When Don Cosarelli's original Phantasm film proved to be a box office success, the young director was none too keen on delving back into the horror genre for fear or being pigeonholed. As such, there's a pretty large gap between the first film and the second one, which wasn't made until the head of Universal at the time, a horror fan, bank rolled it in 1988. Coscarelli came onboard to write and direct, but had to make some concessions to the studio in order to get it made, the biggest being the casting of Mike and some tweaks made to the picture based on test screenings. Because of this, in many ways the film feels very different than the original picture, it plays instead like a much more straight forward road movie mixed up with horror movie elements.
The story picks up a few years after the events of the first movie when we find Mike (played this time out by James Le Gross of Drugstore Cowboy) just let out of the psychiatric hospital and out looking for Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Though Mike convinced the doctors that he was 'okay' by agreeing that everything from the first film had happened only in his mind, Mike knows the real truth about the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and he also knows that Reggie can help him set things right. Mike has also been having strange dreams about a pretty blonde girl and he thinks that she exists not only in his dreams but in real life as well and that she might be in danger.
At any rate, Mike eventually tracks Reggie down and we find that the loveable ice cream man from the first film is now shotgun totting trucker cap wearing tough guy. He's been wanting a piece of the Tall Man for a long time now and with Mike at his side once more, he figures now's the time to get one. After helping themselves to plenty of weapons and even a flamethrower, the two of them hop into Reggie's Hemicuda and head out on the road and into the country of Northern California/Southern Oregon. Their plan is to track him down and stop him before he kills even more people and along the way they get some help from a sexy stranger named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) whose uncle owns a bed and breakfaster near the cemetery they've tracked the Tall Man too. Additionally, that girl from Mike's dreams? Her name is Liz (Paula Irvine) and she's very real indeed.
The second film in the franchise feels as much like an eighties action movie as it does a horror film and in fact, it pretty much eschews the bizarre surreal atmosphere that made the first film so cool in favor of shoot'em up and blow'em up scenes of gun play and mayhem. It works, though not to the same extent that the first movie did. The action scenes are fun and Bannister makes for an interesting if off the wall choice for a tough guy (you've got to love the guy as he runs around with a quadruple barrel shotgun sporting a trucker hat that says BOOGIE DOWN on it!). The film has enough gore in it that it's firmly entrenched in the horror movie staples that were established long before it was made, but it lacks that sense of dread. That unknowing, foreboding feeling that the first movie had is nowhere to be found save for a quick bit towards the end where we get a look into the Tall Man's dimension. This time out, Coscarelli and company play it pretty straight, throwing in some goofy humor in a scene where a disturbingly horny Reggie hops into bed with Alchemy, who then proceeds to basically make out with his bald head before riding him cowgirl style, hooting and hollering loud enough to wake the dead.
The cast here are pretty decent. Bannister is Bannister, he's Reggie, no one else can really pull it off the way he does and you get the impression that the guy is basically just playing himself here. James Le Gross actually does just fine as Mike but as he isn't Michael Baldwin, the actor who played the character in the first, third and fourth movies, he doesn't quite seem right. To his credit though, he handles the material well. Angus Scrimm once again steals every scene he's in as the Tall Man, whether he's skulking through a mortuary looking for the embalming room or somehow hovering outside the second story window of a Victorian style home. The series would not be the same without him and he brings incredible screen presence to the movie. The female cast members are also solid, with Phillips playing the wild girl and Irvine the complete opposite, playing Liz as quiet and meek - both ladies make the right sort of 'fit' for their respective men in the movie; birds of a feather and all that.
