Monday, October 31, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm: OblIVion" (1998)

The Short Version? Phantasm 4. See Phantasm 1-3.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? The Phantasm guys.
Should I See It? No.

Phantasm IV is the least effective film of the series for a variety of reasons. Newer characters from the previous installment Tim and Rocky are dumped without further reference. Mike is flung off on a solitary drive after the troubling revelations of the previous installment, and Reggie left to meander, unaffected by his recent experiences and without clear purpose to pursue. There are sequences revealing the origins of the Phantasm universe, but they are barely informative and not terribly imaginative. Character development feels stalled, and there are some turnabout that don't really ring true. Folks are really starting to wear their ages, especially Angus Scrimm, whose Tall Man is looking to need a tall walker from Walgreens. It's hard not to notice, because a good chunk of the running time is devoted to repurposing unused footage from the first movie. These undeleted scenes have more vitality than the new material, even if they are confusing with regard to the always shaky continuity of the series. Since the footage is tied to reflections of the characters in their current situations, the film feels less horrific than melancholic, wistful for better days and the financing to produce better films.

Speaking of which, the most likely culprit for IV's lackadaisical vibe is "Phantasm 1999 A.D.," a post-apocalyptic version of part 4 written by Pulp Fiction's Roger Avery. The script was well received by franchise founder Don Coscarelli, but the financing never materialized, so this was filmed as some sort of stopgap. The necessary spinning of wheels is obvious, and drains the life out of this picture as surely as the film itself left the series stranded in Death Valley, living up to the oblivion in the title. There are a few strained new uses for the phantasm balls, some scenes worth visiting, and a snail's progress in the characters' journeys. Still, this installment feels pointless, beyond perhaps setting up a reboot/continuation down the line with Mike replacing Scrimm as The Child Actor Who Aged Creepily.

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