FANTASTIC FEST REVIEW: PHANTASM: RAVAGER (David Hartman, 2016)
For horror fans of a certain age, Don Coscarelli’s 1979 PHANTASM was a turning point in their education: a wild ride chockablock with rock and roll riffs, teen angst and animus, a feasome boogeyman, and flying silver spheres whose spikes rendered gouts of blood straight from the brainpan like it was maple syrup sap-tapping season in Vermont.. Before 1984 gave us NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PHANTASM was the creme-de-la-creme of psycho-screwball horror.
If you’re already a fan, you simply must find a big-screen showing the newly-restored 4K version of the original. Presented in tandem, PHANTASM: RAVAGER is literally incomparable- as in, you shouldn’t compare the two.
If you’re new to the series, worry not: between the “previously on” prologue to a few not-so-necessary monologues from Reggie, you’ll get caught up in no time. In fact, newcomers might find themselves more entertained than those who might’ve gotten their hopes a tad too high for what the movie delivers. Perhaps the better choice is to think of PHANTASM: RAVAGER the way you may think of the upcoming STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE: as an out-of-canon story told within the PHANTASM universe, so as not to be disappointed.
In fact, let’s call it a PHANTASM for a new generation: shot on the low-B with a few amped-up setpieces and extra catchphrases and chuckles thrown in. Hats off to co-writers Hartman and Coscarelli for a legit head-scratcher of a storyline: a shifting-universe plot that plays tug-of-war among (count ‘em) four potential realities, pitching poor Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to and fro at a pace dizzying enough to make anyone question their sanity. But Reggie’s heart still wants what it wants: to be reunited with his pals Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury), and finally, finally put an end to sneering, growling, time-shifting-no-fair-cheater The Tall Man (the wonderful Angus Scrimm in his last role, and if you’re a longtime fan, his first words might bring a tear to your eye, no foolies).
It’s good that Reggie’s motives haven’t changed, and The Tall Man is as evil as ever- that at least gives viewers something consistent to hold on to. Jumping back and forth in ever-weirder environments (two of which look pilfered from MATRIX and HELLRAISER II remnant sales), our characters’ roles change and shift, sometimes for the good, sometimes the sad, and sometimes in a hell-yeah option that just can’t be real. Or can it?
It’s possible that PHANTASM hasn’t changed, but we have; a “it’s not you, it’s me” jaded cynicism about movies that have graduated to a more cynical, overeducated viewpoint on today’s horror tropes. And tropes we find, or perhaps it’s homage: a little EVIL DEAD here, a touch of MOUTH OF MADNESS there, a definite kiss blown to BUBBA HO-TEP- to the point of feeling like RAVAGER might have started as greenlighted fanfic, then had to backfill a full-length story to fit its surface pitch.
Get past the first 20 minutes. Shift from one reality to the next, and see if the story doesn’t snag you. If you can embrace the curious possibilities of what Reggie’s facing in at least two of the worlds on offer, you’ll be able to wade through the others with a minimum of impatience. And even as the end seems more than a little bit “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” for some tastes, a little ambiguity never hurt anybody. In fact, for PHANTASM: RAVAGER, that might be the sweetest twist yet. –cdo
[Full Disclosure: Well Go USA Entertainment, where I spent the last five years and still contract as a Subtitles-Polisher on foreign-translated titles, is the North American distributor of PHANTASM: REMASTERED and PHANTASM: RAVAGER.]
MOVIE MOMENT: “What a fine use of our time that was.”
REEL RATING: 2 / 4