I might be in the minority when I say that Don Coscarelli’s 1979 outing Phantasm was an obscenely overrated relic that has only calcified with age. I shouldn’t have been preternaturally excited for the sequel but fortified with Universal Studio’s financial upgrade and James LeGros in the lead role now, my expectations were cantilevered into the positive column.
After a recap of the previous finale, Phantasm II delivers on the promise of a more fluid, kinetic successor. Reggie’s (Reggie Bannister) escape from The Tall Man’s (Angus Scrimm) monastic midgets is a dynamite set piece. By now, Phantasm is renowned for two things- Scrimm and the silver balls. And the drilling mutilation via the forehead is more satisfyingly graphic than before and the dental-instrument sound F/X really amplify the cringe factor. A Cuisinart comparison is quite appropriate.
The dream logic might be gone but, I for one, haven’t missed the masturbatory abstraction of them. Streamlined is better for Coscarelli’s splanchnic vision. Reggie and Michael are flamethrower-and-shotgun-touting vigilantes and their makeshift weapons from a hardware store reinforce the notion that Phantasm II is a disparate beast from the former with more action-movie firepower and velocity. Once again the musical theme by Fred Myrow is contagiously creepy.
Coscarelli nails the gothic atmosphere of a Hammer film inside velvet-draped corridors and echoing mausoleums. Scrimm is still a towering presence that will induce heart palpitations in spades. The road trip from cemetery to cemetery in pursuit of Liz Reynolds (Paula Irvine), a clairvoyant with an ill-defined connection to Michael (LeGros), is patently incomprehensible. This is very much classified in the style-over-substance subcategory but that is hardly a misstep.
The balding Lothario Bannister isn’t a polished thespian but his horny shtick is amusing nonetheless (“It gets hard on the road”) and his chemistry with LeGros is airtight. Regardless of my antipathy towards the first film, part 2 is a rip-roaring, albeit daffy rollercoaster through Perigord Mortuary. A retread of the original’s sequel-bait ending is an anticlimax though.
Rating: 3 out of 5