BLU-RAY REVIEW: PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016)
The final film for the Tall Man, actor Angus Scrimm, and what seems to be the final entry in the series of films known for their shiny, metallic balls of death flying around bidding the desires of the harvesters of the dead, is upon horror fans. The fifth entry in the PHANTASM films, PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016), brings fans back all the
regular names in the cast but one of the most important names in the most important role of all: Don Coscarelli. The director, writer, and usually producer of all the previous PHANTASM films decided to give the directorial duties over to David Hartman, known for having directed a slew of children’s television series such as My Friends Tigger & Pooh (2007-2010), the Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015) and Transformers Prime (2010-2013) series, a Godzilla (1998-2000) animated, an Astroboy (2003-2004) series, and my all-time favorite series that I adore by name only (because I have never ever seen it nor heard of it until this very moment): Laser Fart (2004-2005). The latter series is low-budget awesomeness and I found all the episodes (8 in total I believe) on Youtube. I know what I will now be doing the rest of the night after writing this review!
The start of the continuation of, and ultimately what looks to be the conclusion of, the PHANTASM series (Actor Angus Scrimm passed away in January of 2016) did not come to fruition without what seemed to be quite a few speed bumps along the way. Six years after the release of PHANTASM: OBLIVION director Don Coscarelli told Fangoria in an interview that he was looking to start on another film because Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm were ready to get to work on another film. There was talk again in 2005 in Hollywood Reporter about a possible re-launch and a coming of age story. This never came about to anything. More rumors in 2007. Just rumors, though. Then in 2012, Coscarelli denied rumors about a sequel being made that was allegedly being shot in and around southern California in 2012 and 2013. March of 2014 was when a bunch of legitimate movie news sites confirmed that PHANTASM: RAVAGER was actually completed. In 2015, the film was said to be delayed and it would be released sometime in 2016. Production on RAVAGER was halted so Coscarelli could work on the 4K restoration of the original PHANTASM and in that time the legendary Tall Man, actor Angus Scrimm, had passed away. The film finally premiered at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in September of 2016 and available in theaters in October of the same year. That is quite a bit of ups and downs for the film and upon watching the special features learned that RAVAGER was at one point going to be a web series and by the look of the shoddy digital effects, it certainly looks as though the budget was intended for the tiny computer screen and not the big screen or home video.
Let’s start off with talking about the plot of the film, co-written by PHANTASM-newbie director David Hartman along with creator and, until this particular entry, director of all previous installments of the series Don Coscarelli. The film starts out with our main man Reggie Bannister stumbling around the desert in a torn up ice cream man uniform brandishing a gun. He finds a dilapidated shack of sorts that has all the signs of the Tall Man (Scrimm) having been there. He gets a ride from a guy driving down the highway in a ’71 Hemi Cuda that Reggie (Bannister) realizes is his own car. After kicking the asshole out of the car, only after stealing almost all of his clothes, Reggie continues on his journey to hunt down the Tall Man. The story leaves off where the previous four installments had left off: hunting for the Tall Man and coming across each town and city left in his wake. The twist to this installment is that after Reggie dispatches a couple of the silver spheres, he wakes up in a hospital setting and Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is sitting there talking to him. Reggie asks what the hell is going on and Michael tells him he has been diagnosed with dementia. This literally blows Reggie’s mind and he does not believe it. The story goes back and forth between Reggie telling Michael everything that has happened to him up until that point and weaves in and out of what appears to be past events, present events, and I believe future events. At times, one may be slightly confused as to if Reggie is really suffering from dementia or if he is just on another plane of existence or an alternate reality. Whatever the case, the slightly confusing and inconsistent storyline was not really my problem. As I mentioned earlier, I had big issues with the craptastic CGI rampant throughout the film. There was quite a bit of it and the worst parts of the film were when the garbage computer graphics came into play. The director of this semi-mess of a film, David Hartman, was also responsible for the visual effects of the film with his assistant Craig Vance. Hartman’s Visual Effects credits do include JOHN DIES AT THE END and BUBBA HO-TEP, two films I dig, and that explains the relationship that landed him the job because Coscarelli directed both films and they obviously work well together and Don entrusted Hartman in directing what looks to be the final entry in the series, but I personally feel that taking what was originally planned to be webisodes on the internet and edit them into a film did not work out too well. As I said, the overall feel for it being and looking like a PHANTASM film is there (with less than stellar visual effects that truly ruined the film for me), but the story has always been simple. The Tall Man goes around killing people and stealing their bodies to turn them into slaves on his planet or alternate universe. Also of note, as my buddy watched this film with me his first time and my third time, Scrimm gets far more dialogue in this entry and really comes off as not very menacing and actually sounds like he is trying to understand why Reggie wants to save his buddies so much. It gives the Tall Man more of a humanistic quality and he was much more menacing the less we heard him speak and I don’t believe Scrimm said, “Booooooyyyyyyyy!!!”, once throughout the film. That is, afterall, his catch phrase!
