Phantasm II

For ten years the secret of Perigord Cemetery has remained a mystery. Now the ultimate evil is about to be revealed.

Year of Release: 1988
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: Don Coscarelli


James Le Gros ... Mike
Reggie Bannister ... Reggie
Angus Scrimm ... The Tall Man
Paula Irvine ... Liz
Samantha Phillips ... Alchemy
Kenneth Tigar ... Father Meyers
Ruth C. Engel ... Grandma


The Tall Man is back with a vengeance.

Armed with his lethal band of flying silver spheres, the deadly mortician who was thought to have killed his last victim nine years ago, returns more dangerous than ever.

Once again, young Michael Pearson and his pal Reggie take on the master of the killer orbs as they race against time and risk their lives to thwart his murderous rampage forever.


Phantasm II, remindin' all the balding, middle-aged men drivin' restored muscle cars to put the K-Mart sanctioned shag rug chrome dome concealer back in the closet, because somewhere out there is an 18-year-old runaway nymphomaniac with a scalp fetish just waitin' to put the bounce back in your step.

An speakin' of professional ball busters, Sadie Bonebreak dragged me down to the Chickawalka Center for the Creative Arts (better known as the old barn behind Hammer Time Hardware) for the annual punkin carvin' competition even though I couldn't give the hind end of a diarrhetic skunk about "art" that can't be projected onto an outdoor screen. She said we hadda be there for "moral support," which's what you say when you'd rather be home watchin' the ALCS like everyone else, only if you do you won't be gettin' to third base before Christmas.

I'm a pretty sympathetic guy, so I was quick to pitch in in any way I could to help prop up what's-'er-names's self esteem.

"You mean I gotta miss the premier of Friday Night Smackdown an look at mutilated garden vegetables so your manic-depressive cooch-snoocher can mingle confidently with all the other socially stunted weirdos who have too much time on their hands?" I asked.

"Ya know they have this thing nowadays called a 'VCR.' They say you can use it to record programs to watch at a later time, maybe you've heard of it," Sadie snarked.

"Can't you get Billy to go with 'er? He's a whole lot better at pretendin' not to be starin' at 'er rack while she's blabberin' about Etsy than I am," I insisted.

"He IS coming; and so are Cleave, Roxanne, Juanita, and Duke," she squinted.

"I noticed Skunky didn't make the cut," I pointed out, looking for an opening.

"The city manager's gonna be there and he says we can't risk people associatin' Skunky's fragrance with pumpkins or else the seasonal pumpkin spice obsession will grind to a halt and cause a county-wide economic recession," she explained.

"So I'm fucked is what you're sayin'," I surmised.

"That's right!" she confirmed gleefully as she put me in a headlock an started in with an atomic noogie.

"Do a good job pretending to be a caring human being and maybe she'll get invited to some tupperware parties!" she giggled. Least I think that's what she said; kinda hard to say since I had 'er elbow over one ear an 'er nipple jammed in the other.

Naturally Friday rolled around entirely too fast, but for a minute it looked like I was gonna get outta goin' when the Topaz blew a tire over on Bunker Street an I discovered someone'd ripped off my jack at the drive-in; unfortunately I had Billy Hilliard with me at the time an he just lifted the rig up offa the ground an told me to put the spare on. Protestin' to a man who can deadlift 2500lbs didn't seem like such a hot idea so I attached the spare without incident.

Billy an me made it over there a few minutes late an once Sadie'd rammed the tops of our skulls together an questioned the quality of parental guidance we'd received as children, Mrs. Sadie unveiled 'er great punkin, which as it turns out isn't nearly as exciting as the similarly themed routine Chastity Dollarhide does over at Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop (the punkin was carved into the face of Charlie Brown, which was alleged to be a choice of sheer genius as a call back to the much loved Peanuts Halloween Special).

