Thursday, 6 October 2016


It's been a long time coming.
Don Coscarelli's Phantasm was released when I was just a year old, so needless to say, I was pretty late to the party. But when my good friend Mike introduced me to the film nearly 20 years ago, I was hooked.
From the slick Hollywoodised fun of the first sequel (released in 1988), to the wacky campiness of 1994's Lord of the Dead, to the low-fi mindgames of 1998's OblIVion, I am a huge Phan of the surreal horror phranchise. There really are no other genre flicks quite like them and, in the long wait since the release of Oblivion, I have lamented the non-appearance of Phantasm's End A.K.A. Phantasm 1999 A.K.A. Phantasm 2013, the epic finale penned by Oscar-winning writer Roger Avary.
It seemed the series was doomed... until Coscarelli stunned the world in 2014 with the news that not only was a new, concluding chapter to the saga on the way, the cast and crew had already finished filming it!
Now, two years later and soon after the sad passing of the iconic Angus Scrimm, Ravager is here.
THIS will be emotional.


Dir: David Hartman
Starring: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm, Kathy Lester, Dawn Cody, Stephen Jutras, Daniel Roebuck, Gloria Lynne Henry, Daniel Schweiger

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Following on from the conclusion of Phantasm IV, Ravager opens with ice-cream-man turned monster-hunter, Reggie (Bannister) roaming the desert in search of his nemesis, The Tall Man (Scrimm), and missing friend Mike (Baldwin). Along the way he crosses paths with the cute Dawn (Cody), not to mention the infamous silver spheres that serve the Tall Man and his siren-like alter-ego, The Lady in Lavender (Lester, reprising her role from the original movie).
But in another world, another reality, Reggie awakens in a care home, confused and scared, only to be greeted by Mike who informs him that he is there receiving treatment for early onset dementia.
Yet there is a third story at play, one set in a distant future in which Reggie is freed from the nefarious clutches of the dimension-jumping Tall Man by tough-as-nails freedom fighters Jane (Cody again) and Chunk (Jutras). He discovers that he has been frozen in one of the alien mortician's sphere creating machines and, while he has laid dormant, the world has fallen to the Tall Man's forces. Now gas-mask wearing zombies, robed dwarf slaves and city-levelling giant spheres rule the ruins.
As the stories weave together, Reggie is offered a tempting bargain by the Tall Man... and we are finally given an ending to one of Horror cinema's most unique cult favourites.

