Phantasm II

3 out of 5

Directed by: Don Coscarelli

With the first phantasm squarely rooted in the golden transitional years of horror – the quiet and surreal likes of Suspiria, or Halloween to the gloriously goofy overkill of Evil Dead and the like – the second Phantasm reeks of 80s: more masculinity, more one-liners, more violence, more sex, more guns.  It’s definitely a  big tonal shift the first time through, especially if you have fresh memories of the original for comparison.  With subsequent viewings a humble charm starts to wear through, though, which, if you’re so inclined, is supported by home release commentary or some background on the flick: that this was a studio requested followup that Coscarelli had declined until  the story finally clicked for him; that is to say: this wasn’t as divinely inspired as its progenitor, but it also wasn’t as simple as Don jumping for a check.  So the muddled mix is a result of some indulgence – more money, less risk, you can have more fun – and almost approaching the story backwards (and then what? as opposed to an original idea); but what’s appealing about this, after you’re used to it, is that this is where the mythology gets to kick off.

Movie one was awesomely dreamlike; two is comparatively grounded, with Reggie and a post psych-ward Mike teaming up – toting flamethrower and shotgun – to track down the Tall Man through the various towns he’s pilfered for his midget slaves.  The journey could have been extended – we’re told time passes but on screen it’s just a hop to their destination – and there’s a whole element of a dream-link Mike has with a girl (Paula Irvine) that never really clearly enhances the plot, but the buddy banter is a win and the expansion of Tall Man lore, antics and gore bump up the camp factor wonderfully.

Phantasm 2 is Coscarelli operating more at his intelligent B-movie capabilities (see: Beastmaster) over the more thematic nuance – blended with b-movie – of which the original proved capable.  It’s a bit empty and 80s-fied, but it’s also good fun, in retrospect, to see the Phantasm world expand.