I felt that the scenes of murder by those shiny silver spheres were for the most part effective, especially since some of the scene used good ol’ practical effects with blood shooting out in thick, red geysers. Don’t fix things if they are not broken, I say. There is a great scene in which Reggie picks up an attractive woman, Dawn (Dawn Cody) stranded on the side of the road having car trouble, goes back to her place, and spends the night after dinner and writing her a song on his trusty guitar, only to wake up to find a sphere drilling her head and shooting blood out all over. I thought it was the most effective scene within the whole film and also the most realistic and bloody. The horse getting killed was fun, too, only because it was a fucking horse!
As far as the rest of the scenes implementing CGI, especially on a widescale setting like for post-apocalyptic backgrounds and alternate realities on a very colossal scale, it looked like about along the levels of the SyFy Channel and me referencing that is never a good sign or benchmark. I really watched this film thinking Coscarelli did not direct it and the issues with production probably did not help it in anyway so I was not expecting too much from it. I saw it as completing a series and giving the story of PHANTASM closure and that is exactly what it did.
There are going to be quite a few familiar faces in this one, too. As well as Reggie Bannister back as Reggie and A. Michael Baldwin back as Mike, we get an appearance from Bill Thornbury portraying Jody, the elusive Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester and she still looks foxy!), and Gloria Lynne Henry as Rocky (and she barely looks like she has aged much either!). One may recognize a very familiar face from many cool flicks such as veteran character actor Daniel Roebuck playing Demeter, a foreign and heavily-accented stable guy for Dawn (Dawn Cody), the attractive woman Reggie (Bannister) picks up on the site of the road. He takes care of the horses and other barn duties for her, but I would hope there would be some other things he would consider doing for her. I will always remember Roebuck portraying burnout stoner hesher-turned-killer Samson in TRIVER’S EDGE, as well as later on doing some work for Mr. Rob Zombie in his remakes of HALLOWEEN, as well as in his most current flick, 31.
So let me get down to the most annoying character in the this whole damn film: Chunk as portrayed by Stephen Jutras. He is the vertically challenged actor within the film (a little person or dwarf) and he is the one delivering all the wisecracks and jokes, which really are not too humorous and detract from the film. I can deal with Bannister delivering the one-liners now and then, but Jutras’ lines got to be a bit much. As for the rest of the cast, I felt that Baldwin did a stellar job in the scenes he was in, especially when talking with Bannister at the hospital and in the other scenes while battling the Tall Man and his army of gravediggers and hooded dwarfs.
As for the extra features on the blu-ray, it does have some very nice stuff on the disc. The disc comes with a commentary by director David Hartman and writer/producer Don Coscarelli which is very informative and a must-listen after watching the film, if only for the nostalgic purposes it presents. The film’s runtime is only 86 minutes, part in due to the fact that after trimming down minutes from the film’s original intentions as a web series, they had less footage to work with. There is a nice little “Behind the Scenes” featurette included on the disc and a plethora of deleted scenes from the cutting room floor. My favorite scene in this bunch that was trimmed out of the feature is a fight scene with a giant dwarf who is none other than stuntman and actor Derek Mears behind an ugly mask! That scene was cool to watch between Mears and Reggie Bannister. I also dug the “Phuntasm: Bloopers & Outtakes” segment that had some genuinely funny moments collected.
The blu-ray is presented in a 16:9 Widescreen format in Stereo and 5.1 HD Surround Sound and dts-HD Master Audio. There is only an English Language audio track and English SDH subtitles. Well Go USA does a nice job on their product and I have reviewed countless releases and always have been happy with the blu-rays and dvds from the technical end. The blu-ray retails for $29.98 but probably can be found for cheaper on various websites selling quality films.
I can only recommend what looks to be the final entry in the PHANTASM series, PHANTASM: RAVAGER, as one who wants to complete their journey and find out its conclusion. I abhor the visual effects in the film, but the practical effects that were used were done well and there is some decent scenes where the blood does run merrily red across the screen in spurts and geysers of crimson. I had qualms about the Tall Guy’s chattiness which seemed a little bit out of character, as well as the somewhat less-than-cohesiveness storyline, but overall I did not loathe the film and found some charming qualities, but not enough for me to fully recommend it. I will say that completists will want to add this to their collection because the tone of the film is in line with the previous entries and it IS a PHANTASM film at heart, just one shoddily executed and that may have fared better with Coscarelli at the helm of it.