Friday, May 25, 2007

Seeing's Easy, Understanding Takes a Little More Time

Over at the Pop Culture Survivor Group we're playing a mini game featuring the long-running PHANTASM series of films. Since I've been enjoying the flicks for the last week I figured I'd post some of my comments here, too. First up is PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD, which has finally been released in the US in its uncut form.

"You've lived in this flesh constraint long enough..."

When last we saw Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Liz (Paula Irvine), they thought they'd killed The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) thanks to a mix of embalming fluid and hydrchloric acid. Escaping from Perragord Cemetery with their new friend Chemy (short for Alchemy, played by former Penthouse Pet and current radio/TV host Samantha Phillips), the trio quickly realize that their future is not quite so rosy.

Reggie escapes from the hearse just in time to see it careen down the road and explode into flames. (In addition to cars flipping over, the exploding wreckage is a favorite effect of Coscarelli's.) Fearing the worst, he discovers that Mike – now played by Original Recipe Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) – has been thrown from the car before the explosion. Young psychic Liz ain't so lucky – she gets crisped up in the hearse crash, munched on by the jawas, and decapitated for her troubles. (The crash apparently killed Irvine's career, too. PHANTASM III is the last credit on her IMDB filmography.)

Even worse, The Tall Man isn't dead at all and our worst fears are realized when we see a new Tall Man emerge from the dimension forks and drag his old body into the void. After seeing something like that one wonders if The Tall Man can be killed at all.

After an eventful stay in the hospital – a possessed nurse attacks poor Mike with some sort of spinning bone saw/probe and he runs into brother Jody on “the other side” – Mike, Reggie and Jody (now one of The Tall Man's killer spheres) head back home where The Tall Man grabs Mike but not before he turns Sphere Jody into a lead ball. Lead Ball Jody tells Reggie to head to Holtsville so he packs up the 'Cuda (now a ragtop and somehow not destroyed) and takes off.

Holtsville looks a lot like Perragord, complete with abandoned storefronts and random gravesites. Running afoul of a couple extras from A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY, Reggie ends up getting rescued by Timmy, a kid who is a lot more dangerous and capable of defending himself than his look would suggest.

The Holtsville Cemetery finds Reggie hooking up with a pair of para-military sistahs, one of whom is quickly dispatched by a sphere. The other, Rocky, adds to this installment's amped up comic side as Reggie keeps trying to get into her military issue pants despite the constant threat from legions of the undead.

They eventually locate Mike – who doesn't have a whole lot to do in this installment besides get thrown around and trapped in a crypt. That's okay, because the series is much more entertaining when the focus is on Reggie. Frankly, Mike and Jody are a bit of a bore.

Taking refuge in a giant mausoleum – thanks to the kind of cinematic logic that can only get you in trouble – Mike, Reggie, Rocky, and Tim find themselves battling The Tall Man, the re-animated Roxbury Crew, spheres and jawas. We also discover that Mike may be more connected to The Tall Man than we originally thought.

Though certainly more lighthearted in tone than the first two installments, PHANTASM 3 is an entertaining entry in the series. Once again, as your enjoyment of Reggie goes so goes your enjoyment of the series. Though I first groaned at the site of a precocious kid character (would he be PHANTASM's Short Round?), Tim turns out to be a worthy ally for Reggie and has one great scene where he gets to drive the 'Cuda which leads to a priceless look on Bannister's face.

One of the things I truly like about the series is that Coscarelli never feels obligated to have a big expository sequence where we're told the who, what, why, when and how of the flicks. In actuality, facts are parceled out to over the course of the four films... and in this one we learn that after they're crushed down to jawa size the dwarves have their brains removed for use in the spheres.

Ostensibly, the return of Mike and Jody should be met with more enthusiasm by me, but like I said they're characters are a bit of a bore in comparison to Reggie. I just found it curious that even after you're turned into some sort of sphere, but with the ability to retake human form (ala Jody), you can continue to gain weight and lose your hair.

By the end of the film we're left with more questions than answers: Is Mike from Planet Tall Man? If not, why is The Tall Man so interested in him? Can The Tall Man be killed? Why is Reggie so horny?

Not my favorite installment by any stretch, P3 is still a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

Buy PHANTASM III at Amazon.

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