Phantasm IV: Oblivion
Most films that do well in the box office result in the studios creating sequels. This happens in most genres but one is far more prone to go from sequel to trilogy and on to the franchise as the horror flick. Just think of all the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, Friday the 13th’ and ‘Halloween’ movies that have flooded the Cineplex and DVD shelves over the years. Fans seem to love to see their favorite supernatural villains die in one flick only to come back again time after time. This phenomenon is also manifested in some of the smaller, cult classics of the genre. A case in point is the ‘Phantasm’ flicks from the strange mind of Don Coscarelli. Under consideration here is the forth in the series, ‘Phantasm IV: Oblivion’. As most fans already know number five is currently listed as being in production so the franchise is very much alive and well. Even the best horror franchises suffer from repeated attempts to keep the movies going. It is somewhat like photocopying a copy of a copy; things start to fade after awhile. This film is unfortunately no different. It is a shadow of the first flicks’ originality. It is also targeted specifically for the die hard fans out there. It is only fair to mention that if you aren’t familiar with the first three flicks this one is going to be extremely confusing and disjointed. One of the possible reasons for the decline is the ever diminishing budget. The previous installment was reported of sporting a budget somewhere in the 2.5 million. This was listed as coming in around $650,000. There are other factors at work here since number 2 cost three million and the best of the lot; the original was brought in for about $300,000. Perhaps key here is the decline is trying to stretch more and more out of a simple story while forcing the development of the main characters. Back in 2000 MGM/UA released a now discontinued version of the film. Now the rights have been obtained by Starz/Anchor Bay and they have come out with their own edition for DVD.
Don Coscarelli has been the writer and director for all four of flicks of the series. The first one was hailed as a scary tale of supernatural terror. Most of his career has been taken up with the Phantasm flicks as well as some sojourns into the Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-tep flicks. The man has a grip on the horror genre but it seems here that he is pushing the franchise past a natural death. It is okay to resurrect zombies and other terrible creatures but it may be time to let the infamous ‘Tall Man’ (Angus Scrimm) final get laid to rest. This film is over burdened with constant flashbacks to old films. It appears that this was not so much done to provide continuity and exposition but it helped to bring the costs way down by reusing previously shown footage. There was a screenplay floating around that was written by Roger Avary. He shared an Academy Award with Quentin Tarantino for script of ‘Pulp Fiction’. He also did screen plays for ‘Killing Zoe’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘True Romance’. It is reported that his version would have cost about $20 million so it is no surprise that the studio turned once again to Coscarelli for his cheaper to producer script. This script is a lot of talking. You really don’t go to a flick like this to listen to the dialogue you want a lot of blood guts and gore. Sure, the gleaming silver balls with the pair of blades are back but it would have been nice to have a semblance of a plot here. Even the loyal fans of this series will have trouble keeping track of what is going on in this one.
As the director Coscarelli has done a lot better than he manages here. With this flick he really phones it in. There is none of the style and form left from the first movie present in this one. What is evident is the cast and crew is tired of this franchise at this point. There is a lack of energy that pervades the production. Everyone here has done this many times before and they are reaching into the well of creativity only to discover that it had gone dry. Coscarelli attempts to give something new here by revealing the origin of the ‘Tall Man’ but it comes across as too little, too late. The over use of flashbacks of the previous flicks is just annoying. It is nothing more than cheap filler. Now a modicum of such flashbacks in a series like this can help the newcomers to the films. Here they only add to the mounting confusion. Like many fans of the genre I can get into a bad horror flick. Typically I watch with some friends and we do the home game version of MST3K. This was not even feasible with this flick. When we tried we were left mouths agape at all the things that went wrong. We had no place to start in making fun of it. The first film is almost thirty years in the past. This one feels like a one hit wonder musical group that has now been reduced to playing dinner theater in the suburbs; we may go to see them because of past glories but there is nothing new to be had.
The film starts off with the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) confronting his archenemy Reggie (Reggie Bannister). He has the man trapped with his deadly spheres but calls them off not wanting to kill him just yet. Meanwhile Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is driving around in a hearse. I guess he is searching for his agent to fire him for putting him in this flick. Queue the flashback to happier times riding around in a pickup with Reggie. In this case happy was before the actors signed a multi-film deal for these movies. Mike does have some special powers that he received in the third film such as mind control of a scorpion that crawls over his leg. He spends a lot of time in this movie trying to gain greater control over these abilities. Mike decides to go back through the dimensional portal to a time before the Tall Man became evil and hopefully stopping the chain of events that will threaten the world. Perhaps John Connor should have sent a Terminator back to keep Coscarelli from writing this script. It is almost impossible to give a summary of this plot since it is so disoriented.
The Anchor Bay release of this flick is technically better than the old MGM release. It has very good video and audio which is to be expected by this distributor. They also provided some extras for the die hard fan of the franchise. There is a commentary track with Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister. They try their best to support the film but there are some humorous traces in their comments. There is also a behind the scenes featurette for aspiring film makers to study and hopefully learn what not to do. This is only for Phantasm aficionados who have to have the entire series.