. There are thousands of him stretched out to all of existence. He’s in dimensions they can’t even imagine. He’s basically not just inevitable, he is eternal.

Reggie asks a good question – if the Tall Man was so goddamn powerful, why hadn’t he been able to kill them. He says Mike was his subject and Reggie was his entertainment. The Tall Man has his goon holding Jane to snap her neck. Meanwhile, Chunk, disguised as one of the dwarves gets close to the Tall Man and uses grenades to blow him up.

Reggie is back at the hospital and he sees into the nightmare world where Mike tosses him his four-barreled, sawed-off shotgun. He sees the hospital staff look like gas mask goons. Reggie and Mike battle their way free once more. What’s more, the ‘Cuda is still around and it’s armed to the teeth. Driving it? Jody.

Being the first time that we’ve actually seen Jody in this movie, you might be thinking this don’t make a lick of sense. And… you are more than welcome to think that. However, I have a read on this whole thing that I do believe makes this make total sense. They ride off and away from the Tall Man’s army.

They ride out to the desert that looks like a similar patch of road from the beginning of the movie. The three amigos from the very beginning are reunited. No one else in Mike’s squad made it. It’s just the three of them. Mike says they are going to go north where it’s cold. The Tall Man won’t go where it’s cold. Exhausted, Reggie goes to sleep in the back of the ’71 Barracuda as it rides off on the highway.

In the hospital, Reggie, with Mike and Jody beside him, dies peacefully in bed.

As I mentioned earlier, there are multiple ways to read this movie – though I would say there are really only TWO correct ways to read into it. One way is to view this as three different stories that interconnect through the character of Reggie. He really is experiencing multiple dimensions or universes. He’s at least mentally connected to the other versions of himself. One is rooted in more of a real world. Another is the hero who helps hot women on the side of the road and will never give up trying to find Mike and kill the Tall Man. The third is more accurate to his original version as an ice cream man with Mike and Jody really being the heroes and guys with the plans. I would say most people read the movie in that way.

Honestly, that’s probably the easiest way to read the movie which is also funny that it uses the most complicated concepts of a multiverse and dimensions and what have you.

How I read it is the only other way to read it – at least in my opinion. The Phantasm series was not one that actually happened. It helps understand how some inconsistencies happen from one movie to the next. Hell, even in instances from one scene to the next. This was all how Reggie was handling dementia.

The movie is called Ravager for a reason. Yes, the Tall Man ravages the world. To me, it is more connected to dementia. It is ravaging Reggie’s mind and tearing his world down around him. As he started to lose his grip on reality, he was that ice cream man in the original movie, confused and a little out of his element. As his mind was falling apart more and more, he was the warrior fighting against an unstoppable monster. He was doing it for his friend(s). Then, in his final days and hours, he was that confused ice cream man once again as he fades away.

One thing I’m not sure about is Jody. Did Jody die when Mike was younger and, thus, Mike had to be raised by Reggie? It’s mentioned in the hospital world. However, there’s definitely recognition from Mike when he and Jody are there when Reggie passes. Mike acknowledges Jody. So, that may have all been a fabrication too. Maybe Reggie’s dementia took Jody away from him. He doesn’t remember him or he reconfigured that to believe, and hear Mike say it himself, that he took care of Mike. I’m not sure.

One thing I do know… Reggie driving off in the back of the ’71 Barracuda while Jody and Mike lead the charge is a little something like King Arthur being carried off to Avalon. He’s being taken by his friends to the hereafter.

I see this entire film as being an allegory for dementia or Alzheimer’s. It can retroactively be made into explaining everything in the series if you view it from that perspective. At the very least, you can say that about the sequels. Even when some ideas and things from one of the worlds crosses over into another, it’s entirely in line with Reggie’s mind having to re-order itself to fit whatever reality he thinks it is.

It’s kind of a sad movie in that regard. It’s got its problems. Some scenes are very poorly shot. Some lines are not very well written or delivered all that well. It’s got some pretty bad effects that almost makes the movie feel incomplete. However, there’s emotion here. We’re seeing these characters in this way for the last time. It’s clear for the entire run of the series, there was no way to stop the Tall Man. How else are you going to end the series? That also only strengthens anything I’ve ever said in any Phantasm article I’ve done. The Tall Man is death. He tells Mike and Reggie that he is eternal.

That’s right. There was no escaping him no matter how much guile you have or fighting you do, he will win. Reggie dies at the end of this. He dies because that’s what will always happen. He fought like hell, but he cannot defeat death. He doesn’t die standing or sacrificing himself to kill the Tall Man to save Mike. No. He dies in bed after battling dementia. It’s sad, but it makes sense to connect everything back to that and to have the Tall Man be the personification of death.

It makes this movie’s theme nearly perfect even if the movie itself is a bit troubled in other departments.

But they kind of ruin it, don’t they? There’s a mid-credits scene that is totally unnecessary and confuses the entire message it wants to send. Chunk emerges from a dimensional fork, still alive from blowing up the Tall Man. He’s found by Rocky, who hadn’t been seen since 1994’s Phantasm III. Why is she here? What this has to do with the movie as a whole is not explained. Yes, they get picked up by Mike and Jody with Reggie in the back. That indicates there is still a story to be told but… No thank you. Reggie’s death was beautiful and perfect in an imperfect production. It made you think about some deeper stuff. That was where this should have just ended. I didn’t need to see that Chunk survived. He wasn’t that important or interesting. Rocky coming back doesn’t really matter either. I mean, it’s cool, but unnecessary.

Anyway… I’m done. I don’t need to talk or think about Phantasm anymore for a while. So, let’s move onto other things, yes? September comes with some new stuff to talk about. We’ll start with finishing out the Lucio Fulci Gates of Hell Trilogy with The House By the Cemetery. That lands next Friday. If you want to know exactly when, do me a big solid by going to the right hand side of the screen, scroll up, and follow B-Movie Enema on Facebook and Twitter. Also, subscribe to the other places like YouTube and Vimeo to watch episodes of B-Movie Enema: The Series. The next episode drops tomorrow and it’s kind of fitting all things considered because I’ll be watching and talking about Invitation to Hell. We’ll see you back here soon!

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