Some impressive gore effects take place in the last half of the movie. Once the spheres are unleashed the goo and the gore is handed out in pretty liberal doses. Hands are chopped off, faces are chewed, and acid laced embalming fluid is used in particularly nasty ways. A monster splits out of one character's spine and various little Jawa like minions of the Tall Man meet their maker with a fair bit of splatter. Phantasm II is fun movie, but it's not a scary one nor is it really all that unique once you removed the Tall Man and his spheres from the equation. If you want to see the Tall Man running around messing stuff up, an admittedly fairly awesome chainsaw battle, and plenty of that nasty sphere action that the series is known for, however, it fits the bill. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but a completely enjoyable mix of horror and action nevertheless.The Blu-ray:
Scream Factory offers up Phantasm II in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in 1.78.1 widescreen and overall the movie looks very good here on Blu-ray. Detail is at its most impressive in close up shots, no surprise there, but medium and long distance shots like those scenes in which the our heroes drive through the mountains also benefit from the increased resolution that the format offers, as do the scenes shot inside the mortuary - note the texture in the marble. Some shots look a bit soft, and this seems to stem back to the original photography, but colors look very nice and black levels are, if not reference quality, very close to it. Texture is strong and there are no obvious issues with compression or edge enhancement. The image is also impressive in its clarity and cleanliness - aside from a couple of minor 'blink and you'll miss them' specks, there are no problems with print damage and the film's grain structure seems more or less unharmed here, with no problematic noise reduction issues creeping in. Thumbs up!Sound:
English language options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio with closed captioning provided in English. Both tracks sound pretty good here. Purists will opt for the 2.0 mix while the 5.1 mix opens up the soundscape a bit, doing some nice things with the score in the rear channels and springing to life in the surrounds when the spheres start to fly. Clarity is good across the board regardless of which option you choose and there are no problems with hiss or distortion anywhere to report. Dialogue remains clean and clear and the sound effects and score are both mixed in nicely and don't bury the cast.Extras:
Extras start off with a commentary track that comes courtesy of Don Coscarelli who is joined by Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. If you've heard any of their tracks for some of the other movies in the series, you already know that these guys get along really, really well together and we're treated to a fun and interesting listen. Reggie and Coscarelli have worked together on almost everything and they go way back, so there's a lot of mutual ribbing going on throughout, but again, there are enough stories and facts delivered through the discussion that it's not hard at all to get a good feel for the kind of atmosphere they were able to create on set. The most interesting aspect of this talk is when Coscarelli details, with some regret, the compromises that he had to make with the money men in order to get the movie even made in the first place. This track has been included on past DVD releases but it's a good one and it's nice to see it carried over.
New to this Blu-ray is Red Shirt's The Ball Is Back, a forty-plus minute high definition featurette that is made up of interviews with Coscarelli, Bannister, Phillips, Scrimm, Irvine and a few other cast and crew members. Coscarelli notes that he loves horror film but talks about wanting to try other things after the success of Phantasm and also briefly discusses how Brad Pitt auditioned for Phantasm 2, though he obviously didn't get the part. Bannister talks about reprising his role here and what it was like working with James Le Gros. Some cool alternate scenes and ideas are discussed here, as well as some effects and establishing shots they wanted to use but couldn't quite perfect, and we get to see some of Paula Irvine's audition footage. There's some interesting behind the scenes and test footage in here and some discussion of how they wound up shooting on what was basically an empty block. Humorously, Irvine talks about her sex scene with Bannister and notes that his wife was waiting right outside, while some of the effects technicians discuss the rubber prosthetics and motion control optical effects used throughout the movie - including what was done differently with the sphere in this second film. It's a very thorough documentary and if it covers some of the same ground as the commentary, so be it, the inclusion of some genuinely interesting footage and the involvement of more people definitely make it worth watching.
Up next are seven minutes worth of Deleted Scenes taken from archival 35mm film elements from Don Coscarelli's archive. Included here is some bits with Liz's internal narration about her visions and connection with Mike, some more bits where Reggie's house explodes and the after effects of that scene, an extended sequence with Reggie and the flamethrower that Mike imagines while camping with Reggie, a scene of dialogue with Liz and her grandmother in the back of a car, a quick bit with the priest noting all of the hearses, more dialogue with Mike and Reggie talking about taking out the Tall Man, and some dialogue between Reggie and Alchemy. None of this is necessarily super important stuff that would change the movie a whole lot had it been included, but it's cool to see it included here and presented in high definition.
