Friday, April 12, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PHANTASM II (1988)


Collector's Edition Blu-ray  
Label: Scream Factory
Region: A NTSC
Duration: 95 Minutes
Rating: R
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Don Consacrelli
Cast: James Le Gros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar, Samantha Philips
Tagline: The Ball is Back!

Phantasm 2 (1988) picks up pretty much right where the events of Phantasm (1979) left off, sort of. It's  six years later and we are introduced to Liz Reynolds, (Paula Irvine), a young woman with a psychic-link to Mike(Michael Baldwin) and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), we see the events immediately following the first film through a series of visions as Liz reads through her illustrated dream journal. Turns out that after Mike was captured by the Tall Man he was freed from the Lurker's clutches by the ass-kicking-est ice cream man ever, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), who leaped from a second story window, clutching Mike's unconscious body, just a moment before the house goes up in an enormous fiery explosion. It's a great action-packed start to the film and puts you right in the proper Phantasm mindset with plenty of weird Jawa-looking Lurker action.

We learn that Mike, now played by James Le Gros (Zodiac), has been committed to the Morningside Psychiatric Center ever since, for years he's received dream communications from Liz asking for his help, she fears the Tall Man and what he will do to her dying grandfather once he dies. As if it were just that easy Mike decides to start acting sane, meaning denying any of the events of the first film, and just like that is released from the asylum. His first stop is the Morningside Cemetery were he sets about unearthing graves in an effort to convince himself of his own sanity, that the events years earlier were indeed supernatural and not the bi-product of a deranged mind brought on by the tragic death of his brother Jody, and sure 'nuff the graves are empty. Learning that Mike has been released Reggie tracks him down at the cemetery, and guess what, he doesn't believe any of the weird shit from the first film actually happened, which makes no sense if you've seen the first film, but there's a lot that doesn't make sense with these films, instead of your melting your brain trying to make sense of it all it's best to just let the movie wash over you like the surreal, disjointed nightmare that it is.

Mike attempts to convince Reggie that the Tall man is real en route to Mike's house when Mike experiences a premonition that the house is about to explode, which it does, tragically killing Reg's wife, daughter and visiting family members, I am also pretty sure this is the very same explosion from the opening of the film, reused, Now a believer Reggie joins Mike on his quest to find Liz and destroy the Tall Man. From here the movie becomes a bit of a road film as the duo leave Morningside in Reg's sweet '70 Black Plymouth Barracuda, briefly stopping off at the hardware store to stock-up on supplies. It's here we get a great montage as they acquire what will become the duo's signature weapons, a four barreled sawed-off shotgun, a propane fueled flame thrower and a chainsaw, natch.

Meanwhile, in the town of Perigord, where the Tall Man has set-up a new base of operation to harvest the corpses of the dead, our psychic dreamer Liz's fears are being realized. Father Meyers (Kenneth Tigar, Lethal Weapon 2,3) is presiding over the funeral services for her departed grandfather, the priest smells the stench of evil in his town, in an attempt to thwart the strange goings on, which he doesn't fully understand, he opens the casket and plunges a knife into the chest of Liz's departed grandfather  to the shock of his widow who walks in on the priest and faints at the sight of the desecration. Character actor Tigar is cast quite well as the nerve-wracked, whiskey flask sipping man of the cloth.

En route to Perigord Mike and Reggie stop off at small town where the Tall Man has wrought his peculiar brand of destruction, it's a ghost town, the cemetery has been plundered, it's graves unearthed and empty. During the brief stopover the guys encounter a woman with a grotesque slug growing from her spine, it's an unnerving sight and Reggie sends the suffering woman and the creature up in flames. On the road again Mike wakes up from his passenger seat nap to discover that Reggie's picked up a cute hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips, Cheerleader Massacre) who should look a bit familiar to Mike as he just dreamt of her. Mike warns against bringing her along but Reggie is pretty horny and insists. At one point later in the film Reggie and Alchemy hook up we get a quirky, high-energy sex scene with Alchemy riding him cowgirl and slapping his little bald head, wacky stuff.

