Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Well, I guess I'm on a kick for latter sequels of cult horror series today, which is fine by me.

It's difficult to review the Phantasm series, especially for people unfamiliar with it. The films continue directly on from each other, often from bizarre and seemingly nonsensical cliffhangers. Alas, Phantasm II is not currently available on DVD in Region 1, and I have not seen it in some years–though that's not entirely necessary anyway, as the ending was forever ingrained upon my brain years ago when I accidentally caught it as my parents were watching it one night. It scared the ever-loving crap out of me and the image of the Tall Man did not ever want to leave my brain, nor the ending we leave Reggie with in that particular installment. NOTE: if you have not seen Phantasm or Phantasm II, do not read this review. It's almost impossible to avoid spoiling previous films in this series when at all talking about one of them.

Trying to describe the plot of a Phantasm movie is like trying to juggle oiled watermelons or something. Yeah, it'd be pretty darn cool if you could do it, but why the hell would you bother, and what kind of sense would it make? Here's a rough attempt though for this volume in the saga. We open on the hearse we saw our heroes Mike (James LeGros in Phantasm II, but A. Michael Baldwin in all other films) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) trying to escape in (and failing) last time. The hearse crashes and the two escape, but Mike is hospitalized and attacked by a nurse working for the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), then unavoidably abducted by him. This leaves us, for the first time, following Reggie solo in the neverending quest to stop the Tall Man's inscrutable plans. We meet Tim (Kevin Connors), a young boy from a town devastated by the Tall Man's graverobbing and enslaving of the dead, then Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), a woman with a similar past. The three of them work together to track down Mike and the Tall Man, fighting off the zombies, dwarves, "lurkers," and, of course, spheres he employs.

Anything beyond that on the plot would just end up simple recitation, so I'll leave it there. This film actually fits the pattern I mentioned earlier (and suddenly I realize that Army of Darkness, another third installment, does the same) and infuses a greater level of humour into the series than we previously saw. Effects are top notch for the kind of budget writer/director Don Coscarelli is able to employ, with the spheres unbelievably pristine and beautiful looking as they float around, reflecting their environments and moving terribly naturally. The joy of this film for fans is the return of A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury as his brother Jodie–in a form and manner not entirely expected.

Those looking for some Phantastic (argh, sorry!) answers will actually find a few this time–we now learn where the spheres come from and what they truly are.

It is probably the weakest of the series (though I've yet to watch OblIVion, but it's on next!) with Rocky seeming like a bizarre blaxploitation import with Grace Jones style look (think Conan the Destroyer–yeah THAT kind), camo pants and nunchaku skills, as well as the inevitably awkwardness of a new child actor (in fairness, Connors is actually pretty good as a young boy toughened by life alone). It's a Phantasm movie though, and I just sort of take what Coscarelli throws at me, because it's so intensely original and bizarre that I can't help but love it. Of course, the quad-barrelled shotgun and Hemi 'Cuda are also in this film–which I remember Joe Bob Briggs fondly discussing on TNT's Monstervision some years ago.

The developing mythology and world of this series, the answers related to it, and its inextricable placement in the chronology make this necessary viewing, but steel yourself for Reggie's amateur acting (it shows more when he's by himself, and when Coscarelli decides it will be fun to mock him as an uncontrollably horny man, which IS amusing) and the middling skills of the two new actors. Scrimm is fantastic as always, he and Doug Bradley have created the most brilliant and memorable of horror's mysterious, deadly and oddly "cool" characters, and we all love them for it. He even brings a curious sort of near-sympathy to the role this time–not in the sense of a bad childhood or secretly well-meaning intentions, but like perhaps he knows something that Reggie and Mike (and we!) don't know.

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