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It's not often that a franchise horror film requires a great deal of effort to watch in terms of back story. When I first approached "Phantasm Ravager" for review, I was expecting another quirky horror film, similar to the previous four films I had vague memories of watching 15-odd years ago. The film starts off innocuously enough, with series hero Reggie (Reggie Bannister) wandering the desert we last saw him in, looking for his prized Barracuda. It's not long after an exciting highway chase involving the iconic Sentinels (those cool looking flying metal spheres with a host of terrible weapons of destruction); suddenly though, we find a very tired and haggard Reggie in a hospital, sitting bedside is Reggie's friend and second series hero Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). It's quite obvious Reggie is suffering from dementia and both Reggie's reality and the reality of the Phantasm series is put into question. It's at this point, I realized "Phantasm Ravager" is two things: a confused film and a film that really requires viewers to be familiar with its previous four entries.
To truly understand "Phantasm Ravager" one has to look at Don Coscarelli's iconic cult series as whole. On paper alone, the notion that a fifth Phantasm film, 15 years after a sub-million dollar DTV fourth entry the series, is a mind blowing proposition. However, much like the Tall Man (the late, great Angus Scrimm) has always existed, so has the Phantasm series. Debuting in 1979, the original "Phantasm" is a true diamond in the rough within the horror genre. Made on a small budget, "Phantasm" introduced viewers to The Tall Man and his sinister pursuit of Mike, Reggie, and Jody (Bill Thornbury, who returns one more time in Ravager to tie up loose ends). Coscarelli's original film was a healthy dose of atmosphere and mystery; we never learn exactly who The Tall Man is and only vaguely where his army of sinister dwarfs are. Scrimm's Tall Man along with the Sentinel's are indelible images in the memory of any horror buff, and while "Phantasm" may have ended with question remaining, it was a tidy little film that stood on its own.
Nearly a decade later, Coscarelli, armed with a multi-million dollar budget, brought "Phantasm" back to the big screen in "Phantasm II" and the result was a mixed bag. While Reggie Bannister would return, Mike was recast in a serviceable performance. Focusing instead on big action and conflict, "Phantasm II" is a worthy entry in the series that answers some greater questions about the Tall Man's origins while still managing to ask some new ones. A. Michael Baldwin would return to the series as Mike in 1994's "Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead" which is arguably the most disappointing entry in the series, follows Reggie, Mike, and Jody (now as a benevolent Sentinel...don't ask) as The Tall Man still pursues his goal of earthly domination and Mike in particular. The Mike/Tall Man connection pays off in 1998's "Phantasm IV: Oblivion" which Coscarelli pulled off on a shoestring budget. An odd entry in the series, it's definitely aimed at fans who made it through the previous three and said "eh, why not another one." This sentiment is what brings us full circle and back to "Phantasm Ravager".
"Phantasm Ravager" is the first film in the series not helmed by Don Coscarelli. Instead, it's directed by Dan Hartman (who has a long career in animated television), with Coscarelli taking a producer/co-writer credit. Word has it "Ravager" began its origins as a few short films and it's definitely believable, given the film's massive issues with weaving a coherent, well edited narrative. Filmed in what some may call secrecy, "Ravager" was completed and ready for release by the time its trailer was released. One thing is definitely certain though, "Phantasm Ravager" is a labor of love and THE footnote on the Phantasm series, especially in the wake of Angus Scrimm's passing. "Ravager" is also without any argument, a film only for fans of the series; it's not an entry point and a truly incomprehensible experience for someone who hasn't seen at least the first two entries in the series
"Phantasm Ravager" manages to play with the minds of viewers in a very successful fashion; its narrative as muddled and strangely edited as it seems, does work on a visceral level to make fans question the events of every film following the original (and in some instances, the events of that film itself). While it's not a lazy plot device, it's one that sadly doesn't get enough room to breathe within the confines of the films 80-odd minute runtime. The film's middle act languishes most, although the final 10-minutes is nearly worth the price of admission alone, mixing nostalgia with a host of unique visuals that are teased throughout the film and set the film apart from its predecessors.
Apart from the shaky story and slapdash editing, "Ravager" also suffers from some very low-budget CGI effects, although given the series' perpetual low-budget nature, there's a sense of quaint nostalgia at how wonky a few scenes end up looking. What does work from stem to stern are the performances from our long-time series cast. Bannister is having an obvious blast playing his iconic role one final time, as are Baldwin and Thornbury. Scrimm's performance is bittersweet as his age definitely shows and his overall involvement in the film feels limited in comparison to the other four films, but once he bellows "BOOOOOOOOY" at Mike, all is forgiven. Bannister in particular really puts his heart in the role in the final act and leaves fans with a satisfying conclusion that just might leave the door open for another adventure (or not depending on how you interpret it).
"Phantasm Ravager" as a whole, is an objectively mediocre film. Despite the wave of nostalgia and handful of standout sequences, I will argue it is the same category as "Phantasm III" if not a tad worse for wear. In the end, it's a film that had no reason to exist and as a mild fan of the series, I'm happy it exists. To everyone else, it's a film best ignored outright as the series itself has not aged terribly well past the first two entries and is unlikely to wow a more modern, jaded audience. Hopefully, "Ravager" serves as closure for all involved and we are able to leave the series behind on a small scale, much like it all began.
The 1.78:1 1080p transfer is a solid visual experience. Colors are natural and life-like, while contrast levels feature healthy black levels in the darkest and brightest scenes. There's a natural level of digital noise/grain and little to no compression artifacts. Detail is a bit on the above average side, as opposed to as crisp as I'd expect from a recent production; compared to the recent remaster of "Phantasm" there is a notable loss of cinematic feel in the image, which is easily attributable to the digital format.
The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track does a solid job of keeping the film running with solid use of surrounds during both action sequences and some of the film's more atmospheric and creepy moments. Dialogue is warm and clearly reproduced throughout. An English 2.0 track as well as English SDH subtitles are included.
Extras include a feature-length commentary from Hartman and Coscarelli that has a solid level of insight into the film. A brief behind-the-scenes featurette is more promotional in nature. Rounding out the bonus category is a solid blooper reel and a handful of deleted scenes that are still in a workprint-like state of quality.
"Phantasm Ravager" is a completely serviceable final entry in the Phantasm series for long-term fans. While it is sadly one of the lesser entries, it's a fitting send-off for a truly quirky entry into the horror genre. The technical presentation is nothing to scoff at as well; however, that being said, the target audience for this disc would likely be better served picking up the fantastic box-set of the entire series that has been recently released, as it includes this disc as well as Blu-Ray editions of the third and fourth entries for the first time anywhere. Rent It.