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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest
CONTINUES...

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Phantasm: OblIVion

Phantasm: OblIVion
1998 (2008) - Anchor Bay

I know you were promised vampires this week. We'll get to them tomorrow, I swear. But first, there's some unfinished business involving lethal silver spheres and you don't want to keep The Tall Man waiting. When we last saw the Tall Man, he had Reggie the ice cream vendor pinned to the wall by a mini-armada of spheres. Reggie's new junior partner Tim had been sucked into another dimension by one of the dwarf guys. And Mike had undergone a cranial spherectomy at the hands of the Tall Man and driven off into the night. And that's exactly where we still are four years later as Phantasm IV opens. Say what you like about writer-director Don Coscarelli. Nobody else can link a sequel to its predecessors quite as seamlessly.


With Phantasm IV, Coscarelli strips the series to its core elements (Timmy, we hardly knew ye) and attempts to bring some answers to this notoriously cryptic saga. Who is the Tall Man? Where does he come from? What does he want with Mike? I can understand the desire to answer these burning questions but part of the fun of the Phantasm series is in not knowing exactly what's going on. Fortunately, Coscarelli seems to realize that after so long, no answer is going to be totally satisfactory. Even the explanations we get leave us with more questions.

In many ways, Phantasm IV feels like a homecoming for both the filmmakers and the series' fans. Faced with his smallest budget since the original, Coscarelli found a unique way to conjure a feature film out of almost nothing using extensive material deleted from the first Phantasm. This technique has a fascinating effect. We see things that seem familiar from the first film but then go in different directions than we remember. The recycled footage doesn't always pay off but at least the movie doesn't feel like a clip show. Unfortunately, the low budget also prevents Phantasm IV from truly taking off. The movie feels longer than its 90 minute running time thanks to prolonged sequences showing characters sitting alone and remembering the past. Coscarelli does wonders within the confines of his budget in some sequences, including a truly eerie image of the Tall Man striding down a deserted stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, typically one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. But the movie feels smaller and more subdued than any of its predecessors. Coscarelli does a nice job bringing the story full circle and crafting a finale to the series that leaves the door open for a potential Phantasm V (though considering the dreamlike qualities of the series, I'd be hard-pressed to think of any conclusion that decisively removed all possibility of further sequels). But if this is the final Phantasm, it's a shame that we don't get to see the ultimate showdown between Mike, Reggie and The Tall Man that the series deserved.

Anchor Bay's recent DVD of Phantasm IV presents a surprisingly good video and audio transfer of the feature. Considering how much of the movie is made up of footage shot twenty years earlier, the look of the film is amazingly consistent. There aren't too many bonus features but we are treated to one of the best audio commentaries in the series. Don Coscarelli, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm provide a wealth of information about the circumstances surrounding the film and its production. Even if you end up hating the movie, the commentary track is worth a listen. The only other extras are several minutes of raw behind-the-scenes footage and a "promo" (presumably not referred to as a trailer because the movie was never released theatrically).

Don Coscarelli's Phantasm series is something unique in the horror pantheon. Its best images and ideas are so strong that they inspire diehard loyalty in both fans and the cast and crew of the films themselves. It's truly remarkable that with the exception of Phantasm II, Coscarelli kept the same core group of actors and even some crew members intact. Even many of the behind-the-scenes folk who joined the series with the sequel stayed on for parts three and four, despite the diminished budgets of the follow-ups. If Phantasm IV is indeed our final encounter with The Tall Man, it's a mostly fond farewell. Yet I can't help but hope that Coscarelli is able to gather Mike, Jody, Reggie and his quad-barreled shotgun, the dwarf critters, the spheres and The Tall Man together one more time to give them the send-off they deserve.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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