Seven years following the conclusion of Phantasm, Mike (James LeGros) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) stock up on weapons and hit the road in search of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).
After reading my review of the original film, it’s probably expected that I dislike Phantasm II. Actually, I enjoy it much more than the first. I think the reason being, is that the sci-fi in the film is no longer a third act surprise and the tone is more action-oriented. Personally, I think it’s a better fit than the horror elements that outlined the original. Although, there are still some creepy moments.
Blowing away dwarves with an over-exaggerated shotgun is much more effective to me than watching them rush toward camera trying to be scary. The Tall Man’s goals have expanded as well. No longer is he simply a creepy old guy who is shrinking down the dead and shipping them off to another world. His level of threat is now shown to be more devastating and far reaching. There are only a few subtle changes to Scrimm’s character, and he doesn’t play him far removed from the last time.
The acting is also considerably better. Bannister, who I didn’t like much at all before, turns in a passable performance as a bumbling action hero. Liz (Paula Irvine), despite being the blonde in peril, was pretty good at conveying a range of emotions. I found her a good addition to the cast. There was some controversy with A. Michael Baldwin being recast as Mike. Don Coscarelli wanted to use him, and he even screen tested for it, but Universal (who were putting up the money) wanted a bigger name in one of the lead roles.
Baldwin was out, and James LeGros was in. LeGros felt a bit too light and unconvincing in the role at the outset, but he grew into it as the film went on. He seemed to combine certain characteristics of Mike from the first film with who he would be now, in his teens. Baldwin would come back of course for Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead and Phantasm: Oblivion, playing Mike more reserved and cryptic. That, in retrospect, might make LeGros’ performance stick out a bit; but for the time, there was nothing wrong with it.
There are a couple of fifth wheels here. One, to me, was Alchemy (Samantha Phillips). While Phillips’ acting was surprisingly not awful, at least compared to some of what I’ve seen from her since, but I didn’t feel this character was really needed. I guess she comes in big later on, but I still don’t think it was worth it. I also feel they made a strategic mistake in her first appearance that kind of undermined what they were going for. The other being a priest, Father Meyers (Kenneth Tigar). While this character wasn’t bad, he took the story off on somewhat of a tangent. He has no real purpose except for striking a symbolic ultimate good vs. the ultimate evil contrast, and being more potential fodder for the Tall Man.
Like other supernatural Horror franchises, the budget increased to accommodate the late 80s audience’s expectation, and Coscarelli was able to utilize many more impressive visual effects than before. Within those are many things, two of which are, nice nods to Aliens and Predator (one more subtle than the other). If you keep a sharp eye, the movie is actually full of references to other films of that day. We not only have more dwarves, and are introduced to a couple new threats, but also see more evolution of the flying sphere. Or, in this case, spheres. The film certainly has a more pumped up feeling about it.
I think the ending was my biggest problem, since there is no sense of real accomplishment for the characters, in a story that was all about revenge. Not that I'm saying they had to end the series here, but the way this movie ends is just concocted to set up another installment; sort of taking something away from the whole piece.
Phantasm II is fun, and proof for me that you don’t always have to like the original film in order to like a Sequel. For my money, it’s easily the best of the four films. This is a review of the Region 2 edition. While the film is now available in Region 1, you should pick up this version if you’re a big fan of the movie. While not loaded with supplements, it does feature a commentary; while the Region 1 disc released by Universal is bare bones.
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, James LeGros, Paula Irvine
Released by: Anchor Bay
- Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Don Coscarelli, and Stars Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm
- Angus Scrimm 1989 Convention Appearance
- Theatrical Trailer
- US TV Spots
- Photo Gallery