Friday, October 21, 2011
A Frank Review of "Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead" (1994)
The Short Version? The Balls Are Back, as well as half the first film's cast after a skipped chapter.
What Is It? Horror Action Comedy.
Who Is In It? The Phantasm cast.
Should I See It? Yes.
A fun aspect of the Phantasm movies is that they are so plainly products of their time, begging for direct comparisons since they always involve flashbacks to previous episodes. Even more hilariously, we've got the character of Mike originated by A. Michael Baldwin, who was replaced by James LeGros for a sequel, but Baldwin resumes the role five minutes after LeGros' in-story exit but seventeen years since he first filmed it as a teenager. Suffice to say, not only is there no similarity whatsoever between Baldwin and LeGros, but Baldwin is barely even recognizable as himself nearly doubled in age. Similarly, Bill Thornbury returns as brother Jody after the same duration of absence, except Jody died in 1977, has been supernaturally revived after a fashion, and still manages to be a dumpy middle aged dude. Meanwhile, Reggie Bannister somehow keeps chugging along, just a bit grayer. Director/writer/creator Don Coscarelli sure chose his protagonist well.
As mentioned, this film once again tries to pick up right after the previous installment, despite a lapse of about six years and casting changes. A primary character from the first sequel gets thrown under the bus as a result, and I guess they must have also been ground under the wheels and gummed up in the trans-axle, by the look of things. Not unaware of the strain this puts on the narrative and suspension of disbelief, Coscarelli tries to distract from the problem by throwing a slew of plot tangents at the screen until he can see what sticks. Not to get deep into details, but besides the two original cast members returned to intermittently reprise their roles, Reggie is joined in Tall Man hunting by two entirely new soldiers of types generally frowned upon by the stereotypical horror fan. However, they're both very capable (sometimes to the point of being Mary Sues,) and interact well with Reggie in their pursuit of becoming America's Next 3rd Tier Franchise Players.
Coscarelli is clever in balancing the comfortingly familiar with entirely left field elements. There's his signature shot of a sleeping passenger coming to and being greeted by a new/returning cast member, sphere POVs, the crawl through ghost towns, trips past the forks, and creeping through the mausoleums. On the other hand, old characters are put through bizarre paces under radically altered circumstances, the new characters are unexpected and offer different dynamics, while the series' mythology is advanced without burdening it with full, entirely lucid explanations. A defining characteristic of this series is dream logic, so that last bit is important.
Despite a total of four original cast members, Lord of the Dead feels more like the successor to Phantasm II than the original. The action is shot in a similar fashion, the influence of Sam Raimi's brand of comedic action-gore is still keenly felt, and it seems like a lot of the developments with Mike were necessitated to explain why the status quo from II had to be altered to accommodate the return of A. Michael Baldwin. While not as strong as its predecessors, Phantasm III has its own quirky charms, and its inventive contributions to the series should not be discounted. While Angus Scrimm's Tall Man remains the iconic face of the franchise, the familial qualities of the cast and unpredictable turns remain at the heart of the series.
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