Review: Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #786

Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 13, 1998
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $650,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Don Coscarelli
Producer: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Michael Deak
Visual Effects: D. Kerry Prior
Cinematography: Chris Chomyn
Score: Christopher L. Stone
Editing: Scott J. Gill
Studio: Starway International Inc.
Distributor: MGM/UA Home Entertainment
Stars: A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Angus Scrimm, Christopher L. Stone

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Christopher L. Stone “Intro”

[2] Christopher L. Stone “Last Perfect Day”

[3] Reggie Bannister “Have You Seen It”

[4] Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave “Phantasm”

I’m no stranger to oblivion. Summed up as “the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening around one” by the all-knowing daddies of diction, oblivion is generally the place one frequents when not in possession of the faintest inkling what’s going on, how they arrived at this point, or the whereabouts of any handy emergency exits. Knock back half a litre of 75% proof absinthe and you should have yourself drunk into a stupor in no time. Lick the bottle dry and it’s off to oblivion with you quick smart, where you will remain until recalled by severe dehydration at around 5am. I’m a creature of habit and have tried my darnedest not to make one of spending too long mincing about in oblivion as there’s no cast-iron guarantee of returning. Besides, stupor really ain’t so bad once the room ceases spinning.

I guess deep down I always knew that Mike and Reggie would show up at oblivion somewhere down the line. The Tall Man is nothing if not persistent and has far too many tricks up those lengthy sleeves of his not to sucker Mike into unconsciousness at some point and he’s been hinting at his hellish hot spot since we were kids so nobody could say we haven’t had it coming. Believe it or not, oblivion ain’t so bogus, and should we stick around here long enough, then we might just learn a thing or two in the deal. You see, while exposure to the bright whites of oblivion may result in momentary giddiness, things actually seem to make a lot more sense when stationed here.

For example, it may surprise you to learn that the Tall Man, as we fretfully refer to him, is none other than Dr. Jedediah Morningside in this realm and not nearly as dastardly as his conniving counterpart. Indeed, short of trampling the geraniums on his front porch, I’d say you’d struggle to prise a solitary dirty look out of this gentle soul. If Mike really insists on sniffing about for answers to questions he should have stopped asking himself at 12-years-old, then chances are, he’ll wind up cleaning out the old man’s bed pan out of a sense of civic duty and play directly into the Tall Man’s oversized hands. If you ask me, it’s a good job he’s got his old pal Reggie watching his back. He never steered Mike wrong with refreshing gelato back in his vendor days and he’d die in a manner most grisly before steering him that way all these years later. What a guy!

So what do you say? Isn’t it about time poor Reggie got to take a load off, so to speak? Forget his quadruple-barreled scatter gun for a minute; I’m talking of the 100 million sailors just begging to walk the plank after such an extended stint in his own sexual oblivion. By my estimations, Reggie boy hasn’t gotten laid since Phantasm II and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. I don’t know about you ladies, but I’d offer him a hand job on principal alone, on account of his tireless endeavor and fierce loyalty to the cause. If anyone deserves a break, then it’s this dude. We’re not talking anything fancy, just a pretty young thing with a knockout pair of cans for our friend to cop a cheeky feel of while preparing for the upcoming onslaught. Fret not my good man as it appears that the gods have indeed answered your call. And don’t you dare say I do nothing for you.

My humble apologies if Jennifer (Heidi Marnhout) isn’t quite what you were expecting but, in case you haven’t noticed, pretty much the entire population has been wiped out. Even your cross to bear, Mike, appears to have forsaken you and, the last I heard, he was embarking on a cross-country expedition in his getaway hearse and headed for the Funeral Mountains in Death Valley, of all places. Quite what he hopes to achieve, I have no idea, although I’d hazard a guess that it has something to do with a final confrontation. All this perpetual torment appears to have taken its toll on your buddy and I’m not altogether certain that a rousing team talk will snap him out of his blue funk any longer. Let’s see how he’s getting on out there in the wilderness, shall we?

Not the best it appears. On the upside, he’s getting ever closer to unraveling the mystery of the dreaded Tall Man and has discovered a rather nifty way to travel through time and dimensions in order to get some long-overdue answers. It’s his big brother Jody you need to watch out for as I’m no longer convinced that he has Mike’s best interests at heart and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was leading him into some kind of cunningly disguised trap.

You know what this means don’t you Reggie? One more wild goose chase for old time’s sake. Don’t forget your quadruple-barreled shotgun and I’d take that tuning fork along with you for safekeeping as it could yet come in handy if things begin to turn to shit. Just so we’re clear, things will turn to shit. If I were you, I’d dust down the old ice cream vendor costume as you’ll need to be dressed for the occasion.

