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FEARNET Movie Review: 'Phantasm 2' Blu-Ray

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phantasm 2I won't abide an unkind word about Don Coscarelli's 1979 cult classic horror flick known as Phantasm. Half a bizarre but cohesive thriller and half a compendium of bizarrely effective nightmare logic, the original Phantasm is one of the only movies to give me actual nightmares -- and I still think it holds up as a testament to the power of unique, weird, independent horror cinema.
 
I mention all of that because, well, as much as I adore Phantasm and many of Mr. Coscarelli's other films (Bubba Ho-tep, John Dies at the End, The Beastmaster, etc.) I've never really taken to the Phantasm sequels. It's a rare franchise in that all four chapters kept the same writer/director, and I'll always take unpredictable weirdness over lethargic formula, but where the first Phantasm was weird but mostly decipherable, the sequels are almost maddeningly confusing. Sure, each one has its charms, mainly because Don Coscarelli is a mad genius even in his weakest moments, but beginning with 1988's Phantasm 2, the series went from a strange but simple narrative to more or less visual horror lunacy with little in the way of character, plot, or simple context.
 
Perhaps if Phantasm 2 had been an independent production things would have gone differently but (weirdly enough) it was Universal Pictures who wanted a horror franchise of their own and they, sort of unwisely, opted to buy Phantasm. Things didn't work out so well.
 
Oh sure, fans of the series have managed to tie each chapter together -- even if Mr. Coscarelli and his editors were not, but for those keeping score, Part 2 tries to "retcon" the big finale from the first movie, tosses in a completely new side story about a girl who has visions not unlike the young hero from Phantasm 1, replaces the original lead with a young James Le Gros, wanders off in multiple various directions, features some reliably amusing work from franchise favorite Reggie Bannister, and (of course) relies on the ominous presence of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), his creepy minions, and his silver spiked balls that fly around and drill people's brains out.
 
It's not Shakespeare -- but even as a hardcore horror nut, it's tough to enjoy Phantasm 2 as little more than an '80s relic, a curious follow-up to a powerful indie horror flick, and a decent collection of gory practical affects and enjoyably grotesque moments of graphic horror. The story doesn't make a lick of sense and unfortunately Phantasm 2 is more bizarre and arcane then it is actually scary -- but it's certainly worth checking out if you love the original film as much as I do. 
 
The Phantasm franchise might be the second-most* indecipherable genre series ever produced, but that's not to say there's not some good, garish fun to be found in Part 2. (* The single most indecipherable genre series is, of course, Highlander. Then Phantasm. Then Hellraiser.) Suffice to say that Phantasm 2 is a road movie, a horror story, a tale of psychic intervention, and a social commentary regarding the place of multi-dimensional slave dwarfs in today's funeral parlor industry. I have no idea. I assume Don Coscarelli smoked some pretty excellent weed when he wrote all four of these movies.
 
Genre fans will be pleased to learn that Phantasm 2 has hit blu-ray by way of Scream/Shout Factory, which means that the A/V presentation is simply wonderful, and that the supplemental section will include A) a new commentary with Coscarelli, Bannister, and Scrimm; B) a 45-minute retrospective piece on the movie that answers a lot of questions about this rather bizarre relic from the late 1980s; C) another mini-doc about the lovely gore FX from Greg Nicotero's team; D) geeky randomness like trailers, TV spots, photo galleries, etc.
 

It's hard to imagine the Phantasm fan who prefers the sequel over the original, but if this kooky little horror flick holds a place in your nostalgia vault, this blu-ray is a no-brainer acquisition.
 

Read FEARnet's partner reviews of 'Phantasm II'

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