Review: Phantasm Ravager


7 October 2016

PLOT:  Reggie, the ice cream man by trade turned vigilante, battles the Tall Man and his minions, murderous flying death spheres, and his own mind, as he sets out on an adventure across multiple dimensions to rescue his friends, Mike and Jody, and perhaps even save the world in the process.

REVIEW:  Phantasm Ravager is the fifth, and supposedly final, installment in the cult Phantasm series that has defied the odds and endured for 37 years thanks to a rabid “Phan” base and a dedicated cast and crew. To see the same actors performing their roles after so many years is a rare, and special, cinematic achievement.

Ravager reunites friends, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) as well as series regular, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and last but not least, the dreaded Tall Man (Angus Scrimm.) Along the way, we encounter familiar faces we’ve seen over the years, and new characters who are along for the ride.

The series has always remained true to its roots, briefly flirting with mainstream Hollywood back in the 1980’s with Phantasm II, then returning to its independent origins. Ravager is restricted by the same budgetary limitations as its predecessors, but damn, it gives us it’s all nonetheless, which is why this series is so beloved by its core phan-base.

We can look past the CGI flaws during the action sequences because there is something just so authentic and genuine that resonates on screen.

Phantasm Ravager is more than just a worthy sequel. It’s an epic journey in its own way, surprisingly confident in its purpose, with a story that is nostalgic in all the right places while adding original layers to bring even greater depths and meaning.

It’s a film made for the phans. Newcomers to the series should indulge in the first installments before experiencing Ravager. It’s an undertaking, but experiencing the struggle of these friends across multiple decades makes the payoff in Ravager that much sweeter.

In many ways, Ravager is a “best of” episode. It reincarnates in an entirely new form the phan-favorite moments from the earlier films, making sure everyone gets a healthy taste of the elements they love.

Some watch for the badassery of an every day man in the plaid-shirt wearing Reggie, who blasts his way through bad guys with his signature 4-barrel shotgun and any other weapons he can get ahold of while driving his classic 1971 Plymouth Barracuda.

You know, those were the days for Reggie, and while we get to see him in action one last time, Ravager very much is about his accepting the fact that he isn’t what he once was, and his own chapter might be coming to a close.

Amidst the action and horror, then, is something more touching and heartfelt at play.

Of course, others are here to experience the nightmare horrors inflicted on the innocent by the Tall Man, his minions, and his dreaded death spheres.

Yet, there is an undeniable sense of “family” when watching Phantasm. “Loyalty” is a strong theme that resonates throughout this film in particular. Mike, Reggie, and Jody are friends, brothers, comrades, and family, and Ravager makes sure we don’t forget this.

There is a “dangerous” quality to these films that cannot be denied. It forces us to look at our own selves in the mirror and reminds us of our own mortality. We can’t look away, we’re equally as terrified as we are intrigued, and it keeps us coming back for more.

When watching Phantasm, one gets the feeling that we’re “flirting with death.” We’re seeing things that we, as mortals, probably shouldn’t be. We’re given hints of an existence we couldn’t possibly comprehend.

And yet, all of this could simply be in Reggie’s imagination.

Ravager indulges in all of the above, yet combines these elements with its own original story to make sure this film stands on its own.

Part of the reason for its authenticity is in the genuineness of the filmmakers, of the cast. Don Coscarelli hands the directing reigns over to David Hartman for Ravager, but still serves as co-writer and producer. One gets the sense from interviews that Coscarelli is so appreciative of the love and support from the phans.

Hartman makes sure the pace and tone and feel of Ravager stays true to Coscarelli’s original vision. At the same time, he modernizes the experience, allowing the series to age gracefully in real-time.

The original Phantasm is what a low budget horror movie looked like in 1979, with all the gimmicky tricks of the trade in an attempt to make it more epic than the limitations of the technology and the era would allow.

Hartman’s Ravager is the 2016 version of this. But it is still every bit as genuine in its intent. It still works.

Reggie Bannister may have aged in the 18 years since Phantasm IV: Oblivion, but he remains spry, and this is by far his strongest, most layered performance.

Apparently, Ravager was shot in different pieces spanning a couple of years, very different from a tight shooting schedule typically imposed on studio productions. Interestingly, then, Bannister’s physicality seems to transform throughout. The film itself plays with the notion of “time” so this just adds to that haunting reality. It seems to me that when Reggie is battling death spheres and dwarf creatures, even his hair looks darker than it does when he finds himself helplessly locked up in a mental hospital.

This is also the true realization of A. Michael Baldwin‘s character, Mike.

Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, and to reference another cult classic from so many years ago, Mike in Ravager is the character of Tron in the film, TRON (1982). He isn’t the central protagonist this time out, so he doesn’t have as much screen time, but when he’s there, he’s powerful, he’s in his prime, he’s the hero, he’s the one fate seems to continue to follow.

Perhaps a criticism of the story is that it crafts an experience surrounding Reggie as the protagonist, not Mike, but it’s Mike’s journey that is truly the most interesting in the context of the series as a whole.

While Mike as a boy was front and center in the original, as the series has progressed, it has shifted it’s emphasis to Reggie. Indeed, Reggie is Evil Dead‘s “Ash” and Pirates of the Caribbean‘s “Jack Sparrow.” He’s the one with the mainstream comic book qualities.

But it’s Mike who has been through the greatest transformation over the years. It’s his relationship with the Tall Man that gives the series its sense of destiny.

That said, Mike’s fate was determined, really, in the earlier installments. Ravager is Reggie’s story, his realization, his acceptance.

When Mike does show up, his presence is instantly felt. He is commanding, heroic, just as resourceful as that boy from 1979. The very best in A. Michael Baldwin is experienced here.

Then, there is the great Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man.

Scrimm passed away after filming Ravager and shortly before its release. Phans will be cognizant of this when watching his final appearance, and it’s a wonderful performance.

How is it even possible that Scrimm can find a way to scare us once again? When the Tall Man shows up on screen, everything, and I mean, everything, just completelt stops.

Phantasm Ravager may not be the perfect film, but for the phans, it is a wholly satisfying one. As always, it leaves us wanting more, but there is also a true sense of conclusion, of finality.

The Phantasm series may have just been laid to rest, but if it has taught us anything, it’s that nothing stays buried for long.

Grade: A-

by Jeremy Howard – JERHOW



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