The thing that really surprised the heck outta me was how many people indulge themselves in this nonsense when they could be watchin' Michael Myers slice teenage girls with healthy sex drives into lunch meat, cause there musta been 80 - 90 of these gutted gourds rangin' from witches to Trumpkins (though I was disappointed at the lack of witch hunting Trumpkins) an everything in between, includin' a "Sasquash" that Richard Fawner painstakingly carved outta this 25 pound lopsided beast-on-a-vine.

"Hey Duke, check it out, Richard did your portrait! He must like you!" I ribbed.

Duke punched my shoulder so hard that I ended up on the floor lookin' up at the underside of Beatrice Lankford's swing dress an almost gettin' arrested for peepin' tommery, but that wasn't anywhere near the worst crime committed that evenin' on account of Irv Knox's punkin bein' disqualified for "public indecency." Irv's carvin' was definitely my pick to win it all, but apparently his representation of Elvira wasn't "family appropriate" enough for all the grumpy old men who prolly went to watch The Swinging Barmaids 36 times at the drive-in back in '75. They told Irv that he'd hafta put two strips of duct tape over Elvira's chesticular region for the rest of the evenin' or get 'er outta there an I don't mind tellin' ya that I've never been more ashamed to be an American in my entire life. Anyway, the crusty old Cretaceans shuffled along from table to table, eventually whittlin' the competition down to just two gourds - Mrs. Sadie's Charlie Brown (I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that "traditional" trumps *talent* around here like clockwork) an Fannie Ogglesby's impressive, if deeply ignorant hockey mask.

Fannie didn't have a prayer, an it wasn't because her carvin' wasn't any good, far from it; it's just been standard Academy practice for the last 90 years to nominate a Horror flick for Best Picture so people'll think you've got some semblance of objectivity, before immediately givin' the cheap little brass trophy to the Foreign Drama about the forced child separations of the indigenous peoples of some country that's been sacked by Anglo-Saxon puritan assholes. Punkin judgin' follows those same time-tested principles.

Surprisingly I wasn't the only one expecting the inevitable (I say it's surprising because an absurd amount of people actually watch America's Funniest Home Videos all the way to the end even though the video with the baby will *always* win unless Steve Harvey takes over the show and botches the announcement), an I couldn't help but notice that sleazebag Mark Skidman (I guess you'd call 'im Fannie's boyfriend) fartin' around behind the judge's table while they were conferring over by the salt lick statue of John Wayne, an next thing you know an M-80 goes off inside Charlie an, well... his goo hit our eyes like a big punkin pie.

It was pretty much pandemonium after that, cause about three seconds later these two clowns with concealed carry permits whipped out their Glocks an started shootin' at anything that moved til one of 'em hit the propane lantern sittin' on the table next to the Hell House volunteer sign-up sheet an blew it into a pile of decorative hay that went up like Bernie Sanders' insurance premiums.

I was talkin' to the claims adjuster the next mornin' an he told me the barn was a total loss, an evidently nobody else saw Mark sabotage the Great Punkin so it'd be my word against his if I was to go snitch to the heat. I haven't told Sadie yet either cause I could work for another 200 years an not be able to afford the bail bond after she got ahold of 'im, but don't worry yourself about it too much, we look after our own in these parts, an Mark's gonna get what's comin' to 'im just as soon as I can get Tetnis to remove the punkin seed from my inner ear canal.

Gettin' back to more serious business though, we're headin' into Halloween season again an that means all the regular celluloid crapola gets put on the back burner so you can listen to me ramble aimlessly about flicks you've already seen 800 times an require absolutely no insight into. In retrospect I guess it doesn't make a lotta sense, but then neither does a supernatural mortician who plunders graveyards to reanimate corpses an crush 'em down into fun-size friars for use as slave labor in other realities where the South won the civil war. That's right, we're talkin' Phantasm II, the sequel that started the series down the path to becomin' the greatest Horror franchise in history... until they made Ravager on a budget of $13 an pissed it all away. We're not gonna dwell on that though, so polish up your balls, settle in with your parasitic twin, an enjoy these cinematic tidbits I've plucked from this bridge to God-knows-where. First, the presence of gas masks on The Tall Man's minions would suggest that the literal personification of death has greater concern for his employees than the coal industry. Second, if havin' a psychic connection with people made you fall in love with 'em La Toya Jackson would be a registered sex offender. An third, if you wanna battle evil midget monks and inter-dimensional undertakers for Universal Pictures, you'd best be a marketable hunky beefcake somewhere on the heartthrob spectrum - otherwise the movie just wouldn't be believable.

