Open Graves On The Open Road: The Phantasm Series (Part Two)
Mike (James Le Gros) and Reggie (Reggie Banister) descend the dusty basement stairs of a delapidated mausoleum. In the corner is a huddled figure. Mike pulls back its shroud, revealing a young woman whose mouth is taped shut. She is strangely familiar. Before he can help, her body begins to ungulate. A large, lumpy mass raises itself from a cavity in her back. It has a gnarled, menacing humanoid face, and dares them in its choked voice: "Come East, if you dare!" Reggie engulfs the abomination with a blast from his flame thrower, leaving it in a burning heap. It was not a girl at all, but one of The Tall Man's calling cards - "the worst. So far."
The two men have traversed winding roads through breathtaking mountain vistas in their black Hemicuda sports car, guided by Mike's Psychic connection to a girl whom he's never personally met. The Tall Man is leaving a trail of plundered cemeteries and vacant streets in his wake, and her town is the next target. Find her, find him. Armed with a chainsaw, and a custom four barreled shotgun, the two men are taking the fight to an enemy that has taken everything from them.
Released some ten years after its prdecessor, Phantasm 2 embodies what makes the horror films of the 1980's such beloved staples. It is an amiable, gory, spook house ride, a Death Metal album cover come to life. Don Coscarelli created an original mythos in the first entry. Here he gets to play in it. Released by Universal, the movie has perhaps the highest production budget of the entire series. Much of this looks to have been allocated to the excellent, gooey practical effects and make up by a team that features members of KNB. Creations include a new golden flying sphere, which utilizes a deadly laser and a crown of spinning metal teeth along its rim which allows it to burrow fully through a victim. A disintegrating Tall Man, the aforementioned "calling card" monster, and updated, more effectively frightening dwarf make up are also stand outs.
This was the era of practical horror effects, when artists like Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Chris Walas, Tom Savini, and Rob Bottin were as well known and perhaps more beloved to enthusiasts than directors or actors. Their work has a particular style and texture which has stood the test of time. When something has been made by hand, is physically real, it shows on screen. It sticks with you, just as so many movies from this decade have stuck with horror fans.
While Mike was recast for Phantasm 2, and Le Gros acquits himself perfectly well, Reggie Bannister thankfully returns to reprise his role. Reggie was Jody's friend in the previous film, and now he and Mike are each other's only family. Reggie is a soft spoken, laid back, guitar playing ice cream vendor. Something of an affable, libidinous hippie, he is a charming everyman in a way that few characters ever are. When pushed, however, he is more than capable of bringing down his undead foes. Along with the late, great Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man, Bannister is the only actor to appear in all five Phantasm films, and his presence is always advantageous. I am lucky enough to own an autographed picture of him from a moment in this film. It was procured for me by one Robert Sutton, and is among my most prized possessions.
Mike awakes in Phantasm 2 and finds that his nightmare is, in fact, reality. No longer is there comfort in dismissing it as merely a dream. The evil forces he is brought into conflict with may be unstoppable. But he and Reggie will at least go down swinging.