Review: Phantasm II (1988)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #784

Number of Views: Three
Release Date: July 8, 1988
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $3,000,000
Box Office: $7,300,000
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Don Coscarelli
Producer: Roberto A. Quezada
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Special Effects: Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Everett Burrell
Visual Effects: Justin Klarenbeck
Cinematography: Daryn Okada
Score: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Editing: Peter Teschner
Studios: Spacegate Productions, Starway International Inc., Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Angus Scrimm, James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips, Kenneth Tigar, Rubin Kushner, Ruth C. Engel, Stacey Travis, A. Michael Baldwin, J. Patrick McNamara, Mark Anthony Major

Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] JapanQuiet Life”

[2] Fred Myrow & Christopher L. Stone “Phantasm Theme (Nightcrawler Remix)”

[3] Dion & The Belmonts “The Wanderer”

[4] Fred Myrow & Christopher L. Stone “Phantasm II Theme”

Don’t you just hate rules and regulations. Imagine how much more harmonic the world would be if everyone was permitted to do exactly what they wanted. Okay scrap that, perhaps not exactly. But a little less stipulation from time to time certainly wouldn’t go amiss. For example, were you aware that theaters in Glendale, California are only permitted to show horror films on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday? That, in Idaho, citizens are strictly forbidden to gift each other boxes of candy that weigh in excess of 50 pounds? Or that the good people of Kentucky are required by law to bathe at least once every calendar year? Thus you can take your poky terms and conditions and poke them as far as I’m concerned and nobody can point the finger my way for the riots as I’ll be in Glendale, California taking in the friday night matinée, with my 75lb box of candy-coated pralines, and 18 months worth of scuz on my balls.

I know one guy who’d high five that opening stanza and his name should already be more than familiar. Libyan-American filmmaker Don Coscarelli is the dude responsible for birthing the 1979 sleeper hit Phantasm, not to mention other cult candies such as Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies At The End. It was six years since his last movie, The Beastmaster, when his best-laid plans for the long-awaited Phantasm II were granted legs by the financial might of Universal Pictures. The studio were only too happy to cough up the $3m required to tell his tale correctly; but not without a couple of teensy-weensy conditions being adhered to. In order to secure the dough, Coscarelli would be required to curb the illusory style of the original, in favor of a linear plot with narration, completely do away with dreams, and conjure up some female love interest.

If that little lot sounds doable enough, then wait until you hear the kicker. Both the originals leads, A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister, would need to be recast as neither of them fit the criteria. This meant both men being forced to audition for their own parts. Naturally, Coscarelli raised objection to this rule and his protestation eventually earned him a concession: one could remain, but the other simply had to go. Talk about Sophie’s Choice. Stuck between a rock and hard place, without quite a strong enough hand to call their bluff, Coscarelli opted to hang onto Bannister and replace a deeply gutted Baldwin with the more “fashionable” James Le Gros. It should go without saying that they dared not interfere with the part of The Tall Man as Angus Scrimm likely would have given them this look.

It pains me to say this, but sometimes you’ve just got to roll with the punches. Indeed, Phantasm II offers sound reasoning for this theory. You see, while Coscarelli could have screamed bloody murder and refused point blank to accommodate their demands, he would have been cutting off his nose to spite his face and the long-running saga would likely never have been revived in the first place. Wisely, he made the very best of what he had at his disposal and the result is a movie that may not be the trip the original was, but still feels very much entrenched in the universe he created. So what if dreams don’t figure into the equation; Coscarelli sustains the fever dream tone through his sophisticated manipulation of space instead. When you have a director of Coscarelli’s caliber on your payroll, there are multiple ways to skin that goose.

Be mindful from the offset, it may take you a while to find your bearings, despite the fact things pick up seamlessly from where the original left off. This is perfectly normal as Phantasm II instantly taps into the same vein mined so successfully nine years prior. One thing we are made aware of is just how much our 12-year-old hero’s exertions took it out of him when fending off his cadaverous sworn enemy.

A number of years have passed and poor Mike has spent them bouncing off padded walls at the local nuthouse. His entire adolescence has been effectively wiped out and it’s no mean feat masturbating in a straitjacket so, when a beautiful young woman named Liz (Paula Irvine) contacts him via psychic hotline and begs him to come find her, there’s only one beacon to follow.

After faking his recovery to obtain a clean bill of mental health, Mike’s first stop is Morningside Cemetery for a spot of moonlight gravedigging, as you do. It’s beneath this very marrow that his parents supposedly rest but, if his worst fears are correct, the Tall Man has snatched their festering cadavers away some time ago and Mike considers that a really shitty thing to do.

He’s not alone either as Reggie just happens to be passing and agrees it’s most inconsiderate behavior from their nemesis. Not that he has any burning desire to head off on some wild goose chase on his compadre’s whim; not when he has a loving family at home to return to. By the way, is it just me or can anyone else smell gas?