The movie begins with this blonde gal (Liz) who suffers from Stage 4 stoveaphobia that makes 'er wake up at 3 in the AM smellin' burnt cats talkin' about the psychic connection she has with Mike, an how sometimes it causes extended flashback sequences to the events of the first flick. Next thing ya know we're back in 1979 and an army of pushy 3' Travelocity sales reps have Reggie cornered in his kitchen an he hasta casually turn the gas on, snap two or three of 'em in half like kindlin', crawl through the house's air duct system like 007, rescue Mike, an then Superman out the 2nd story window just before the fumes from the stove reach the fireplace an turn alla Snow Wight's dwarves into fillet minion. Which's kinda tragic when you consider The Tall Man an his little friends were only there for the Twins casting call. Then we return to the present an Liz talks to the paper in 'er zombie world domination spiral notepad manifesto an explains that she needs Mike's help an how it's been real hard to find 'im ever since he went into the Tall Man Protection program an got a new face. The next day Mike snows the parole board at the quack shack into thinkin' he's gotten over bein' subjected to repeated acts of supernatural terrorism an immediately starts diggin' up graves at the local cemetery. Fortunately Reggie shows up to put a stop to Mike's Ed Gein method acting seminar an let 'im know that he's gone googly in his moogly even though all the coffins're emptier'n Helen Keller's photo album, an tells 'im a nice home-cooked meal'll help take his mind offa the fact that his brother's prolly representin' the undead Lollypop Guild somewhere. Unfortunately when they pull into Reggie's driveway his house explodes like a burrito in the microwave, causin' his loved ones to melt into family platters. Reggie is P.O.'d, so after a suitable 36-hour mourning period he an Mike break into the local hardware store after hours an stock up on everything you'd need to start a do-it-yourself Jigsaw trap workshop, jump in the Hemi Cuda, an set out on what's basically a coming-of-age road trip movie as told by Rod Serling. Course The Tall Man knows they're after 'im, so he likes to screw with their heads an do things like stash changelings of Mike's psychic girlfriend in abandoned mortuaries just to see the looks on their faces when a gooey, slime-covered fetusentipede bursts our of 'er back to taunt them with Google Driving Directions - what a prankster.

Meanwhile, the real Liz is at 'er grampa's funeral tryna keep gramma from fallin' to pieces an sendin' out psychic breadcrumbs to Mike, only the priest conductin' the ceremony's hangin' around broodin' nervously like he just had his annual employee review with God an hadda explain the dirty magazines stashed in the pulpit, an once the service's over he whips out this 2' long sacrificial dagger he'd been hidin' in his vestments an jams it into grampa's corpse... right about the time gramma steps back into the room to offer 'im a Werther's Original. Awkward. Needless to say Too Tall Bones is not pleased about the priest damagin' his merchandise, an so he sends grampa out later that night to show the priest that only an amateur needs three days to resurrect a corpse an then has 'im kidnap gramma on the way home. The next day, Reggie picks up a hitch hiker (Alchemy; Kimmy for short) while Mike's passed out slobberin' on the passenger window like a winded bird dog an Mike tries to convince Reggie it's a bad idea but his gut feelin's no match for Reggie's illogical phallusy. Kimmy's from the quaint little village currently occupied by Liz, The Tall Man, an about 5000 leper-chauns, only they don't know that yet an so they bust into an old abandoned hotel to set up shop while Liz an the priest independently sneak into the local mausoleum, an pretty quick the priest starts fondlin' The Tall Man's balls until he gets so mad that he hasta turn the priest's King of Kings bling into a noosifix an strangle 'im a little bit. Guys like this never seem to realize just how in over their heads they are, an he ends up takin' one of the specter's gadgets to the forehead so it can be drilled into him. Then the Jolly Mean Giant finds Liz an pitches 'er down the hallway like a lawn dart an sics 'er compacted granny on 'er an forces 'er to belt nana in the face with a vase before finally meetin' up with Mike an Reggie out in the graveyard. After that everybody heads back to the hotel where Kimmy commits assault an boobery on Reggie's person until one of the dwarf snares goes off downstairs an blows midget meatloaf all over the wall, only when Reggie an Mike investigate, the Tall Man yanks Liz out the second story window an the guys hafta leave Kimmy an 'er magnificent (if humble) rack to fend for itself while they go tearin' after The Tall Man who's headed back to the mausoleum in his Chevy Cadavalier.

