Friday, October 7, 2016


Ah, October. Scary movies back in the theaters. Opening this weekend at Harkins Valley Art, on alternating showtimes with the handsome new remastered version of the original, is… 

Phantasm: RavagerReggie (Reggie Bannister), the pony-tailed ice cream man turned supernatural warrior, stumbles out of the desert at the beginning of this fourth sequel to Don Coscarelli’s 1979 classic Phantasm. Within minutes, he’s behind the wheel of the “black ’71 ‘cuda” [Plymouth Barracuda] so beloved by the series, and is again battling the lethal flying silver spheres.

The wild adventures that follow, directed by David Hartman from a script by Hartman and Coscarelli, take Reggie across multiple dimensional realities, stalking and stalked by the malevolent metaphysical mortician The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Intercut with this are scenes at a nursing home in which Reggie is told that he is suffering from early-onset dementia—a Ravager far more terrifying to most of us than The Tall Man—so he, and we, can’t be sure what’s real and what isn’t.

Where the ‘79 film was full of witty, ingenious low-tech special effects, Ravager is wall-to-wall CGI, and thus lacks the original’s funny yet unsettling spookiness. Making up for this, however, is the presence of the original cast members, not just Bannister, who gives a genuinely touching star performance, but also A. Michael Baldwin as Mike, Bill Thornbury as Jody, and even Kathy Lester as the “Lady in Lavender.” They still have the warmth and offbeat, real-life attractiveness that made the first film so distinctive—these people are definitely not from central casting.

Although the movie leaves open the possibility of a sequel, it does close a chapter for Phantasm: it was the swansong of Angus Scrimm, who passed on in January at the age of 89. His glowering Tall Man is as baleful and perversely lovable as ever; his manner here toward Reggie, with whom he tries to strike a bargain, seems almost fond. 

Ravager also retains some of Coscarelli’s startling, imaginative eccentricity. I missed some of the direct-to-video Phantasm sequels over the years, and it’s possible that this is why I didn’t understand some of the movie’s more puzzling elements, like, say, the Bulgarian farmhand named Demeter (Daniel Roebuck). But even if there’s a perfectly logical explanation for him, movies with Bulgarian farmhands named Demeter don’t come along every day.

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