The Crossroads Of Fate: The Phantasm Series (Part Four)
Reggie starts awake, and finds that he is not in the bed of the derelict motel room in which he fell asleep, but a moonlit graveyard. Getting to his feet, he glimpses a stalking figure behind a cluster of bordering foliage. When he approaches, it disappears. A moment passes in quiet stillness. A pale hand grabs his shoulder and he turns to see the The Tall Man, looming over him. But The Tall Man is Mike.
Phantasm: OblIVion is woven together from the inside out with the strands of past and present. Footage from 1978, shot for but unused in the original Phantasm, is incorporated here - a literal representation of the past. This utilizing of sources from distant eras to present a plot about time travel approaches meta narrative, a meditation on the decade spanning legacy of the series itself. The endeavor is streamlined by OblIVion's tonal similarity to that first film, and the revival of it's more avant garde tendencies, which had somewhat subsided in the previous two entries. Protagonists are isolated on their individual paths, this time both geographically and temporally. Sequences are at times void of dialogue, infused with creeping atmosphere and conveyed through pure visual storytelling. The scale tips back to weird horror, though there is still a satisfying amount of action on display, particularly in Reggie's journey.
The Tall Man intends for Mike to join his cause of ravaging the world. They are still enemies, as they have been for so long, but the nature of the conflict is now a nightmarish mutation of master and pupil. For his part, Mike hones his growing psychic power to use as a weapon against The Tall Man. The two are caught in a battle of wills, and Reggie, ever on the road, sets out in his Hemi for the desert to help his friend.
The desert in question is a source of stunning beauty. Endless, shockingly clear blue skies are caught in a race past the horizon with the infinite expanse of golden, bleached earth and its otherworldly rock formations. But it is the beauty of a place devoid of life. The allure of desolation, the seduction of silence. Metal posts gleam in the blazing sun, each pair a gateway through time. It is by these that Mike witnesses the origins of The Tall Man. A Civil War doctor named Jebediah Morningside, after whom the infamous mortuary from the first film would be named, seeks a means of conquering death, having been a hands on witness to so much of it. Angus Scrimm's gentle, warm portrayal of Morningside throws into stark relief his range as an actor and precisely how much menace he summons to play The Tall man.
It is not only the past that is shown to Mike. Revealed to him is a vision of a time yet to come, of an empty city, larger by far then any we've yet seen fall. Mike watches as The Tall Man strides down the quiet, unpopulated intersection, his echoing steps the drumbeat to human extinction.
Phantasm: OblIVion is my favorite of the sequel of the series. It is more thoughtful, more dire than the others, a work of surreal entertainment with surprising gravity. It is yet again more imaginative, if such a thing is possible. The ongoing theme of the series, the struggle against death, is most potent here, as characters finally meet the full scope of what they are fighting. The seeming futility of battling The Tall Man is laid bare, a frail gesture against the inevitable.
The movie has a dark beauty, an elegant quality that transcends its time travelling convolutions. A number of images achieve a true visual poetry. Despite its epic scale, the film is a superb study in minimalism. Possibly the result of diminishing budgets, it is almost a four character play about the struggle against fate, acted out upon a cosmic stage. Coscarelli adapts to the constraints of the production instead letting them hinder him, and crafts a more intimate, satisfying film as result. It offers as much ambiguity as closure in the end, but this is perfectly fitting for a series that has continually bridged the gulf between what is real and what is perceived. The conclusion itself is a quiet, eerie moment that haunts me to this day.