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Phantasm II (Collector's Edition)

Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, and Angus Scrimm.

(US DVD: 26 Mar 2013)

In spite of the Roman numeral, Phantasm II is one of the best movies that emerged during that glorious age of cinematic gore, the ‘80s. Phantasm II‘s ‘healthy doses’ of creepy monsters, gruesome killings, nightmarish images, spooky locations, and flaying silver balls make it an undisputed classic of the horror genre.


Phantasm II is a direct sequel to Phantasm, the cult classic from 1979. That is, Phantasm II starts right where Phantasm left off. Not that this matters much, as these flicks are characterized by their uttermost dreamlike quality were logic completely breaks down into tiny pieces. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to tell what is real, what is a dream, and what is in the imagination of the characters that populate these bizarre films. 


Arguably, the sublime and surrealistic nature of the Phantasm franchise is the reason why so many fans adore these films in spite of their many shortcomings. By all means, these films reflect their low budget origins. And even though Phantasm II was the most expensive of the series, it was also the cheapest movie produced by Universal Studios during those years.


Because of its dreamlike and bizarre narrative structure, it’s nearly impossible to adequately condense the plot of Phantasm II in a few sentences. In a nutshell, Phantasm II features weird grave robbers from some alternate dimension, or perhaps from some far away extraterrestrial world. Their mission, under the leadership of the creepy “Tall Man” (Angus Scrimm), is to process, compress, and reanimate the salvaged cadavers. Then, the cadavers are dressed in brown robes and packaged inside futuristic barrels.


Subsequently, these containers are teleported to an alien world through a dimensional portal. The reason for all this trouble is to exploit the reanimated cadavers as slaves. And of course, the security of the entire operation is protected by a set of flying polished silver spheres with deadly attachments that are able to cut ears, perform lobotomies, and conduct an endoscopy. 


Even though all this sounds plainly absurd and preposterous, it sort of makes sense in the context of the films. But then again, Phantasm II is not a movie that can be analyzed with logic and reason, because the effect of this film on the viewer is more impressionistic in nature. That is, the weird visuals and absurd narrative coalesce into an unforgettable viewing experience that somehow resonates with our cryptic oneiric activity. By all means, watching Phantasm II is like having a horrifying nightmare, where we may become restless and frightened during the dream, but when we wake up we are able to realize the absurdity of the situation.


As is the case with most bad dreams, the power of Phantasm II resides on its subversive portrayal of death. More explicitly, Phantasm II exploits our deepest fears of improper burial rituals, the desecration of the dead bodies of our loved ones, the ultimate fate of our earthly remains, and the possibility of a hellish afterlife. In the uncanny world of the Phantasm films, we are irremediably condemned to have our graves defiled and to endure ruthless slavery until the end of time.


Furthermore, Phantasm II seems right out of the imagination of the legendary master of the weird tale, H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, the world of the Phantasm films is populated by metaphysical horrors and God-like creatures eager to conquer our planet, for which mankind is no match. In Phantasm II, the characters are confronted with an unattainable situation in which any possible human technology or religious belief is completely useless in the fight for freedom.


In this regard, one of the most terrifying quotes from the history of the horror genre is found in Phantasm II. In a futile attempt to exorcise the Tall Man’s lair, the enthusiastic Father Meyers (Kenneth Tigar) manages to be captured. Before being mutilated by a flying sphere, the Tall Man tells him: “You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!”.  In the agnostic world of Phantasm II, there is no Heaven and there is no God able to save our souls after death. Instead, there is a concrete embodiment of Hell purely driven by economic needs. 


Arguably, the macabre philosophy that surrounds Phantasm II is due to the creative mind of Don Coscarelli, the writer and director of all the films in the series. But there are so many other things to enjoy while watching Phantasm II. For example, the antics and undertakings of the indefatigable Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a former ice cream truck sales man turned into defender of our world. Also worth of appreciation is the extravagant electronic score by Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone, which reprises the most important cues from the first flick. And last, but not least, the truly amazing work created by Mark Shostrom, the legendary make up special effects artist. In this regard, and in spite of its obvious technical limitations, Phantasm II makes me wish horror movies were still made using tons of latex and fake blood.


True fans of the horror genre have to celebrate the release of Phantasm II in the Blu-ray format. Distributed by Shout! Factory, this Blu-ray is a keeper. The film is presented with pristine sound and video, as it is typical of this high definition format. Considering the age and production costs of Phantasm II, this movie has never been in a better shape in any home video format. In addition, this presentation is loaded with interesting special features, including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a fascinating documentary on the making of the film.


By all means, Phantasm II is a great horror flick that should be appreciated by everybody that enjoys fright films. The narrative of Phantasm II may sound absurd and ridiculous, but the feelings of dread and anxiety that we get while we watch it are very real.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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