Not looking to be a dick here but Mike did try and warn you buddy. At any rate, boo-hooing isn’t going to bring your loved ones back and the best way to honor the recently deceased would be to avenge their deaths right? I mean, it’s not like there’s any mystery over which malodorous mortician green-lit the explosion. If I were you Reggie, I’d ignore the fact that Mike is barely recognizable after his stint in the nuthouse and follow the trail of formaldehyde to Périgord, Oregon pronto. Perhaps there you’ll find some answers.

One more thing before you depart, don’t forget the Tall Man has a job lot of stunted minions on his books, not to mention those wretched spheres. It may be wise to stock up on supplies at the next hardware store you pass. And don’t forget to pick up some rubbers either as a handsome hombre like you is bound to run into some hot, young damsel in distress en route. What can I say? Chicks dig the pony-tail.

Take Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) for example. Granted, she’s not pictured here in the best of health but that’s apparitions for you. Rest assured, the hitchhiker you just picked up is very much animate and, better yet, appears the type to be turned on by balding middle-aged geezers. It’s a real shame you don’t still have that ice cream van; imagine the fun you could have with a stainless steel scoop and tub of Chunky Monkey.

Never mind that shenanigans, the crematorium is straight up ahead and I’d hedge a bet that the Tall Man and his loutish lackeys are in the furnace room toasting man mallows as we speak. It’s shit or get off the pot time and, given that you keep adjusting your denims and there’s a vague aroma of colon hanging in the chilly night air like Muffin’s Mule Musk, I’d say Reggie went poo-poo.

Fret not my good man as the funk of ammonia should be pungent enough to uphold your dignity through any fracas and there’s talk of a dimensional portal in the embalming room that leads to some place real trippy. One teensy-weensy little snag could be those damn spheres as they seem to have you in their sights and the last thing on your wish-list right now should be getting your heat seeked by one of those mobile multi-tools, Swiss Army style.

Will this nightmare ever end? How many people have to die? Are Mike and Reggie ever destined to topple the nefarious Tall Man? If so, then at what cost? Have our two loved up couples got any real hope of living happily ever after? What’s lurking on the other side of that portal? Who left that morgue drawer open? Think they’ll mind if I take a peek inside? Would you mind terribly looking out for patrolling spheres? Does it count as necrophilia if the stiff is still warm? Anyone know the way out of this bogus labyrinth? Who else can smell gas? Is there sufficient budget left for another explosion? Can you drive this hearse any faster Alchemy? And have you done something with your hair by the way?

One thing I love about Coscarelli is that he welcomes such inquisition from his audience. Token recap aside, Phantasm II operates on the assumption that we’re up to speed and keeps exposition decidedly light, instead upping the ante with regards to outrageous incident and fist-pumping flourish. The studio’s $3m cash injection may have come with some fairly hefty strings attached, but he understands that you don’t have to bite the hand that feeds you to get it to bleed, and makes full use of the numerous tools at his disposal. Granted, it never feels as effortlessly disquieting as the original but, like Mike, we’re all grown up now and it still feels like a half-remembered dream to its infinite credit.

While we’re dishing out the kudos, what say we offer a handful to Le Gros as I reckon he’s had them coming for a while now and he brings not a solitary iota of shame to the game as Mike Mk.2. Anyone still harping on about continuity almost thirty years on (other than perhaps Baldwin) really needs to find some fresh marrow to masticate as it’s done now and you can’t deny he gives it his college best.

Had it been Bannister on the sidelines, then I may not have been so compassionate as, without his beautiful bald head sweating the skirmish, Phantasm II would have been bagged and tagged on arrival. Save a shout out to the ladies too as both Irvine and Phillips are more than welcome at the wake and make for exquisite distraction.

Ultimately however, the greatest distinction comes from our towering 6′ 4″ inferno, majestic magician of menace, Angus Scrimm. His face will forever be etched in my own personal phantasms and the tokens that he imparts each time he steps up as the Tall Man are truly timeless. I’ve been scowled at many times in my lifetime, but never with quite the intensity of Scrimm’s signature death-stare.

Phantasm II benefits greatly from the amount of slack it cuts him to get down and dastardly. As a result, we hit pay dirt to the tune of 97 minutes of phantasmagorical pleasure straight to the dome, courtesy of our favorite balls of fury. Oh look, it even has a bottle opener attachment. Isn’t that just adorable?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Considering the bloated kitty at his disposal, it should come as no great thunderbolt that Phantasm II ramps up the grue considerably from its forerunner. Money may not be able to buy you love, but it will score you the SFX services of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Everett Burrell and they more than earn their fees here as the gags truly are a joy to behold. Coscarelli knows precisely what his audience crave and supplies it open-handedly, meaning a multitude of messy multi-tool manipulation and ton more yellow ooze. He also takes the time to reminds us of a cold, hard truth – we arrive on this earth naked and we depart it the same way. Quick Mikey, slip her a length for the road before she drops beneath room temperature or the smell of gas becomes too overpowering.

Read Phantasm Appraisal
Read Phantasm III: Lord of The Dead Appraisal
Read Phantasm IV: Oblivion Appraisal
Read John Dies At The End Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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