This is all well an good, cept then The Tall Man goes too far an rams the Hemi Cuda into a boulder an turns it into a demolition derby starter kit an causes permanent emotional trauma to Jay Leno. That's pretty much the last straw, cause you can blow up a man's wife an you can crush a guy's brother into Jawa jelly with a gnomatic press, but there're only a few dozen '71 Hemi Cuda's left on the whole goddamned planet an now there's one less because SOMEBODY has no respect for American engineering. Anyway, while that's goin' on, Liz's over at the morgue about to be turned into urn filling by this creep who looks like a Romulan that had all the ridges buffed out of his skull, only she flops off the ramp at the last minute, crotches the guy with a shovel, an sends 'im rollin' on the River Styx. Unfortunately the place is lousy with these zombie theater ushers, an the instant she leaves the incinerator room she gets grabbed by another one who tries givin' 'er a Sinead O'Connor haircut with a hatchet before bein' tacked to a door by a sphere an nearly gettin' tea-bagged by the other half of The Tall Man's silver scrotum. This poor son of a bitch can't catch a break even after Mike shows up to run interference, cause just when it seems like he's got Mike set up for the coup de grace he ducks outta the way at the last second an the ball burrows its way into the zombie eunuch's gut bucket an makes 'im flop all over the room like a wounded duck before it finally runs outta gas tryna dig its way out of his face. Then Reggie hasta chainsaw duel this maniac in a gas mask an give it a Poulanoscopy, but killin' a few of The Tall Man's geeks ain't really gettin' 'em any closer to an endgame, so Mike sticks one of the disabled disco balls into a slot on the wall an ends up openin' the gateway to the Angry Red Planet where The Tall Man conducts his foreign exchange program. It prolly goes without sayin' but this ain't likely to go unchallenged, so I'd best shut my yap before I go spoilin' the traditional cliff hanger endin'.

If there's one thing Phantasm II proves it's that money can't buy everything, but it sure does help. There's not enough cash in the world to reproduce the atmosphere of the original, but thanks to a Horror fanatic's rise to the top of Universal Pictures in the late '80s, there was enough to make about a dozen gooey special effects and alter the trajectory of the franchise in a more Action-oriented direction. I don't think there's much question that they caught lightning in a bottle with regard to the look and feel of the first movie, but even so, it's a bit of a bummer to see the sequel with the same sort of slick Hollywood gloss inherent in most studio pictures of the time. Then again, if not for Universal there may never have been any sequels at all, and despite their misguided demands that the flick be completely linear (and thus easier to follow) and that James Le Gros replace Michael Baldwin in the lead role, I suppose we owe them a debt of gratitude. Universal went on a major Horror kick in the '80s with the idea of turning hit films into franchises, also buying the rights to the Halloween, Evil Dead, and Child's Play franchises, and producing multiple sequels for each series. They also dusted off Psycho for some additional installments, and for the most part all the films produced for those four respective franchises turned out really well and feel congruous with their original films (including Evil Dead 2 and Halloween II, which made the transition from low budget indie productions to reasonably well funded Hollywood sequels without missing a beat), but Phantasm II just feels a bit disconnected from its progenitor. I've always been of the opinion that the absolute best Horror flicks of all time were made in the '70s (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, Jaws, Carrie, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, etc.), but that the '80s blow every other decade away due to its sheer volume of good (if not always great) titles, of which there are literally hundreds. That said, they were very different decades both culturally and cinematically, and as such the first two Phantasms just don't fit together quite like, say, Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 - it's more like we've skipped Evil Dead 2 and went straight from the original Evil Dead to Army of Darkness. Seriously though - don't read too deeply into this mild criticism, as my biggest gripe is simply that Phantasm II is not Phantasm I (my second favorite movie, and one of only two I've ever given a perfect score to), and that's irrational and unfair. All I'm really saying is that Phantasm II is inferior to the original because it's only great, and not perfect.

