Phantasm II (1988)

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Phantasm II picks up directly where the first Phantasm leaves off. It then goes through a great big time skip that finds Mike and Reggie hunting down their old nemesis. The Tall Man is up to his old tricks, stealing the dead and raising an undead army with the help of some very swift metal spheres as he travels through the US, decimating town after town. It’s no longer about just saving themselves, now it’s up to Mike and Reggie to save the world.

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Looks like it’ll be fun.

Thanks to the success of the first film, Phantasm II was picked up by Universal. This gave Coscarelli a much bigger budget to work with and it shows. Everything is nicer, production-wise. The sets are look better, the spheres are slicker, and the deaths are gorier.

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Even the back cysts are more lifelike.

The formatting of the sequel has shifted significantly. The head honchos at Universal wanted a few changes this time around. So where the first film contained everything into a surreal vision of a small town, Phantasm II takes everything on the road and removes all dreamlike elements in favor of a linear, more action oriented script. So while the basic premise of the film remains the same, the story is much more coherent this time around. The changes in no way make it scarier than the original, but it does make it more fun.

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Actually, he looks like he’s having too much fun.

A couple new enemies have been added to the story as well. On top of the creepy, evil Jawa knock-offs we now have human minions and gas mask wearing gravediggers. Yay.

There’s also a new hero in the form of Liz, a psychic (because every horror franchise needs at least one of them, I guess) who has some sort of link with Mike, who also has psychic power now as well. It’s not exactly explained when Mike developed any psychic power. I think we’re just supposed to roll with it.

Speaking of Mike, he gets a re-cast. James LeGross (who beat out Brad Pit for the role) comes in to replace Michael Baldwin. The change is a little jarring, since even with the 10-year time lapse the two look nothing alike. He adds a lot of youthful energy to the action scenes, but falls a bit flat with everything else. I much more preferred Baldwin’s nervous energy in those quieter moments. Granted, with all the added action, those quieter moments are few and far between.

The only other returning character, other than Angus Scrimm, is Reggie. In Phantasm II, Reggie’s role shifts from secondary character, to main character, giving him a much bigger focus and Coscarelli does his best to give him his moment to shine. Reggie is wisecracking, he’s badass, he’s horny, he’s got a great car and he has absolutely no idea what the hell is going on. His dialogue and facial expressions often mirror exactly what the viewer is thinking. Reggie is, in a way, the audience. If you can’t believe what’s going on, don’t feel bad. Most of the time it looks like Reggie can’t believe what’s going on either.

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Ha Ha! You bastards! I’ve got a chainsaw!

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Well, I’ve got a bigger one.

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Well…shit.

The end of Phantasm II really doesn’t make a bit of sense, but then, the ending in the first was exactly the same, so at least they’re remaining consistent. It’s the most well produced Phantasm film and probably the most entertaining, with comedy, fun action scenes and a linear plot that will probably appeal to a lot more people than the first film. The biggest weak link in the film is the love interest sub-plot (mercifully ditched in the following entries) that just feels awkward and shoehorned in for the sake of having a female party member. The horrible specter of a controlling board of directors may hover over the production, but Coscarelli’s sometimes gleeful inclusion of other horror cinema influences (some of which were probably initially influenced by the first Phantasm) makes it a fun romp, even with all the narrative changes.

Phantasm II is currently available to rent on Amazon.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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