Fantasm Comes Again
Synapse Films // Unrated // $24.95 // November 16, 2004
Review by Bill Gibron | posted November 12, 2004
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Graphical Version
Okay, it's true. Most sequels suck. They shouldn't be made and are only crafted to cash in on the original's popularity. They almost always reek of a combination of desperation and micro-managed demographics. Instead of trying to recapture the magic that went into the initial hit, most second helpings merely milk the uniqueness of the previous presentation, knowing all the while there is no chance at re-bottling that long shot lightening. Certainly there are exceptions: The Godfather Part II, Aliens, Evil Dead II, Spiderman 2. But the septic stumbles are far more prevalent, and putrid. Something like Porky's was bad enough who thought that something as stanky as Porky's II: The Next Day was a good idea? The same has to be said for the Gremlins/Arthur/Caddyshack pairings as well. Each repeat more or less wiped out the good will built up by the first's good timing go round. Sadly, it appears that even when you duplicate everything that made your first movie great, including rehiring most of the original cast and sticking to the same patented premise, the results are just routine, not resplendent. Fantasm Comes Again, the follow-up to the infamous Australian sex farce Fantasm suffers from this cloned bone befuddlement. Trying to tap into the grindhouse groove it found so freely in the former film, this tired, tepid excursion into the world of sex is almost decent when it comes to the diddling, but flaccid in most every other facet. Though it piles on the softcore porn and never once apologizes for its erotica, there is something strangely sobering about this collection of carnal clips that just doesn't translate the second time around.

The DVD:
In the first installment of the Fantasm films, we were introduced to Dr. Jurgen Notafreud, a renowned expert on female sexuality, who honored us with an 87-minute dissertation on the basics of sexual fantasy. In between each of Dr. Notafreud's observations on the mind, the body and the constantly carnal connection between the two, we were treated to a tawdry little sex vignette 10 in all. Fantasm Comes Again takes a similar Decalogue of debauchery approach by providing another dectet of deviance for the bloated businessman and spotty adolescent to indulge in. But instead of having a half-hearted expert lecture us on what lubricates a lady's lower regions, Fantasm Comes Again lets us look in on a newspaper reporter as he trains his 'still too green' replacement. Harry is "Dear Collette", a very popular advice columnist known for 'her' graphic letters and suggestive responses. The horse-faced Libby will be taking over for the retiring rascal, and with only a few hours to go before deadline, they need to get crayon cracking. Picking out 10 letters from the thousands "Collette" gets every week, they read over the Penthouse Forum like discussions of oddball sexual encounters, and before you can say "Ann Landers" five times into a mirror, we get visualizations of the vice being described.

According to these randy readers, the most intense sex happens in the library, during a gymnastics training session, while parked at a drive in, inside an elevator or hayloft, as part of an office party, while lounging at the pool, at a family reunion, as you motor along in your car or while giving confession to a priest. Each sequence is given a naughty name as well: "Silence, Please", "Workout", "Double Feature", "Going Up?", "Straw Dogs", "The Good Old Gang at the Office", "The Kiss of Life", "Family Reunion", "Overdrive" and "True Confession." After listening to their bawdy bragging, Harry and Libby each try their hand at crafting a Mad Magazine level snappy answer, usually involving some manner of innuendo and triple entendre. For the most part, they fail like a college basketball player taking an introductory math exam. Just to show you how excited this couple is at the notion of spending their evening crafting evocative bon mots for the readers of their scandal sheet, Harry falls asleep and Libby gets sloppy drunk. It's this same atmosphere of ennui that settles in over Fantasm Comes Again, making the audience wish this wanton waste hadn't bothered to darken their daydreams again.

A second sip from the waters of wickedness was perhaps one too many for the makers of Fantasm Comes Again. Their first film was a flawed, but fun exploration of fantasy and flesh made even more manageable by the inclusion of several famed adult film stars. Part two follows the same formula, even going so far as to give Uschi Digart, Serena, and Candy Samples another shot at softcore stardom. But for some reason, what was randy and risible in the first film seems stiff and sour in the revamp. There are many fingers of blame pointing toward why Fantasm Comes Again feels so flabby. There will be those who feel that the correspondent's school of cornball joking doesn't help matters much (you occasionally wait for a rim shot, or better yet, that standard sitcom "wha-wha-whaaaaa" whenever someone cracks wise) and a few will point to the real lack of sizzle in the sex scenes (except for a couple of rare instances). Let's face it, any movie which makes the buxom Berlin babe, uber-Uschi, dull and derivative has some major problems. Upon initial inspection, new director Colin Eggleston should be answerable for most of the awkwardness. Though he came with similar credentials as original Fantasm helmer Richard Franklin, his lack of a follow-up career kind of proves the pathetic point. Eggleston's vision is a compositional nightmare, using staging so simplistic that infants probably thought of it first while still in the womb. And though he wants to make everything appear soft and fluffy in his framing, the reliance on a 'far too fuzzy' focus means that several scenes are hampered by a lack of lewd detail.