Scream Factory have also dug up nineteen minutes of Additional Scenes of alternate takes and deleted gore footage from the workprint version of the movie. Taken from the best available elements, this stuff is far from pristine and it's presented without a score and with only a few sound effects. A lot of this material is just extensions of dialogue scenes but the deleted gore footage is pretty great. We also see here almost four minutes worth of footage with the priest making a phone call before exploring the house and then drinking, some footage of Liz looking out the window and examining a pill jar, Liz trying to find Father Meyers, some footage with Reggie and Mike in trouble in the cemetery, footage with Meyers and a sphere, dialogue between Mike and Liz in the bedroom which segues into a weird love scene where they're up in a tree and then in various other locations (this odd scene is addressed in the featurette), some snippets with Reggie and Alchemy in bed, a whole lot more footage of the film's most infamous 'sphere out the face' death scene, clips of the Tall Man taking the sphere to the face in the embalming room, more with the fire at the end, some awesome 'alternate world' footage with the Tall Man and some alternate footage from the film's ending. The material in this section is presented in full frame with time code underneath in standard definition but it's great to see it, there's some very interesting stuff here indeed.
Also here are two vintage behind the scenes segments, the first of which is Makeup & Effects and runs nine minutes. Here you'll see the cast and crew on set working on a few of the more effects intensive sequences and goofing off and relaxing. There's a lot of what looks like makeup test footage here, including a cool melting hand sequence, and a bunch of footage with the spheres and a bunch of footage of the Tall Man's scene in the embalming room. This is all presented without any context or narration. On The Set is the second vintage featurette and it is nine minutes of footage shot on set showing a few of the stunt scenes and some of the more dramatic moments being filmed. We see the jump from the window, the Tall Man pulling the coffin out of the hearse, some footage of Coscarelli directing his cast and crew, the house being blown up and a fair bit more. Again, this is all presented without any narration or interviews to put it into context but you can more or less figure out what's going on without any problems. Both of these are taken from tape sources and presented in fullframe.
Also worth checking out is a twenty-two minute long featurette called The Gory Days in which special effects wizard Greg Nicotero discusses his work on the series and about the state of special effects work at the time that this particular movie was made. As always, Nicotero is an interesting guy to listen to who absolutely knows what he's talking about and who shows a serious enthusiasm and love for what he does. Some behind the scenes footage showcasing his work is a nice compliment to the interview.
Fans will also be impressed by the inclusion of a rare short film starring Rory Guy (aka Angus Scrimm) as Abraham Lincoln that was made for the University of Illinois. This eighteen minute short, presented in fullframe black and white and in standard definition, is a pretty basic biographical examination of Lincoln's life made out of reenactments. Scrimm plays Lincoln as an adult and it's pretty awesome to see him here, because his voice and face are pretty much instantly recognizable. It's also kind of amusing to see the guy who played the Tall Man give his take on one of America's most beloved figures. It's a fairly wooden performance but it works in the context of the movie and what it's trying to do - which is basically give us an eighteen minute 'soup to nuts' take on the life and Lincoln and his importance in history. The elements used for this were taken from Rory Guy's personal collection.
Rounding out the extras are high definition trailers for Phantasm , Phantasm II and Phantasm III, ninety seconds worth of TV spots for Phantasm II, a Behind The Scenes still gallery, a Makeup Effects still gallery, and a Poster And Promotional Art still gallery. Animated menus and chapter selection for the feature are also included and the Blu-ray comes with reversible cover art featuring some newly commissioned artwork on one side and the movie's original poster art on the other side and comes housed inside a slipcase showcasing the newly commissioned artwork.
So yeah, what's here is great - but there are a few bits and pieces from past releases not included here like some footage of Scrimm from a Fangoria convention and a few bits, including an extensive feature length documentary entitled Phantasmagoria that remain exclusive to the UK boxed set put out a few years back. That doesn't take away from the great work that's been done with this Blu-ray, but the hardcore Phantasm collector types might want to hold on to those older discs for this reason.Final Thoughts:
Phantasm II is a very different but completely worth follow up to the classic original and Shout! Factory's Blu-ray is the right way to see it. The movie looks and sounds very good and is loaded with extras, and while completists might want to hold on to previous versions for some of those supplements not carried over, this disc still comes highly recommended.