Beyond The Barrier Of Death: The Phantasm Series (Part Three)
Mike drifts in an unconscious void. He finds himself in a chamber of light, and is drawn toward its bright source. He is intercepted by his late brother, Jody, who encourages him to resist going further, as it is not yet his time. Mike continues on, nonetheless. But what he finds waiting at the end of the line sends him turning back. There, silhouetted against the blinding crossroads of mortality, stands The Tall Man.
The Phantasm series raises questions, thrives on the inexplicable. It is a vital element of its distinct appeal. In Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead, questions are answered, only to be replaced by more foreboding ones. The borders of conventional reality break down further, as Mike and Reggie begin to traverse them in dreams and visions. Their paths diverge, and their common guide is Jody (Bill Thornbury), who now manifests as one of the flying spheres, hijacking The Tall Man's own device to re enter the world of the living. In this strange capacity, he has returned to the welcoming arms of both his friend and his brother.
Many towns have fallen, and many people outside of Reggie and Mike have lost their homes and loved ones. Few now escape the scourge of The Tall Man. Entire regions have become abandoned remnants, inhabited only by those with no alternative but to stay. The unguarded neighborhoods and shops are a lure to dangerous but very human scavengers. Reggie befriends two fellow survivors on his journey. Tim (Kevin Connors) lost his parents to The Tall Man and has become a lethal marksman."Little kids shouldn't be playing with guns." "I ain't a kid no more, Reg". Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) is military trained, skilled with nunchucks, and has watched her town and her friend be taken by the spreading evil. The motley trio are on a quest for retribution, one that cannot return to them what has already been taken.
A. Michael Baldwin, who portrayed Mike in the original 1978 film, reprises his role here after a fifteen year absence. He brings a quiet, engaging tension to his performance, along with an aura of legacy. His return as Mike, and his reunion with Bill Thornbury's Jody add a sense of familial continuity to the film. But Mike is now on a much more ambiguous path than the one he set out on. Jody, through his new connection with the undead forces, reveals many secrets to him. It seems that Mike represents much more to The Tall Man than just another source of organic material. He is held captive and tested for psychic potential, a trait hinted at in the previous film. Seemingly being groomed for some form of cosmic transcendence, a surgical alteration leaves him sharing a frightening physical similarity with The Tall Man himself.
Where Phantasm 2 is a fun, fairly accessible romp in the series, this film dives deeper into the mythos, and moves the plot forward in a significant way. It is also more visually inventive, action packed, and ambitious. A consistently surprising, dark adventure imbued with the welcome reunion of the classic film's cast, and incredibly appealing newcomers. It seems to be the sequel that Don Coscarelli wanted to make all along; stranger, more deeply in tune with the franchise's cult horror identity.
Despite having a smaller budget than its predecessor, Lord Of The Dead may be more photographically enticing. Colors and shadows are delicate, moody. Somber overcast skies drape an amber tinge onto the winding roads of a forsaken land. The effects don't seem to have suffered from this monetary reduction either, and there are some truly striking moments, including a sphere punching through a zombie scavengers skull, leaving behind a perfectly round tunnel. The movie contains in addition a genuinely awe inspiring car stunt, the launching of a hearse into an aerial corkscrew. Performed by Bob Ivy, it is simply unbelievable to think that a person was actually driving the vehicle during the maneuver, and that they could possibly have lived to tell about it.
A battle with The Tall Man has concluded. Mike is no longer the same. He turns to look at Reggie, and the group sees that his eyes have become gleaming gold orbs. He flees, and Reggie follows. He tries to catch up with his friend, but Jody intervenes. He tells Reggie not to believe everything he sees, that seeing is easy - understanding takes time. He again assumes the form of a sphere, and follows Mike into the shadows. Reggie is left, waiting and wondering in the dark...