It's too bad that the whole 'Collette" concept couldn't have been scrapped for something more subversive. Clive Hearne, who looks like Dean Wormer's non-tea-totaling brother, spends far too much time doing his Aussie Foster Brooks impression, while the pug-fugly Angela Menzies-Wills is like Michael Oliver after a Sydney-style sex change. Every line reading resonates with a kind of swallowed shrillness that makes the hairs on your most miserable moles stand on end. Together, they are caustic, causing Fantasm Comes Again to play like a breech baby buddy picture. They are not funny, can't even feign a manner of work ethic and force each potential punch line like it's the last bit of bile from their vomit-filled mouths. While it's as much the script's fault as it is the nauseating, non-spectacular stars, they are all just part of the bigger problem here. Director Eggleston has no concept of flow, allowing some scenes to build with bravado while others provide the cinematic equivalent of a "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" moment. Along with some unusually lame actors (you can easily tell whose had experience in the shark shell game) and some very dumb set-ups, it's almost as if nothing really works in Fantasm Comes Again. And yet there are still a few reasons to give this film a spin, if only to see how something that worked so well the first time around can be so royally fudged up.

Our exploration of ersatz erotica starts with what basically is a real old fashioned black out. The poking in the periodicals between the librarian and some Kama Sutra snooper is over before it begins. "Workout" has a nice, leisurely pace to the pork product, especially when Rick Cassidy breaks out the baby oil for the mutual manipulation rub down. Too bad then that his costar looks like someone who hasn't had a decent meal since sometime in her distant past life. Bone thin and incredibly flat chested, there is a near pedophilic proportion to this sequence that makes it more creepy than craven. Still, this duo really sparks some sensuality, leaving a lasting, if not necessarily legal impression. The appearance of Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith in the drive in based "Double Feature" - another of those 'No means HELL YES' rape sequences - may have some fans foaming at the zipper, but for others, this misogynistic muddle is one boring battery too many. The elevator romp of "Going Up?" gets pretty graphic at times, but once you see the phony fun going on, you'll immediately loose interest. And then there's poor old Uschi. This woman looks like the kind of bed partner most men pray for decades to delight in, yet her ample appeal is hindered here by a same sex sequence that removes all the fun from the standard lesbian line. Before you know it, anything Ms. Digart and her hay baling date get up to is covered over by shot-blurring straw. Now how friggin' fair is that? By the time we get to the group grope featuring the most foul, vice-ridden office of miscreants ever to climb the corporate ladder, we are just glad to see some action (no matter how mind-numbingly gross it becomes).

Six sequences down and we're not doing very well in either the balling or batting averages. Sadly, it really gets no better from here on in. "The Kiss of Life" is famous for being the John Holmes scene where the man with the massive meat fails to frolic with the females. He is seen briefly, but it is up to another dude to enter the pool and commence with the pounding (this story is best left for the enclosed commentary track). William Margold gets to have his private parts shot from one too many underwater angles as he tries to handle the harem of hopped up hoochies. Sadly, the gals are pretty gamy, meaning that the liquid repast was probably a positive when it comes to their hygiene, if nothing else. It's Candy Samples' turn to make a repeat appearance, this time taking another alumni Al Ward (who played the flummoxed old teacher in the original's classroom fantasy) for a waterbed romp as her onscreen stepdaughter watches. Again playing on the incest issues involved (the kid who actually looks 30 joins in) this is a seedy sequence that never really comes alive. Unless you find Ms. Samples' ample sacks as tantalizing as a t-bone steak, you'll find this family fracas foolish. After some dork gets a little curbside service from his rather frigid steady (she takes the pill in case she's raped), Serena returns for another religion based reaming. This time, it's God, not the Devil, who works her up into a lewd lather. While she shines above the vast majority of the unskilled skin spelunkers in Fantasm Comes Again, this miserable Muledeer is an acquired taste (and besides, she's far too vocal in her satisfaction to be completely fetching).

