Not quite as good or mysteriously creepy as its predecessor, 'Phantasm II' picks up exactly where the first movie left off. And then somewhat ruins that memorable finish by suggesting it all happened in the real world. Part of what makes the first movie a notable horror flick is it feeling largely like a dream, as if trapped inside a bizarre, nightmarish hallucination with an eerie mortician and his minions of dwarf-sized slaves dressed like mini Obi-Wan Kenobis. The ending was the final clincher, leaving audiences pondering whether it was real or just part of larger delusion.
At the start of this lesser but still decently entertaining sequel, writer and director Don Coscarelli essentially answers that question when we see the intimidatingly spooky Tall Man (the always memorable and rather iconic Angus Scrimm) dragging away the body of Mike, the little boy who's somehow tuned into the horrors of this twisted mortician. Seems like a logical place to pick up, especially since this follow-up arrives nearly ten years later, but it also puts a bit of a damper on the first movie's effectiveness. I liked the strangeness and dubiousness of the original's conclusion.
And now, that the mystery has dissipated — replaced with the idea that Mike grew up into James LeGros and been living in a mental institution for the past decade. A ridiculously horrible voice-over has the character seeming like a convincing liar to his therapist and is released from the hospital. That same night, he proves he's a perfectly sane citizen by spending his first day of freedom in a cemetery digging up a few graves — you know, only trying to be helpful and check that the residents are still asleep in comfy coffins and not walking about as pint-sized zombies in hoodies.
This whole crock with internal monologues (no, I don't always enjoy such clichéd techniques as a form of lazy character development) not only looks silly on screen but often feels intrusive to the flow of the narrative. Nevertheless, Coscarelli uses it as a device for creating a psychic bond between Mike and Liz Reynolds (Paula Irvine), a young woman who is also strangely tuned into the Tall Man's actions while suffering prophetic nightmares. There's very little if any development in this character, and we really have no idea why she's in this movie other than to serve as a love interest and damsel in distress.
Aside from the wonderful Scrimm, Reggie Bannister returns as the bald, middle-aged ice cream vendor. Serving as both hero and comic relief, Reggie turns in his bow tie, white uniform and ice-cream truck in favor of a plaid button-down, blue jeans and a beautiful black Plymouth Barracuda. After having to convince Reggie that the Tall Man and his zombie minions are real, which is rather strange considering the movie's opening segment, the two men hit the road in search of the supernatural undertaker. Along the way, the pair picks up a pretty hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) as they come across town after town of where the malicious mortician has conducted business.
When the search finally leads them to the fictional town of Perigord, Oregon, the movie picks up steam and turns into a weird but still very entertaining blend of buddy action-comedy and horror with a dash of sci-fi nuttiness. Three weaponized metallic spheres fly around the mausoleum wreaking all sorts of gruesome havoc, and Coscarelli's directing gives a tip of the hat to Sam Raimi's 'Evil Dead' movies. Other than seeing Raimi's name on bag of cremated remains, Reggie imitates Ash Williams in a funny chainsaw-fight sequence and gets groovy with a pair of double-barreled shotguns.
Although Coscarelli makes audiences wait a while for the good stuff, which is really the last quarter of the movie, it pays off with wildly entertaining fights, chases and bloody mayhem. 'Phantasm II' isn't as strong or nearly as creepy as its predecessor, but it's a decent follow-up that finishes with great comical action and a healthy dose of gore, satisfying enough for fans that ever wondered what happened next.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Phantasm II' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition package under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover.
At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with the movie's music and full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from the Shout! Factory website, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase and while supplies last!
The ball takes a stab at Blu-ray with a strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) which looks significantly better than previous editions, but the source used still shows its age. Several spots are softer than others with slightly less than desirable resolution, yet overall definition is pleasing with excellent detailing in furniture, architecture and the many wide shots on the road. There's great clarity within the shadows of poorly-lit sequences and during nighttime scenes in the graveyard. Facial complexions appear natural and revealing. Colors are bold and vibrant with primaries looking particularly animated. Contrast is consistent and well-balanced with crisp, brilliant whites while black levels are deep and penetrating. With an ultra-fine layer of grain always present, the high-def transfer looks terrific and is sure to please fans.
Quickly becoming common practice with every Blu-ray release, Scream Factory again offers fans the option of the original stereo soundtrack or a 5.1 surround remix, both in DTS-HD Master Audio. Although finding little to complain about in the latter choice, the first track sounds better and more pleasing to my ears, mostly because it feels more natural to the movie's age and original design.
The front soundstage is wide and expansive with exceptionally convincing off-screen effects, creating a highly-engaging and spacious soundfield. When applying one of the multichannel matrix decoders in the receiver, these same atmospherics bleed into the side speakers with satisfying results and generate an entertainingly immersive feel. The same goes for the musical score. Meanwhile, dialogue reproduction is steady and well-prioritized in the center, never drowned out by the other activity. Dynamic range is surprisingly extensive with excellent detailed clarity in the upper frequencies. Low bass is deep and appropriate for a movie of this vintage, but scenes with the flying spheres and the inter-dimensional portal come with some added oomph that's quite pleasing, making this a fun and very enjoyable listen on Blu-ray.
Writer and director Don Coscarelli returns for 'Phantasm II,' a direct follow-up to the massively popular cult favorite about a creepy undertaker and his zombie minions. Though not as strong or scary as its predecessor, the sequel remains a fun and decently entertaining feature with plenty of action, comedy, and gore. The Blu-ray arrives with great picture quality and a better audio presentation. With a healthy collection of supplements to boot, the overall package is sure to please fans everywhere.