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If you didn’t already know that there have previously been three sequels to the 1979 cult horror film Phantasm, then its fifth and final installment definitely isn’t for you. Supposedly bringing the series to a close after a mind-boggling 37 years, Phantasm: Ravager should please longtime fans while leaving newcomers unimpressed and confused. Unlike its two immediate predecessors that went straight to video, this entry is receiving a theatrical release, along with a restored version of the original film.
The first film in the series not directed by creator Don Coscarelli — not to worry, he produced and co-wrote the screenplay — the film takes pains to bring newcomers (and fans with short memories) up to speed with flashbacks from earlier installments and voiceover narration. They reintroduce us to the iconic characters, including the demonic mortician known as the “Tall Man” (Angus Scrimm, who passed away at age 89 earlier this year), who uses zombie minions and lethal metal orbs to achieve his evil ends, and friends Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury), who despite their decades-long efforts still haven’t been able to defeat him.
The storyline — which centers on Reggie and takes place in several alternative universes, including one in which he’s a dementia patient (certainly the most plausible) — is confusing, to say the least. Novices will certainly be left adrift. But longtime fans (I confess that I bailed after the first sequel) will certainly appreciate the frequent references to earlier events and characters, including Reggie’s late wife, who reappears at the familiar Morningside Cemetery mausoleum. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go so well.
Making his feature debut, director David Hartman reveals his inexperience with his technically ragged helming. The obviously low-budget and tacky-looking CGI effects don’t help. But it will hardly matter to the die-hard fans, who will relish the opportunity to see the original and now long in the tooth castmembers reprise their roles, probably for the last time. That’s certainly true of Scrimm, who despite his advanced age had lost none of his talent for conveying truly creepy malevolence. Hearing the gaunt actor intone “humans are skins sacs of organ and meat” is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Phantasm: Ravager has been announced as the final entry in the series. But an epilogue during the end credits, involving fan-favorite character Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) from Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, indicates that, like many of their characters, few horror franchises stay dead forever.
Production: Silver Sphere Corporation
Distributor: Well Go USA
Cast: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Kat Lester, Angus Scrimm, Dawn Cody, Gloria Lynne Henry
Director-editor: David Hartman
Screenwriters: David Hartman, Don Coscarelli
Producer: Don Coscarelli
Executive producer: Brad Baruh
Directors of photography: David Hartman, Brad Baruh
Production designer: Kathleen Poirier Hartman
Costume designer: Shelley Kay
Composer: Christopher L. Stone
Not rated, 97 minutes
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