31 Days Of Horror: PHANTASM II

For the next 31 days, we here at Adamantium Bullet will be reviewing one horror flick a day leading up to Halloween. Each one will be horrific, terrifying, chilling, pulse-pounding, or flat-out awful. All endured in honor of the season. Expect SPOILERS. Welcome to Adamantium Bullet’s 31 DAYS OF HORROR.


PLOT: Produced nearly a decade after writer/director Don Coscarelli's PHANTASM became a surprise hit, PHANTASM II picks up shortly after the events of the first picture, with young hero Mike (James Le Gros, replacing A. Michael Baldwin), newly released from a psychiatric hospital but still plagued by dreams of the sinister, dimension-hopping Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his legion of diminutive, grave-robbing henchmen. After reuniting with Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike takes to the road to stop the Tall Man with the help of a young woman (Paula Irvine) with whom he shares both a psychic link and disturbing dreams, and an amusingly aggressive hitchhiker (Samantha Phillips).

BODY COUNT: 27 …though almost all of the deaths in PHANTASM II are immediately reversed when The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) resurrects his victims and turns them into evil Jawa/Minion/Dwarf things. Such is the nature of the PHANTASM phran-chise. Let’s move on. The BODY COUNT is as follows: Reggie (Reggie Bannister) bashes one of the Jawa/Minion/Dwarves to death with an empty shotgun, kills another ten by blowing up his own house, smokes another four with a single shot from his four-barreled shotgun, and chainsaws one of the Gravers. Grandpa (Rubin Kushner), Grandma (Ruth C. Engel), and a cat (possibly dog, never clarified) die off-screen, a couple of Reggie’s relatives and the HEMI ‘Cuda explode, Liz (Paula Irvine) shoves a mortician into a furnace, and The Tall Man is killed when hydrochloric acid is pumped into his veins. The Gold Sphere lasers a rat and guts a mortician. Silver Sphere #1 bores into Father Meyers’s (Kenneth Tigar) head and spits his brains out, and Silver Sphere #2 dies when The Tall Man crushes it.

MOST MEMORABLE KILL: Reggie taking down four Jawa/Minion/Dwarves with a single shot from his four-barreled shotgun was certainly memorable.

NAKEDNESS: A brief bit of toplessness from Samantha Phillips, and one fully nude female corpse.

SIGNATURE MOMENT: As with every PHANTASM film, there are a lot of SIGNATURE MOMENTS. In this installment, some of the highlights were the first appearance of Reggie’s four-barreled shotgun, his chainsaw duel with the Graver, and him blowing up his own house to take down a pack of ravening Jawa/Minion/Dwarves. Also notable were the various incarnations of The Tall Man (including a talking spine slug version!) and Mike MacGyvering together a flamethrower together with a few odds and ends from a hardware store he and Reggie ransack early on.

IDIOT MOMENT: Father Meyers just lets the Silver Sphere get him. Dude doesn’t try to run or anything. Just stands there and takes it. What an idiot.

“WTF?!?” MOMENT: While most critics have given flack to PHANTASM II for borrowing liberally from A NIGHTMARE ON THE ELM STREET (Mike & Liz’s visions and psychic connection) and the EVIL DEAD films (loads of splatstick and even a direct shout-out to director Sam Raimi), we thought this flick owed more to James Cameron’s ALIENS than either of those two films. And when we say “owed”, we mean more like “straight-up homage/ripped-off”. The bigger, badder Spheres and Tall Man are very reminiscent of how the xenomorphs upgraded from ALIEN to ALIENS, even going so far as to have a super-xeno Queen Alien. Reggie fusing two shotguns together and Mike crafting a homemade flamethrower is a right out of the Ripley playbook. Even Reggie’s pants are similar to Ripley’s. But even if you put all that aside, the biggest homage/rip of all has to be the score by Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone. While it does at times reference the original PHANTASM score, about 80% plays like a direct-to-video version of James Horner’s score to ALIENS. We understand borrowing from genre favs like NIGHTMARE and EVIL DEAD, because basically every genre pic did that back in the ‘80s, but ALIENS? That’s some serious WTF right there.

USELESS KNOWLEDGE: Don Coscarelli has revealed that some elements of this movie were influenced by Stephen King, specially a few aspects of his novel 'Salem's Lot'. A small part of it at the end, when the characters go out on the road chasing down vampires, gave him the "road movie" idea of Mike and Reggie chasing The Tall Man.

> The film's $3 million budget was 10 times larger than that of PHANTASM and the biggest one in the entire series. Even with that budget, PHANTASM II was the lowest-budgeted film Universal produced in the eighties.

> Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of Mike.

> Don Coscarelli admits to the following direct influences by Universal during the making of the movie: The illusory style of the first movie was discouraged and a more linear plot line with voice over narrations of various characters was required. No dreams by characters were allowed in the final cut. A female lead had to be added as a love interest for the character of Mike. Actress Paula Irvine was cast in the part.

> Universal executives wanted to recast both A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister because they were unknown and had been out of the movie business since the release of the first movie. Don Coscarelli resisted their efforts and was forced to audition A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister for the opportunity to reprise their roles. In the end, his efforts won him a concession: he was allowed to keep one of the two, but had to replace the other; Coscarelli chose to keep Bannister and cast James Le Gros in Baldwin's place.

> There is a scene showing one of the Tall Man's henchmen smashing bone fragments with a hammer to be mixed with ashes and placed in an urn. The cremated remains are funneled into a bag labeled "Mr. Sam Raimi." During production, director Sam Raimi made an appearance at a shoot for PHANTASM II.

> A sequence involving an entire 2-story house exploding in flames was filmed using a genuine house which was in the path of the California 105 freeway construction. The production company bought the house for $200 from the State of California, under the condition that they would move it from the site. The house was rigged with primer cord, mortars, black powder bombs and a plenty of gasoline and blown up. Afterwards, the company kept their word and removed what was left of the house.

> This is the first entry in the series to feature the biggest, most destructive and deadliest kind of sphere: the Gold Sphere. It's the one armed with a laser, that pursues Mike and Liz crashing through several doors and ends up killing an undertaker by drilling his body from the back to the mouth. Due to its menacing look and killing properties, the cast and crew jokingly used to refer to the Gold Sphere as the "Rambo" sphere during filming.

> A love scene between Liz and Mike with them appearing in different locations throughout was filmed, but cut from the final version of the movie because it didn't work.

> A special version of the final dialogue exchange was filmed exclusively for the theatrical trailer and television spots set inside the mausoleum instead of the hearse. This way; the dialogue could be featured in advertising and still not spoil the ending of the film.

> This is the only movie in the PHANTASM series not to feature the character of Jody, Mike's brother, played by Bill Thornbury in the previous and subsequent installments.

> All of the USELESS KNOWLEDGE was provided by IMDB.

Posted by J. Bryant

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