Phantasm: Ravager [Blu-ray]
R1 - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th January 2017).
The Film

I just watched “Phantasm: Ravager” (2016).

That’s a sentence I’ll likely never say again. There are a couple of salient reasons why this fifth – and, sadly, final – entry in Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” series is a disastrous mess; chief among them being the decision to hand directorial duties over to David Hartman, a guy who has directed nothing but Saturday morning cartoons. What a director has produced in the past is not always indicative of their talents for future work, but I really don’t think the time to prove Hartman’s worth was for a much-anticipated entry in a long running horror series – one that has been helmed by the same man since 1979. To be fair, “Ravager” did start life as a web series devoted to following Reggie Bannister’s wandering ice cream salesman with no real plans to make it a feature. Coscarelli says he was with the project from the beginning, but I’ve heard differently…

Whatever the case, the real issue is that the transition from wannabe-webthing to legit feature film sequel was clearly rough. A fan service webisode is one thing – since they’re never expected to be incredible anyway – but putting footage of that caliber into a feature is dooming your picture to look like a SyFy Channel original. And this one does. The film’s ambitions far outweigh its abilities and in place of ingenuity or inventive camera tricks we just get loads of piss-poor CGI, from the flying spheres on up to full-scale cities. Nothing looks convincing. On top of that the plot is the most schizophrenic yet, jumping between “reality” and “dreams” so often that any semblance of an actual story is eviscerated. Even worse: classic characters popping in for fan service cameos that amount to jack squat in the grand scheme of things.

Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is still a man on a mission, shuffling through the desert in search of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). His beloved 1971 Hemicuda has gone missing… wait, never mind, it’s right here being driven by some guy who looks like he works at the local H&R Block. Reg gets the upper hand and boots out suit and tie guy just as two flying spheres enter the picture, one of which kills the car thief. Suddenly, Reggie wakes up and finds he’s in a hospital being looked after by Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), who explains that Reg was admitted after showing signs of dementia. Unconvinced Mike is telling the truth Reggie proceeds to tell him a story involving a girl, a guitar, his car, and those rascally evil minions of the Tall Man. During a dream-within-a-dream, Reggie imagines himself in a hospital bed next to an old man who looks exactly like the Tall Man but whose name is Jebediah.

With no concrete confirmation as to what is real and what is part of Reggie’s dream, the film bounces around between these planes of existence. In one reality the Tall Man approaches Reggie with a deal – stop messing with his affairs and the Tall Man will bring Reggie’s family back from the dead. Soon after Reggie finds himself in yet another reality, this one set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Tall Man reigns supreme and massive flying balls have laid waste to major cities. Reggie meets up with a group of survivors who are intent on killing the Tall Man and ending his war on Earth. A skirmish on the Tall Man’s home planet follows, with more questions being created along the way at every stop.

For over twenty years, I have stuck with this series through twists and turns and confusion and questions because Don Coscarelli has always made the films interesting. My introduction to the world of the Tall Man came around 1996, when a buddy and I rented a copy of “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” (1994) from Wherehouse. I had never even seen the first two movies and was completely lost watching the third, but it still made one helluva impression on me and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. I eventually got around to watching the initial two pictures and the rich mythology only reinforced my enjoyment of “III”. “Phantasm IV: Oblivion” (1998) came around not long after the third entry and it once again managed to push the mystery box further down the road, providing some understanding while also opening up strange new possibilities. I have been legit excited to see where Coscarelli would take things next after producing four (arguably) strong pictures.

But then we get to “Ravager”, which began production ten years after “Oblivion” and is the only film not directed or wholly written by Coscarelli. And, man, does it show. I can’t pretend I know what caused such a lengthy delay – I do know Don had been trying to get various sequels off the ground for years without any luck – but how he let someone else take the reins I’ll never understand. I thought this was his baby? There is zero narrative flow to “Ravager”, making the experience of watching it painfully frustrating. Reggie and Angus are the sole bright spots in what should have been a fan-servicing swan song for the series. A. Michael Baldwin looks tired and defeated, Bill Thornbury pops in for a terribly unsatisfying cameo as Jody, and Gloria Lynne Henry gets a last-minute appearance as Rocky from “III” even though there is nothing of value for her to do. Just seeing a character appear is pointless if they have no bearing on the story. Even the enigmatic Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester) shows up for a key scene but it just… doesn’t work. Ever. At all.

Video

Being that this was a digitally-shot production the 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is very clean and very, well, digital. The upside to this is that fine detail is often excellent and colors appear vibrant and lifelike. Black levels are a bit dicey, looking clumpy in the darkest of scenes. The worst aspect of the image is the CGI, which has a difficult time melding with the live-action footage. At some points it looks worse than modern day video game cut scenes. That aside, there isn’t much fault to find with the live footage.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio track is available in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The multi-channel mix provides some strong moments of directionality, especially when the flying spheres are bouncing around from every corner of the room. The classic themes of composers Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave are woven into new compositions by Christopher L. Stone, whose score for this entry flip flops between forgettable and respectable. Dialogue is presented cleanly, with no issues detected. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

There is an audio commentary with director David Hartman and screenwriter/producer Don Coscarelli that I have yet to hear, though hopefully it sheds plenty of light on just what the hell went on during production.

“Behind the Scenes” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes and 24 seconds. This is all-too-brief and contains few revelations or anything of substance.

A few deleted scenes (1080p) are available:

- “Giant Dwarf” runs for 3 minutes and 47 seconds.
- “Escape from Dawn’s Cabin” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “Cuda vs. Sphere” runs for 1 minute and 42 seconds.

Phantasm bloopers & outtakes (1080p) runs for 8 minutes and 40 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. There is a slip-cover for first pressings.

Overall

I hate to say this but even if you’re a hardcore “Phantasm” fan I can’t say I recommend giving this a spin. Only for the morbidly curious and completists.

The Film: D+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: C+ Overall: C

 


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