Back in Perigord Liz returns to the mortuary and encounters the Tall Man, he sets the Lurkers on Liz who is horrified to discover dear old grandma has become one of the mini-zombie minions. She is also pursued by one of the eerie metallic spheres, she escapes when Father Meyers sacrifices himself as a sphere sprays his liquefied brains all over the marbled mausoleum floor. Liz escapes into the darkened cemetery where she runs into Mike and Reggie when she falls in an open grave, as you're prone to do. The united quartet join forces and set out to destroy the demonic mortician before he can enslave more undead souls.

This action-packed sequel ramps up the action quite a bit, there are numerous  explosions including one that sends that sweet '70 Cuda up in a ball o' fire, which was a damn shame. The special effects are quite a bit more fantastic than anything we saw in the first film, the Lurkers are creepier, the creature embedded in the woman's spine would not have seemed out of place in a latter entry of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, and we get not one but a trio of spheres. The spheres this time are even more intricate, not just the barbed brain-spewing variety, we get a gold variation that's laser enabled!

Leading up to the finale is a battle at a crematorium, pitting Liz, Mike and Reggie against suit-wearing Morticians and miner-esque Gravers. Liz turns the tables on a Mortician and incinerates him in a furnace, and another falls victim to errant sphere, it's a great scene as the serrated sphere churns through it's guts, the centrifugal force contorting it's body unnaturally, it's a smart effect. There's a sweet face off when Reggie goes up against a Graver, it's a crotch-shredding chainsaw vs. chainsaw duel, it's a sweet mash-up of My Bloody Valentine (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). When the quartet finally face-off against the Tall Man it's a gruesome sight, an acid-infused finale of yellow goo with  wonderful in-camera effects, after the splatter-riffic conclusion we get a typically surreal Phantasmic coda.

James Le Gros stepping in for Michael Baldwin as Mike goes over quite well, if it weren't for the other sequels featuring Baldwin it would be a seamless exchange, as it is I really enjoyed what he did with the character, after Scrimm he delivers the film's best performance. Bannister as the balding former ice cream vendor turned supernatural shit-stomper is pretty great, offering the film a bit of needed camp. Angus Scrimm is superb as the Tall Man, it'd be hard to imagine the franchise without his iconic mortician to drive it along. The series is ripe for a remake but when I think recasting the Tall Man and I immediately sour against it.

Phantasm 2 is the sequel with the biggest budget by a rather large margin and you definitely see it onscreen. The scope is broader, the sets are bigger, and the effects are gorier. The one things that noticeably missing is the weird dream-logic from the first film, it's a more linear experience, but pretty surreal just the same, this is a Phantasm film after all! Coscarelli's sequel holds up pretty damned well, Phantasm 2 remains a unique vision of surreal horror.

Blu-ray: Shout! Factory imprint Scream Factory bring Don Coscarelli's Phantasm 2 to 1080p Region 'A' locked Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode and it's a pretty wonderful presentation, a definite upgrade from the previous Universal DVD (2007). The print the hi-def master is sourced from looks particularly nice,with only very minor instances of print damage that could be detected There's a nice later of fine grain and the close-ups do offer some fine detail. Not sure what is was with the late-80's film stock but there is a familiar softness to the image at times, colors are vivid, there's some moderate depth to the image and shadow detail is strong, this is a a very pleasing transfer, one that brings new life to a familiar favorite.

Scream Factory offer the original DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo and a more immersive 5.1 mix, with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 surround is quite good, there's not a ton of surround action happening but effects and score occasionally do  bleed into the surrounds to nice effect. The dynamic range is surprising, when the spheres do what they do it's brilliant. Both 2.0 and 5.1 offer a well-balanced audio experience, dialogue is crisp, effects and score are never overpowering and even occasionally elicit a nice low end bass response, a very pleasing and immersive audio presentation.