In any event, I've probably just created a need to prove that the good is not the enemy of the perfect, so let's take a look at what that $3,000,000 *was* able to do for a franchise that hitherto had a budget roughly equivalent to the daily take of one of those religious nuts that hang out on the traffic island with a bucket collectin' change for Joel Osteen's new Olympic-size swimmin' pool. The plot is, as I mentioned earlier, much more linear than the original flick and lacks the hallucinations, dream sequences, and other devices that had previously created an aura of surrealism and uncertainty meant to engage the imagination, and opted to make a house get blowed up real good. That said, the flick picks up exactly where the first one ends, which is an approach I've always loved, and even though they hadda dress up the young Aunt Becky from Full House to look like Michael Baldwin to complete the prologue, I thought it was not only a great way to start the flick, but also a good idea to clarify that the ending to the first flick was actually canon. The great thing about the Phantasm series is that the story is so bizarre and so little is known about The Tall Man that, because you have no idea what his endgame is and never really grasp his motives or fully understand his connection with Mike, there are very few moments where the events of the movies seem impossible or even illogical. It's like an algebra equation where every single variable is unknown, and as such, you can't really argue with what's going on, even on the rare occasion you're sure what's going on is actually real. What can be said, however, is that it's definitely the fastest paced flick in the series, as well as the least cerebral.

As for the acting, because the script largely moves away from unraveling the mystery of The Tall Man and centers more on the characters' pursuit of him, the result is a moderately relaxed atmosphere that allows more time for character development, and that development turns out to be noticeably goofier than what we got in the first flick. Despite being the odd-man-out in the series, it is an especially important moment in the sense that Reggie's character begins his transformation into the beloved icon he is today; and not coincidentally, it's also the moment where both we and he begin to realize just how ill-prepared he is, a situation he handles with uneasy bravado and cheesy one-liners. As for the the elephant in the room, I don't think there's any grounds for criticizing James Le Gros' performance, particularly since the character is written so differently than he was in the first movie, but I just can't get past the fact that it's not Michael Baldwin playing the part, and it reduces my enjoyment. There have been occasions where an actor was replaced and genuinely outshined their predecessor (Leslie Easterbrook in The Devil's Rejects, and Barry Corbin in Critters 2 come to mind), but this casting change has always stuck in my craw. You can also question the decision to add the Liz character, as this was almost certainly studio meddling to pump up the flick's appeal among the general public, but as far as *performances* among the supporting cast go, everyone did a fine job, particularly Kenneth Tigar as the troubled priest, and Samantha Phillips as the teenage nymphomaniac runaway with a scalp fetish. Oh, and there's also that Angus Scrimm guy, but all he does is play what may be the greatest Horror villain of all time and pull off a scene with a deafening explosion going off behind him where he's expected not to flinch or react in any way in a sequence most people would consider impossible. He's pretty good too.

