Today sees the release of the newest Phantasm film, Phantasm: Ravager, in theaters (also available on VOD) after an 18 year wait. We’ve been taking a look back at the franchise this week with my ranking of the series so far, a breakdown of Phantasm’s End, the big budget sequel that could’ve been, a brief shout out for the franchise’s Black Sheep, and a differing opinion on the new film with Zach Kindron’s review. Now here we are with my take on the fifth and possibly final film, Ravager.
Before we dive into the review proper, let’s talk about the elephant pummeling all the tiny Lurkers in the room. Phantasm: Ravager looks like a Lifetime movie of the week, and I don’t mean one of the “tentpole” flicks starring Lindsay Lohan or Christina Ricci. I’m talking some What Have You Done With My Daughter level stuff (Is that even a film? I don’t know, but it sounds like one).
This was an extremely low budget production, shot over a couple years on weekends when the guys had some free time. It is truly a labor of love. The original film cost 300k back in 1979, and I’d be surprised if the budget for Ravager was even a fourth of that. While I don’t believe the meager budget should excuse away all of the flaws here, it would be unfair for viewers to go in expecting something on the level of the previous entries (in terms of production value).
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
Okay. Now that’s out of the way, is Ravager a fitting end to the series? The answer in short is, “yes”. Ravager is a melting pot of ideas lifted from the previous entries. There’s something for every phan of the series. If you like the more esoteric approach of Oblivion, you’ll get pontificating in spades. If your imagination was captured more by the nightmarish/child-like logic of the original, you get that too. You just want to see Lurkers and Sentinel Spheres get blow-ed up real good (don’t we all)? Yep, we’ve got some cool 2 and 3 style moments as well.
We open to Reggie (Reggie Bannister) wandering lost and exhausted in the desert, the implication being he’s been stranded ever since the ending of Oblivion. Along comes a strangely familiar car, a black 71′ Barracuda. The driver is a pasty little asshole who stole Reggie’s prized possession of “American muscle” from it’s hiding spot out in the desert wasteland. After reclaiming his ride, Reggie is off and immediately under attack from a couple of roving Sentinels. It’s a thrilling scene to open the film. New director, David Hartman, throws us right back into the Phantasm world without any unnecessary setup. he’s aware we know the drill and despite the budgetary restraints, the scene is a blast.
Then we’re thrown to a different timeline. Reggie has been placed in a nursing home. His visitor, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), informs him that he’s been diagnosed with dementia, and all these stories of The Tall Man are merely a figment of his imagination. Reggie is, of course, convinced this is all a part of The Tall Man’s plan; he’s simply found himself caught in another trap – an illusion. From here, the film begins cutting between several different timelines, or dimensions depending on how you see it.
My instant excitement started to wane. I could forgive the homemade CGI which is better than most Syfy movies. The spotty acting was also a given, but one detour finds Reggie shacking up with a pretty redhead named Dawn (Dawn Cody) at her farmhouse. This entire sequence felt like a misstep. Knowing that a lot of this footage is compromised of short films Coscarelli and Hartman shot for fun only to later be molded into a feature, makes me feel like this segment must have been their maiden voyage. The lighting, dialogue, direction – it all feels so flat and amateur. I wasn’t completely “out” of the film during these scenes, but they unfortunately make up a good third of the very short runtime.
From here the film bounces back and forth between one interesting yet unconnected set-piece to another. About fifty minutes in, the film comes back to life. We’re dropped right in the middle of one more alternate dimension. This one certainly feels like the logical continuation of the films that have come before, a post apocalyptic wasteland where we are informed that most of the world has been decimated by The Tall Man and his kind. We even get a quick montage of news images that hint at the epic downfall we may have seen in Phantasm’s End. We even get to see a glimpse of “The Bag Plague” though its inclusion feels like nothing more than a wink and nudge to fans.
The final third of the film is exactly the movie I had hoped for. This is where the pieces of the decades old puzzle begin to fall into place. The cinematography is stepped up substantially. The eerie greens and reds give the film a splendid, old school 80’s vibe that I wish would have been consistent throughout. The narrative narrows its focus, switching back and forth between the apocalyptic showdown and Reggie back at the nursing home.
We’re also reintroduced to Dawn Cody, now playing a different character, only adding to the “what’s real or not” vibe of it all. My favorite new addition to the cast, Stephen Jutras as Chunk, is a badass little person with enough attitude to take Reggie down a few pegs. Together with Mike, they are all leading the resistance against The Tall Man.
It’s upsetting that this portion of the film doesn’t take up the majority of the runtime. There’s a lot that could be done even with the minuscule budget using this set-up. It’s easy to see a film partially buried here that could have played as a contained horror throwback. Take these mercenary types searching for the portal into The Tall Man’s dimension, under attack from his various henchmen, and we could’ve had a rock solid final installment. Perhaps, however, that would have been too simple a way to end such a strange franchise as Phantasm.
We get answers as to why The Tall Man has focused his efforts on Mike for all these years. Granted, the answer isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but at least we can stop asking. The final battle with The Tall Man is over quickly and is a tad disappointing in that it relies too heavily on some of the new characters that were only introduced twenty minutes prior. Despite this, the film still builds to a close that is nonetheless satisfying after all these years of build up.
Ravager is all about saying “goodbye”. As we let go of the franchise that has been with us for so many years, we watch as Mike and Jody let go of Reggie in his dying moments. Is’s a somber moment that will surely resonate now through future viewings of the other films. Yes, the idea is presented that Reggie has been living these adventures all along within his fractured mind. In his death he is able to find peace and happiness, riding off with his friends (and a surprise final addition that had me squeal with delight) on a quest to find the coldest location possible. Ya’ know, because The Tall Man hates the cold.
Ravager is far from a perfect film. The narrative might be intentionally all over the place, but certain stories have little to no impact, only leaving us with half a film that truly delivers the goods. The acting is hit and miss, though Reggie Bannister delivers a charming if uneven performance, while Chunk is someone I would gladly follow into a new series of Phantasm films. Lastly, Angus Scrimm, in his final onscreen performance, doesn’t show up just to phone it in. His screen time might be limited, but he makes every second of it count. He truly is The Tall Man, and it’s hard to imagine any sort of continuation going on without his presence.
I recommend Ravager to long time fans without a second’s hesitation. It’s far from perfect, but as the credits started to roll, I was left with a huge grin on my face. Speaking of the credits, there is flashing images throughout that appear to be made up mostly of footage that did not end up in the final cut. Hopefully we’ll get a peek at this extra material on the Blu-ray.
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