Forgive me, folks…even though it’s been cooking in my head for about ten hours now, I’m still somewhat reeling from my viewing of the final chapter in the saga of Reggie, Mike, and their decades-long battle with the Tall Man, Phantasm V: Ravager.
This is gonna be a tough review, in that a) I’m a huge fan of this franchise, and thus the line between giving an objective review and a relating a testimonial to hardcore fans may become blurred, b) my own thoughts on the film, though positive, are still a bit of a jumble, and c) giving you a good review whilst not spoiling anything will be problematic. Still, I’m obligated by both vocation and reverence for this series as a whole to do my best, so that’s what I’ll do for you here…I’m sure that by the time you Fellow Fans (and Phans, to be sure) read this, I will have probably started, restarted, rewritten, and changed what comes after this paragraph at least eight or ten times…
We open with Reggie, in full white suit and black vest garb, his trusty four-barrel in hand, trudging through the desert, his voice-over narration catching us up on where he’s been since the showdown in the desert at the climax of Phantasm IV: Oblivion. The world looks familiar to us, the arid background and the ruined buildings, and Reggie’s determination, as always, is unwavering — we see a bit of this as he gets the Hemi-Cuda back from a guy who had boosted it from it’s hiding place.
It’s not long, however, before those dreaded spheres give chase to our hero, and we’re treated to a car chase/running gunfight with Reg and two of the shimmering globes…abruptly, however, Reggie opens his eyes to find himself older, in a wheelchair, being pushed through a lush park by an adult Mike, who tells him that he’s been diagnosed with dementia, and has been telling the most amazing stories of a “tall man” and some kind of horrific, extra-dimensional invasion for the past twenty years. Unable to grasp this reality, Reggie persists that it’s just a trick — the Tall Man is trying to win with subterfuge — and he finds himself being thrown from timeline to timeline, dimension to dimension, never sure which part of the past, present, or future that he’s in. As he tries to reconnect with Mike in multiple instances, is all of this chaos proof that the Tall Man and his minions have finally won? Is he fighting alongside a deceased Mike trapped in some kind of final game on the other side, or is the war he’s waging with his old friend against the dominant forces from beyond a real thing? Most daunting of all — is this all, and has it always been, just a fantasy in his rapidly declining and senile mind as he lives out his last days with Mike at his side?
I gotta say, despite the fact that Don Coscarelli held himself to the role of producer and co-writer, director David Hartman definitely caught a lot of the feel of the original series of films — from characterizations to camera work to the general vibe of things being just a bit off, even in the daylight, I certainly had the feeling I was back in familiar territory. Of course, with that comes the often confusing, somewhat disjointed feel of the tale, as it skips around from place to place, from time to time, occasionally leaving you not absolutely sure of what the hell is going on. We long time fans know that this is, part and parcel, the way of the franchise as a whole, and a large part of what makes it so unique amongst horror films — but those who aren’t as steeped in the mythology, frankly, won’t get it. All of the feeling is there, as well as a generous sampling of returning cast from the previous four movies — I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say you Fellow Phans out there will definitely get a smile across your face as you recognize some characters that have been absent for quite a while. Of course, it was great to see Reggie Bannister back in the role he made so famous, and by and large, this is his film , told wholly from his perspective as he maintains his valiant loyalty to his friends and his cause, as well as his funny moments, to which he’s usually clueless. However, A. Michael Baldwin makes his presence as Mike well-known, giving us that same boy we knew grown to an older, wiser, tougher man, despite his relatively shorter screen time.
And of course, what would Phantasm be without the Tall Man? Angus Scrimm, in his last major role, brings back the fearsome visage of the sinister mortician despite his age, embellishing a new wrinkle of sorts to the character, as he attempts to impose his will with negotiation rather than force, at least once — but never without the certainty that he will have his way. FX-wise, there’s plenty of blood and gore on display, the brain-sucking silver spheres doing their thing much as they did back in 1979. There’s a lot more CGI than I’m used to in a Phantasm flick, but it stands to reason that it’s use makes for bigger and better visuals (and I mean that literally in the case of the spheres). Sure, it’s a bit obvious at times, but the series has never been about looking expensive and polished — it’s about the story, the horror, and the dread associated with the Tall Man and his machinations, and this final installment is no exception — I never once felt that Hartman “cheaped-out” or was disloyal to the series.
The ending…well, I can’t really say anything about the ending without risking some spoilers — suffice to say, as with every other film in this great saga, it doesn’t leave one with any kind of sense of completion.
There are as many questions as there are answers, and as the Tall Man himself likes to say, “It’s never over “.
Does this mean there could be a sequel? Well, I won’t say it’s ruled out — but I will say that I believe this film provides the kind of ending to the saga of Reggie and Mike that fans deserve, being somewhat conclusive, yet open to interpretation and discussion for years and years to come. Would we really want it any other way?
I loved it, folks — though it saddened me in a profound way, closing out one of my favorite stories in all of horror films, it was nonetheless amazing to climb into that ’71 ‘Cuda and take one last ride with some old, dear friends. Bittersweet, but satisfying — all at the same time.
“If we do meet again, why then we’ll smile…and if not, then this parting was well made.” — Shakespeare