1988, Universal Pictures
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“THE BALL IS BACK!”
That was the big tagline for Phantasm II. Arriving some nine years after the original Phantasm, this film reunites a majority of the cast and still has writer/director/ Don Coscarelli at the helm although he is not producing this one. Coscarelli has said the reason it took him so long to develop a sequel is because he didn’t have any ideas until he realized that a sequel should pick up precisely where the original movie ended.
The film was financed and distributed by Universal Studios, who apparently was looking for a hit horror franchise of their own and gave Phantasm II a budget of $3 million to make it happen. The movie wasn’t a big hit and went on to gross $7 million at the box office. Had to be disappointing given the 1979 original was an independent production that grossed $11 million.
It’s been probably close to 10 years since I’d last seen this movie. I remembered only two things: 1) it lacked the creepy ambiguous vibe of the first movie and 2) it was a lot gorier. The original movie featured weird dream-like sequences where you weren’t sure what was reality for the characters. Even the ending was left up to interpretation. This was done on purpose for the original movie but Universal was adamant that the sequel should be more straight-forward. So the dream sequences are gone and being that it was the late 1980s, the blood and gore increased.
If you’re a gorehound, the movie is pretty fun. They really went all out and the special effects are very good, especially the Tall Man’s demise at the end. SFX legend (and The Walking Dead executive producer/director) Greg Nicotero worked on the project, so it’s no wonder the effects were so good. Some have knocked Phantasm II for relying too much on gore and weapons rather than following the same path as the original Phantasm but I really have no problem with the path the sequel took. It was a different time and the sequel reflects the type of horror that moviegoers wanted in 1988 (even if it wasn’t a hit).
My biggest complaint is that the character of Mike was recast for the movie. Another stipulation by Universal was they didn’t want A. Michael Baldwin (who hadn’t acted since the release of the original Phantasm) back as Mike. Instead, James LeGros was cast and while he doesn’t bring the geeky awkwardness or attitude that Baldwin did, he does fine as the pretty boy hero.
Of course, there’s still Reggie Bannister in the role of Reggie, an unlikely movie hero who looks like someone’s creepy hippie uncle (Right down to the fact that he’s an ice cream man!) but is actually a pretty charming, funny courageous guy and a bit of a ladies’ man. Reggie could’ve gotten his own spin-off movie and it would’ve been entertaining.
This is actually an enjoyable movie but Phantasm II is definitely a different beast from the first movie. I recommend it to fans of the original provided they understand there’s a different tone here and I also recommend it to fans of ’80s horror in general.