3 out of 5
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
While the story / process behind the making of Phamtasm IV is perhaps more interesting than the movie itself, the little-franchise-that-could nonetheless winds its way to an interestingly contemplative fourth entry, helmed with patience by Coscarelli and acted and produced by a team of equally dedicated supporters and regulars.
The flick again picks up where the previous one left off (post an impressively ominous Tall Man / sphere intro), but unlike 2 and 3, there’s less immediacy: Michael is off on his own road trip in a hearse, and Reggie is unceremoniously let go from the multi-sphere net from film 3’s end, now sort of boppin’ around the wasteland in the ‘Cuda, undecided where to go. And that ‘on the road’ wandering formula definitely sets the tone, despite everyone getting a set path soon enough. For Reggie, this means Jody showing up and telling him, yet again, to go fetch Mike – which leads to the requisite girl pick-up-attempt diversion – and for Mike, it’s something altogether trippy and vague, as he crawls through a portal in a coffin and emerges in a desert, pledging to summon the Tall Man so that he can use his new sphere-brain powers to… kill him or something. This leads us through some dreamy sequences in which we maybe see the Tall Man’s origins, and Mike becomes his own sphere-master.
The series remains ambitious with its weirdo mythology, never pushing too far with explanations but also adding valuable fodder with each entry, though IV just sort of sits and ponders on its own story instead of using the chase or hunt setups of II and III. This does make it a good bookend companion to the first film – both limited by meager budgets – which is rather fitting since Coscarelli made much use of the tons of excess footage shot for the original as a cute way of retroactively expanding his characters and Phantasm world.
…And that’s the story behind the story that can add to one’s appreciation of Oblivion: It was essentially made to fund a larger scale sequel, but instead of churning out a cheapie effort, Coscarelli plotted out and delivered something more personal. Its limitations are visible in its scale, and the film’s wide-eyed approach is definitely a big shift from the action and gags of what came before, but the scope is as impressive as ever, making it am admittedly underwhelming but still essential addition to the series.