There’s a built-in weakness with the PHANTASM series. A big part of the PHANTASM appeal is the reveal of the crazy fuckin weird ass shit (or CFWAS) that’s goin down, and not really being able to comprehend it all. So in the course of each sequel they end up having to do two things that are sort of problematic:
- explain more things, making it less mysterious and
- pile on more CFWAS, stretching the credibility more and more to where it’s not quite as easy to swallow.
So you got those things, but otherwise this is a very enjoyable and unexpectedly adventurous sequel. It picks up right where part 2 left off, except suddenly James LeGros has morphed back into A. Michael Baldwin, the original star of PHANTASM. And now I sort of get it, because he does not look like a movie hero, he looks like some dude. But the same some dude from the original, so it’s good to have him back.
So Reggie and Michael continue their driving around from ghost town to ghost town, picking off evil dwarves with weapons like the four-barrelled-shotgun I forgot to mention Reggie had in the last one. But then Michael is hospitalized by a car accident and the ghost of Michael’s dead brother Jody shows up (also played by the original actor, also looking like just some dude) and then he morphs into one of the silver balls but helps Michael to understand some things about what’s going on (for example, after the Tall Man shrinks bodies down into dwarves he removes their tiny brains and puts them inside the silver balls). And the Tall Man convinces Michael to walk into the light with him and he disappears, so Reggie is on his own.
All this is real bizarre and all, but you know the movie is really cookin in the next section when it turns into Don Coscarelli’s weirdo take on the HOME ALONE movies. (Seriously.) Some goofy cartoon gangsters (one of them wears a necklace with a dollar sign, another wears a lavender pinstripe sports coat with a Marilyn Monroe tie) attack Reggie, put him in their trunk, then go try to rob a house. An upside down dollhead on the ceiling chirps out “YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!” Then there’s a clown on the ceiling with about 25 or 30 butcher knives sticking out of it. What the fuck? Suddenly it swings down at them. Then there’s a creepy little dude with a doll’s face at the top of the stairs scurrying into a trap door.
I have to admit the first time I watched this part I was falling in and out of sleep. I woke up and even though I knew I was watching a PHANTASM movie I still found myself asking “what the fuck?”
Well, they catch the little doll man but he turns out to be a kid named Tim. Unlike A. Michael Baldwin this does not look like a normal kid, this looks like some carefully groomed child star with his adorable haircut, his jean jacket… to give you an idea, the same year he did an episode of “Full House” and was in PREHYSTERIA 2. In other words, one look at this kid and no self respecting horror fan wants him in a part 3 to their favorite movie. He seems like the little brother they added later on in FAMILY TIES when they got desperate. How did this kid get in this movie? And yet…
Like the kid in HOME ALONE he defends himself from the buffoonish burglars through flying objects and contraptions. For example, he throws a home made tomahawk at the lead criminal – the camera follows it EVIL DEAD style as it flips through the air, but the guy ducks out of the way just in time… for it to smack into the face of his girlfriend and kill her. Nice shot, adorable kid!
Out in the yard they’re gonna shoot the kid but he throws a pink frisbee covered in blades which spins around, puts on a big show… and then graphically slices the motherfucker’s throat open, horribly and painfully killing him. Didn’t even hit him in the balls first! Coscarelli is not on the commentary track for part 3 which is too bad because I’d really like to hear his thoughts on this one. To me it plays like a commentary on those movies which were incredibly violent but with no consequences. This is the same stupid shit but with blood and death. (Of course, they do come back as zombies, another consequence of violence that in my opinion is never adequately addressed in the HOME ALONEs.)
And you know what, even in 1994 I’m not sure how they got away with a gun toting little kid character. Reggie even tells him “little kids shouldn’t be playing with guns,” and he says “I ain’t been a kid for a long time.” And that’s their only excuse. Also he knows how to drive. This is all so silly but it leads to one of the great bonding moments of the entire series. Reggie has ditched Tim at an orphanage, and ends up in battle with a silver ball. Just when it looks like he’s fucked, Tim appears out of nowhere, shoots some bullseyes on the ball and rescues Reggie.
As they’re leaving Tim asks Reggie if he’s gonna leave him at the orphanage again. Reggie thinks about it for a second, then tosses the kid the keys to his car.
That would probaly be enough to make this sequel worthwhile, but Coscarelli wants to go the extra mile. So he also introduces another badass survivor, Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), a black woman, possibly a lesbian, armed with a high top fade and a pair of nunchakas. Reggie tries to get down her camouflaged pants, but all he gets is some hallucination sex and a friendly hug.
PHANTASM III might be a little choppy and alot goofy, too goofy to be as creepy as the first two. But I think it more than delivers in the “did I really just see that?” department. It’s got a ball going right through a head and leaving a Looney Tunes style hole, it’s got the most spectacular car flip and explosion of the series to date (and this time on a pink hearse!)*, it’s got our heroes heating up canned beans in a crematory and refrigerating them in a walk-in freezer full of dead bodies. (Personally I wouldn’t eat those.) There’s a funny moment where the kid is going into the freezer and walks past Michael, asleep on a slab with a silver ball balanced on his head. He takes a look then just kind of shrugs and continues. I guess compared to alot of the things he’s seen (or done himself) that one’s not all that weird.
Part III also has some interesting developments in the ongoing story – implying that the Tall Man is grooming Michael as a replacement of some kind. He’s starting to transform, and by the end seems to have silver balls for eyes. Because of that it was real smart to bring back A. Michael Baldwin, this seems much more meaningful when you can look at his weathered face and remember the innocent kid he started out as.
You know what, in my review for part 2 I lashed out at the Tall Man’s backward way of life, but this one made me a little more agnostic. Of course he seems like a mean old bastard to me, and I stand by everything I said about him using his silver ball technology to help our environmental crisis. But in this one he asks Michael to leave his flesh and no longer be burdened by time and space. And that made me realize that really I have no idea what it’s like to be a Tall Man.
For all I know he’s right. Maybe we’ll all be happier when he transforms us and we just don’t know it yet because we’re stuck in this time and space bullshit. There’s really no way to know without experiencing it. I’m not saying he’s right, I’m just saying he could be right, I’m not really in a position to judge him. I will say that if he’s right he still has poor manners and should learn better people skills to help in spreading his gift.
Anyway, here is a sequel that was barely released in theaters, it’s almost a DTV sequel, but it’s way more entertaining and adds more to the series than your average theatrical sequel. Good work everybody.
*Honestly, I can’t think of another straight horror movie with a car stunt this spectacular. When I saw it I said out loud “How the fuck did they do that?” My two theories were (in order of perceived likelihood) empty car chassis dragged on cable, miniature model. But according to IMDb’s trivia it was a real jump off a ramp that travelled 160 feet and was performed by Bob Ivy, who later played the title-mummy in BUBBA HO-TEP.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.