Well slap my thigh and call me Gertha, it still fits. Don’t suppose I could trouble you for a cider lolly could I? Never mind, we have far more pressing concerns right now like warning Mike about the potential consequences of his actions. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s about to play right into the Tall Man’s hands and, while there may appear no harm or foul in a quick round of Backgammon with Dr. Jedediah Morningside at his humble homestead, it’s the sentinel his nemesis planted in his brain and ticking like a time bomb that’s worrying me. They say eyes are the windows to a man’s soul and I make them right on that count. Here, take a look at Mike’s tenebrous peepers and tell me he’s not currently being relieved of his prize asset at this very moment.

As you can see Reggie, the stakes are exceedingly high, your hopes of survival incredibly slender, and I’m guessing by now you’d expect absolutely no less. Rest assured, you’ll see your fair share of action before the night is out and it wouldn’t be Phantasm if you weren’t provided moments to shine. But this has always ultimately been about Mike and, almost twenty years on from that fateful night, it’s high time he stands on his own feet, don’t cha think? You don’t need to feel hard done by as, should he manage to rid himself of his eternal curse, then chances are he’ll be gagging for a raspberry ripple. So what’s the crack buddy? One more time for the road?

Phantasm IV: Oblivion is dialed back considerably with regards to budget and, with only $650,000 at his disposal for his fourth venture, Coscarelli has no choice but to spend every last nickel wisely. Shrewd businessman that he is, he does precisely that, stripping away any elaborate bells and whistles and bringing us a more intimate tale far closer to the series’ humble origins than the last two lavish entries. While clearly his hand is forced to a certain degree, there’s actually a fair amount of method to his madness.

You see, Canadian filmmaker Roger Avary, who also happens to be a self-professed Phantasm fanboy, had already thrashed out a screenplay titled Phantasm 1999 A.D. (later changed to Phantasm’s End) and had outlandish designs on introducing none other than Bruce Campbell to the fray. Coscarelli was totally on board and Phantasm IV: Oblivion was intended as a precursor to that epic finale. Regrettably, funding couldn’t be secured and the project never actually got off the ground. I often ponder how much of Avary’s story made it into David Hartman’s 2016 effort Phantasm: Ravager as it does seem to have the post-apocalyptic theme nailed down fairly tight. However it ultimately panned out, this meek fourth outing certainly brings no shame to the legacy.

The comic book approach of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is long gone, in favor of something far more pensive and philosophical. That isn’t so say it’s not still madder than a sack of epileptic squirrels and makes only as much sense as your own imagination can conjure, but incident is spread considerably thinner across its ninety minute runtime and it’s nice to be provided the breather after the wham-bam thank you ma’am attitude of the third. Let’s not twang the tuning fork here, we’re still talking cross-dimensional back and forth, a fair old gaggle of greebs, at least one obligatory explosion, and a wedge or two of sphere time. Not to mention a little midnight rendezvous with our miserly mortician. If Reggie has no choice in the matter then, as lifelong Phantasm pledges, we shouldn’t either.

Coscarelli’s franchise is perhaps the closest we horror fans will get to our very own Star Wars saga. Mike is our Luke Skywalker, the Tall Man our Darth Vader, Jody’s our Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wasteland our Tatooine, the pint-sized perils are quite clearly Jawa and, as for our hardened road warrior Reggie, well you have to admit he does look kinda like Han Solo in that waistcoat. After so much time wondering whether the villain will be successful in recruiting his young protégé to the Dark Side, Phantasm IV: Oblivion feels like a fitting way to bring us all in for a group hug. That said, should you be hoping for closure, then good luck with that as Coscarelli leaves us with as many burning questions as he provides answers. It turns out that certain things are just better left to our boundless imagination.

Which brings us rather tidily back to oblivion, right on cue no less. It’s thanks to Coscarelli and his commitment to a cause that spent most of its twenty year transit on the verge of being lost that I’m aware of the signposts and how to ignore them. My heart goes out to Mike and I do hope he manages to find the inner peace robbed from him before his balls had even dropped. But his suffering certainly hasn’t been in vain as Phantasm is etched into my soul forevermore now and a certain scowling face emblazoned across my every waking nightmare. The great Angus Scrimm may no longer be with us, at least in a physical sense, but I still keep my tuning forks handy to this very day and one word in particular will reverberate through my eardrums right up to my dying breath. Any ideas what that noun might be?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: One area where Phantasm IV: Oblivion comes up rather short is the splatter, not as a result of the meager budget, but because there are no simply peripheral characters on hand to supply the transfusion we crave. Like the original, it’s never the chief requisite, and even the sentinels appear less inclined to do their foul digging fourth time around. There’s not a great deal doing on the skin front either, although Heidi Marnhout’s chest spheres do appear to possess certain hypnotic qualities. Heaven knows what her vagina looks like but, if the running Star Wars theme is anything to go by, then I’d hedge my bet on the Great Pit of Carkoon.

Read Phantasm Appraisal
Read Phantasm II Appraisal
Read Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead Appraisal
Read John Dies At The End Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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