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Oh man, I might as well just say it. I loved Phantasm Ravager
The first film in the series not to be filmed by Don Coscarelli, phans who harboured any fears that helmer David Hartman might not GET it can rest at ease. In Phantasm Ravager we have been given the greatest fan-film in history. It has all the trappings of one of Coscarelli's movies (outside the assembling of a number of the series' familiar faces), with a suitably enigmatic storyline and a pay-off to all that has come before.
It's always great to see Bannister doing his thing, from the very first movie he has always been the beating heart of the series, and in this story Reggie is absolutely the star. He's in practically every scene and he's really given a lot to do. He shows some real nuance in his performance during the nursing home scenes, while his trademark cheesy, laidback flirtation during his scenes with the ladies is as on point as ever. He's a lover, a fighter, a loser, a tragic hero and fantasist all at once. He is brilliant.
Of course a lot of the brilliance of the role comes from the great plot line that Coscarelli and Hartman have penned. This film was originally planned as a series of webisodes, until the pair realised that they'd actually assembled enough footage to finally create a concluding chapter to the story. That the pair were able to then devise a cohesive plot to join these webisodes together is an achievement in itself — that the finished product should be so utterly compelling is nigh on miraculous.
THIS is a Phantasm movie, and each aspect of the disparate stories at play within it makes for a perfect complement to the vastly differing films that came before it.
You want slick, cool badass action a la Phantasm II? You got it.
You want the wit and humour of Lord of the Dead? Check.
You want the emotional mindgames of Oblivion? Right here.
And if you're a fan of the surreal, dreamlike horror of the 1979 original, you're in the right place.
I don't want to spoil the plot — some of you guys have waited long enough for this moment, you deserve to see it with your own eyes — but I will say it totally did what I wanted it to do. It gave me answers, it raised even more questions, it showed the, ahem, balls to take the story bigger and more out there than any of the others, but more than anything, it took me back to Coscarelli's mesmerising  world one last-time. Thank you, gentlemen.
The cast are as great as ever. Baldwin gets a lot to do and he plays a number of characters himself, the Mike of two vastly differing realities. It's a role that he has just grown into more and more, and here it's truly captivating to see him take it up one last time. There's one scene late on in the movie where Baldwin, through just the expression on his face, nearly moved me to tears. He's excellent.
Of course, no review of this movie would be complete without mentioning the late, great Angus Scrimm. Even in his senior years Scrimm effortlessly evokes the menace of his otherworldly character. His gravelly voice, the trademark sneer — it's all here, and so is much more. We hear more about him, what he is, what he wants, and for every second Scrimm is onscreen he commands the viewer's full attention. He was a tremendous talent, a true gift to the genre, and this last performance shows us exactly why. RIP, sir.
The new faces impress — both Jutra and Cody are great and could make for a fun inclusion in any continuation or spin-off of the story — where as stalwarts Lester, Thornbury and Henry, while a little under-used, are great as well.
The film looks great considering its decidedly modest means, but true phans have come to accept these films being a little rough around the edges provided it provides as much heart as it can. We get some great visuals (the post-apocalyptic future may have been a little beyond the filmmakers' reach but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled every time we ventured into its murky depths), plus some truly iconic moments in the series (The Tall Man's proposition to Reggie in the inter-dimensional white room, the return of the Lady in Lavender at the mausoleum, that lightning-illuminated showdown on the floating rock, a final desperate mission to the Red Planet...) and even some scares.
Even though this is the end of the line for some of the characters (and possibly some of the cast and crew), I recommend sticking around throughout the end credits of the film. Maybe we have finally seen Phantasm's end... or maybe this is just the beginning.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As I said before, Phantasm Ravager is a philm for the phans. If you're new to the series, this is NOT the place to start. Hell, if it's a been a while since you last sat down with Coscarelli's series this will almost certainly come across as a confusing mess. You have been warned.
I have seen a number of complaints about the film in other reviews, and I'm going to address them here.
I've read critiques which say the fact that the story was originally planned as a series of webisodes leaves the film tonally and aesthetically inconsistent. I think that argument misses the point. The film is meant to be seen as three separate, but interwoven tales and this just heightens that experience.
I've also read a number of complaints about the way the film 'looks cheap'. Sure, the visuals are very DTV, but I would sooner watch a good film made for a modest budget than a slick but heartless and soulless blockbuster. The CG may leave a little to be desired at times, but I think Hartman deserves to be praised for his ambition.
Now, it's difficult to discuss the last issue that some critics have raised, one about the nature of the ending, without running the risk of spoiling it, so I'll do my very best to remain vague but I'm going to stick a warning here just in case.
********** SPOILERS FOLLOW ********** Some people have reacted with real anger towards the most obvious interpretation of the end of the film. I shan't say what it is, but I really do feel that it fits perfectly with the themes of death, mortality and the fear of dying that have been a huge part of the Phantasm series since the very first movie. If this were to have been depicted as the definitive explanation and conclusion for the saga, I would have felt sad but not robbed. It's a bittersweet finish to one of the few horror franchises that actually deserves such a conclusion.
But of course, that's overlooking one major factor — we are given an alternative. With the concept of multiverses and different dimensions already established in this very movie, who is to say that the alternative scenes playing out during the film's closing credits are not also a legitimate ending? One that hints at even more ass-kicking and further adventures for our beloved trio?
Of course, another complaint is aimed directly at the fact that these scenes undo the scenes before it and ruin any true sense of closure. This is absolute nonsense. Hartman and Coscarelli are kind enough to give us two endings in one — we get to pick whichever one best suits our own preferred climax and go from there.
********** SPOILERS END **********
Finally, the only real qualm I have is that I wish some of the cast had more to do. It's a short film, so I would happily have taken an extra half hour or so of Scrimm, Thornbury and the criminally underused Henry. Henry's reprisal of the role of Rocky is basically an extended cameo. If the filmmakers hadn't announced her involvement and her appearance in the film had remained a pleasant surprise, I would probably feel a lot more favourable towards it.

THE VERDICT: This is a tough thing to write, because Phantasm is a series that has polarised viewers for years. The very epitome of indie, cult filmmaking, it ends as it started — on the terms of those who made the film, nobody else.
Ravager is an ambitious, thought-provoking, sometimes confusing but always heartfelt final chapter to a series that has been all of those things and more. It's everything I could have a hoped for — a phantastic phinale.
Thanks guys, it's been quite the ride.

Phantasm Ravager is available OnDemand and appearing at select cinemas in the States now. An official UK release has yet to be announced. Keep an eye on Ravager's official Facebook page here for more details.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.


  1. Nice review. I am a horror fan and was aware of this series but never watched it... will check it out now

    1. You really should do, Jason, they're low-fi but utterly fantastic