Here's who matters and why (cept for Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, and Phil Fondecaro, whose contributions to the Horror genre are the stuff of legend): James Le Gros (Bitter Feast, Zodiac, Straight into Darkness, Psycho 1998, *batteries not included, Real Men, Near Dark, Solarbabies), Paula Irvine (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), Samantha Phillips (Sonny Boy, Andromina: The Pleasure Planet, Cheerleader Massacre, The Bare Wench Project 2: Scared Topless, Moonbase, Dollman), Kenneth Tigar (The Avengers, The Man in the High Castle), Stacey Travis (Mystery Men, Venom 2005, What Planet are You From?, Dracula Rising, Hardware, Dr. Hackenstein, Deadly Dreams, Earth Girls are Easy), J. Patrick McNamara (Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, Mom, The First Power, Warning Sign, The Fury), Troy Fromin (Shrunken Heads, Return of the Living Dead 2, Class of Nuke 'Em High 2 & 3, Time Barbarians, Speak of the Devil, Monster High, Time Burst: The Final Alliance, Dead End City, Night Wars), Irene Korman (Mirror Mirror 2, Killer Workout), Ed Gale (Howard the Duck, Spaceballs, Child's Play 1988, The Amateur Monster Movie, Survival Island, Lifepod, Mom and Dad Save the World, Dolly Dearest, Chopper Chicks in Zombietown).

Of course, when you're makin' movies for a major studio there's bound to be some mainstream riff-raff thrown in for commercial appeal, so if you're interested, here's the stuff that actually gets included on these folks' resumes: James Le Gros (Rick in Drugstore Cowboy, Wally Morgan in Mildred Pierce, Chad Palomino in Living in Oblivion, Roach in Point Break), Kenneth Tigar (Captain Jensen on L.A. Heat), Stacey Travis (Dana in Ghost World), J. Patrick McNamara (Mr. Preston in the Bill & Ted series), Ed Gale (Station in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey).

The special effects are where the movie really shines and offers something the original couldn't. Basically Don Coscarelli hired Mark Shostram, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero (the latter two being the "K" and "N" from KNB EFX) to make the audience throw up as much as possible, and they've really outdone themselves here. Among the more spectacular effects are the fetusentipede critter that bursts from Paula Irvine's back a la Demons, the spheres shredding and embedding, the gooey melty slime dwarf spillin' outta his barrel on the red planet, all the different dwarven faces and their animatronic counterparts, and of course, the big acid-bathed finale that I won't go into to avoid spoilers. Occasionally there's a moment where the effects show their age, but those moments are few and far between, and there's no disputing the fact that Phantasm II has some of the best, grossest effects of the entire decade. The shooting locations are another area that benefit greatly from having an honest-to-God budget, as they were able to construct multiple amazing mausoleum sets, convincingly depict a ruined town, return us to the other side of The Tall Man's space gate, and build a cemetery whose entire clientele has been harvested. I still think the mausoleum from the first movie was a bit creepier, but the shear variety and superior cinematography of the sequel make for a more spectacular visual experience. The soundtrack was always going to be a near-impossible act to follow, as the original Phantasm has what is, in my opinion, the best soundtrack in the history of the genre. And while I believe the original is still by-and-large the best complete score of any Horror film, the sequel's scoring is fantastic, and boasts the single greatest individual track of all time - the end credits score. It's just a simple retinkering of the iconic original, but it's been cranked up to 11 and now has a grandiose power and presence about it that remains unmatched to this day. Fred Myrow's score is so catchy and memorable that decades later you've still got bands tweaking it ever so slightly and inserting it into their music, including Sonic Syndicate's "Crowned in Despair," and Within Temptation's "In the Middle of the Night." So if Fred's widow is reading this - I'd sue those guys if I was you. Overall, despite losing something due to studio meddling and a change in tone and direction, Phantasm II is still one of the greatest Horror sequels ever made, as well as the best sequel of the franchise - even though Michael Baldwin was robbed. Check it out on a yearly basis.

Rating: 92%