Mind you, the sex is the best thing about Fantasm Comes Again. But after looking over the 10 scenes here, the conclusion is far from a ringing endorsement. The spark that made most of the first Fantasm seem so fresh and fun is totally missing here. Indeed, this movie seems to define the very notion of a sequel, going through the same old situational motions. This is a film that neither rises to the level of loving set up by its predecessor nor does it keep up with its forbearer's comic pace (and if you remember that review, Fantasm was about as funny as an amputated foot). It would be easy to blame the sex advice column premise...and fun too, to paraphrase one Homer J. Simpson. And certainly the inexperienced coeds hired on to fake-fornicate for the camera, have a lot to answer for. Mostly, the fault lies in trying to duplicate something that wasn't really so special in the first place. Fantasm's place in history is held because it broke down barriers in its native Australia and paved the way for a more open view of sex and nudity on cinema screens Downunder. In the 12 months between installments of this series, the atmosphere was far more permissive and, perhaps, capable of accepting something a little more hardcore. Sadly, Fantasm Comes Again does the same sheepish sequence set-up, never really pushing the limits of anything other than your personal tolerance for tedium. Instead of being creative or unconventional, this is just another reiteration of the same silly joke. Only this time, everyone knows the punchline. While it is far from a fiasco and does occasionally slip into something a little more carnal, Fantasm Comes Again is a lackluster showcase of human sexuality. It just can't live up to its predecessor's potency.

The Video:
Grainy, dated and very old-fashioned feeling, Synapse Films release of Fantasm Comes Again looks surprisingly good for a foreign film made nearly 30 years ago. Shot in 16mm, with the print later blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution, the telltale fog of tiny gray flecks is understandable, but not quite as harsh as in Fantasm. Indeed, if there is a visual irritation occurring here, it's director Colin Eggleston's desire to soft focus every facet of the film. The print shows very few age defects or negative damage, and is being presented for the first time completely uncut (most territories excised some footage to pass individual ratings boards). The 1.66:1 transfer is far better than Fantasm colors look good and there is a nice control of skin tone and lighting. Overall, this anamorphic widescreen image is professional and pleasant.

The Audio:
There is not much to be said for the audio portion of this DVD. The Dolby Digital Mono is relatively hiss free and clear. It is never hopelessly distorted or tinny, and allows us to easily understand the various Collettes' crude answers, as well as the character dialogue. The musical score is a little too Top 40 heavy to match up with the sexual stumbling, but it does have a cheesy charm all its own. Though the single channel mix doesn't give it the randy respect it truly deserves, the overall aural package presented by Synapse is excellent.

The Extras:
The only major bonus feature on this DVD is another commentary track by producer Anthony Ginnane. As he did on Fantasm, he informs us about almost every facet of the shoot the locations, the logistics and the less than professional casting. Explaining that this movie was all about money (the backers saw a lot of dosh with the first film) Ginnane complains quite frequently that he finds this sequel a very poor follow up to the original. While he really takes director Eggleston to task for some of the directorial dilemmas (some scenes go on far too long for his tastes) he also tends to chalk up the lack of success to the new, non-German professor premise and a lack of expert porn performance (apparently unable to hire all the regulars they wanted, Fantasm Comes Again had to rely on a few feeble amateurs. A lot less animated this time around than he was for Fantasm (he starts this narrative in a low key mode and moves downward) he jokes about how the Tall Man macabre of 1979's Phantasm is occasionally confused with his non-horror hump-a-thon (makes for some interesting screener requests, or so he says). Along with a tantalizing trailer from the time, and a wonderfully energetic insert essay by Chris Poggiali, this is a decent little DVD presentation that fans of the film will really appreciate.

Final Thoughts:
Like the proverbial Pandora's box, once the public has accepted softcore sex, it's hard to keep the pickle inside the pants. As soon as you prove that people will line up to see hideously malformed inhabitants of a nudist camp cavort in nothing but their carefully hidden short hairs, the market will instantly become super saturated with smut. Naturally, what was novel about the innovation becomes overused and overplayed until everyone appears to be getting their wick dipped. At a certain point, the crowds stop queuing, knowing full well that they've probably seen it all before. But all knowledge aside, Fantasm Comes Again will still holds some thrills for those unfamiliar with the naughty nonsense sex farces of the 70s. It's worth a rent just to see some more scenes of those old school porn stars bringing home the bacon with erotic ease. If you realize that his continuation is about as exciting, as inventive and 1/16 as comical as the original, you'll probably enjoy yourself. And naturally, if you are a fan of Fantasm itself, this feature will be the necessary link in your desire for a lewd double take. Yep, sequels usually suck. Too bad Fantasm Comes Again misconstrued the modern meaning of that word. Back then, it had a nice oral ring to it. Today, it means you'll just be bored by this cracked carbon copy.

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