Reviews

Don Coscarelli

USA, 1988

Credits

Review by Paul Garcia

Posted on 17 October 2007

Source Anchor Bay UK DVD

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Reviews Phantasm

Categories 31 Days of Horror

Phantasm II takes the hazy chiaroscuro smears, fractured and opaque nightmare-narrative structure, and the thickly ladled ambiance of the original and polishes it, streamlining the meandering terror of the first entry into a tonal shock, a muscular horror-action flick. It’s the designated epic, a perverted take on the summer blockbuster, complete with loving multiple slow-motion shots of big things blowing up, absurdly large weaponry that to this day still shames the modern day action-hero population, a goofy sight-gag heavy chainsaw duel, and Three Stooges-inspired slapstick. Ambiguity has been dropped to the wayside for a linear, overly expository genre-bending exercise in non-stop thrills.

The vulnerability and natural human response generated by the protagonists in the first film has been displaced, as Mike and Reggie have undergone a radical transformation into guardians of the action hero throne, wielding four-barrel custom assembled flamethrowers and welded quadruple barrel shotguns with the greatest of ease. It’s an exceptional subversion of the “action star,” especially in the case of Reggie, a graying, freewheeling ice cream vendor and lover of flannel. In one of the many nods to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, Reggie achieves his elevated status via a lighthearted balance of bumbling comic awkwardness and cheesy one-liners, heightening the desperation and release of his delivered violence. The difference is that Reggie does not possess Ash’s exaggerated superhero facial features, which makes his characterization all the more charming as he really is the embodiment of banality, physically at least.

The film itself can be spliced into two distinct sections with the first half functioning as a languid, exposition heavy, buddy road movie with Mike and Reggie traversing the beautiful open sun dappled vistas in Reg’s sleek black Hemicuda, making stops to gather weapons and supplies, grimly following the Tall Man’s trail of bread crumbs (the desolate, soul-harvested small towns, purged of all life by the Tall Man’s erosion of civilization), and searching for Mike’s telepathic connection, Liz, also on a collision course with the Tall Man and his obscure machinations.

As our heroes begin their descent into the depths of hell, the tone shifts gears, and Coscarelli bombards the audience with a barrage of mausoleum set pieces, strung and cross cut together in rapid succession, pure action, bits and pieces of striking visuals from Coscarelli’s bizarre imagination spread out for absorption. The violence quotient expands as the surroundings contract; arm pits get power drilled, a hand get impaled by one of the famous flying spheres, said hand gets subsequently hacked off voluntarily, a burrowing gold sphere makes its presence felt in a particularly stomach churning scene, and an exquisite slow motion sequence reminiscent of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are noteworthy examples of the dizzying full-throttle hyper-irreality that the film plunges into. Extreme angles increase the sense of claustrophobia and echo the fragmentation of the narrative structure during the second half, creating an inevitable sense that the narrative is inconsequential by this point, and what’s left is pure movie, an adrenaline rush of images to the finale. During the coda, the line between reality and illusion is again questioned, just as it was during the opening moments of the film and just as it was during the ending of the first. The closing moments provide that answer.

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