Scream Factory typically jam-pack their Collector's Edition titles with extras and Phantasm 2 is no different. The extras are sure please fans of the film whom previously only enjoyed a trailer for the film on anemic Universal DVD. The Audio Commentary is your typical Coscarelli commentary in that it's awesome, the director and actors Scrimm and Bannister keep it quite lively and entertaining, they're a fun bunch who obviously enjoy each others company, plenty of interesting tidbits about the film, shooting it, and the production.

“The Ball is Back!” (46:38) features new interviews with writer/director Don Coscarelli, actors Reggie Banister, Angus Scrimm, and Paula Irvine. It begins with Coscarelli speaking about not wanting to make another horror film right after the Phantasm (1979) which produced the sword n' sandal cable classic The Beastmaster (1982) before returning to he Phantasm series during Tom Pollack's horror-friendly reign as Universal's studio head.  Coscarelli also goes into the downside of working within the studio system, which were many, including making creative concessions, notably replacing the character of Mike, played in the first, third and fourth in the franchise by Michael Baldwin, with newcomer James Le Gros, even a young Brad Pitt auditioned for Mike and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, Hellboy) nearly replaced Bannister as Reggie, hard to imagine. It's a great mini doc with an abundance of neat behind-the-scenes video and stills and clips from the film.

“The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” (22:01) features effects master Nicotero speaking about his beginnings working on George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 (1987) plus of Phantasm (1979) and his disbelief that he would end up working with some of his favorite directors on sequels to films he loved. Hearing special effects guys talk about their craft definitely strikes a chord in my horror heart, we get more behind-the-scene clips, some really comedic stuff, too.

Reversible Artwork 
Sourced from Director Don Coscarelli's own personal 35mm film archives are Deleted Scenes (6:51) plus Additional Scenes – Alternate Takes, Deleted Gore Footage from the Workprint (18:58). That's nearly half an hour of extended, alternate and deleted footage from the film, sure to be treat for fans who just can't get enough of Phantasm 2.

Not related to the Phantasm series but a cool feature is a vintage Rare Short film starring Angus Scrimm (18:40). Can you imagine the Tall Man as Abraham Lincoln? Well, now you won't have to, this black and white educational film shows you, fun stuff.

Rounding out the Blu-ray features are a selection of TV Spots and Trailers for the film plus a collection of vintage featurettes. Separate from the Blu-ray extras there's a slipcover for the case featuring brand-new artwork plus a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical artwork, a typically fantastic Scream Factory release and one that will hopefully not just satisfy the existing fans but hopefully convert legions new followers.

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with director/writer Don Coscarelli and actors Angus Scrimm and Reggie Banister
- “The Ball is Back!” Documentary – featuring new interviews with writer/director Don Coscarelli, actors Reggie Banister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips and more!(46:38)
- Vintage Behind the Scenes Footage: Makeup Effects (3:12)
- Vintage Behind the Scenes footage: On the Set (4:17)
- “The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” Featurette (22:01)
- Deleted Scenes from Archival Film Elements from Don Coscarelli’s Archive (6:51)
- Additional Scenes – Alternate Takes, Deleted Gore Footage from the Workprint (18:58)
- 3 Original TV Spots (1:25)
- Trailers for Phantasm (2:17), Phantasm II (1:27) and Phantasm III (1:27)
- Still Galleries: A Collection of 53 Images of Behind the Scenes, Make-up Effects, Poster and Stills (5:17)
- Rare short film starring Rory Guy (aka Angus Scrimm) as Abraham Lincoln (18:40)

Verdict: Scream Factory are making a quite name for themselves as the new home of classic horror, offering Criterion level bonus content and pristine audio/visual presentations, bringing new life to cult classics. Phantasm 2 is a great effects driven sequel, action-packed and oozing with that surreal weirdness inherent to the franchise, it'd be a real treat to see Phantasm (1979) get a definitive Blu-ray. 3.5 Outta 5 

Note: Screen captures are from the Universal DVD and not Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray which is far superior