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Review: Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Directed by: David Hartman

Premise: The fifth and presumably final installment of the Phantasm series. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) continues his hunt for The Tall Man (Agnus Schrim) but his consciousness is split between the present, where he is incarcerated in a nursing home, and an apocalyptic future.

What Works: Phantasm is a cult fantasy-horror series that has spanned four decades. Ravager concludes the franchise after an eighteen-year hiatus and fans ought to enjoy the return of familiar characters. The movie provides adequate fan service in the way it reiterates some of the ideas, scenarios, and images that have been a consistent part of the Phantasm series and it returns the core cast including Reggie (Reggie Banister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), Jody (Bill Thornbury) and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Ravager makes an effective bookend to the series in the way it restores the surreal qualities of the 1979 picture. The original Phantasm was—and is—a very unusual film. That movie operated much like a fairytale in the story of a teenage boy and his adult friends who discover that the caretaker of the local cemetery is actually a being from another dimension who is building an army of the dead. The visual style and storytelling logic of that film were surreal and dreamlike but the Phantasm sequels were much more literal. Ravager returns to the formalistic and experimental style of the original picture. That approach suits this instalment. Reggie’s consciousness is divided between a hospital where he is told that all of his adventures have been a delusion and a dystopic future in which he fights the forces of evil. The truth is elusive and as the last instalment of the Phantasm series, Ravager incorporates some thoughtful ideas about getting old and facing mortality. It’s a movie made for the fans and especially those who have been watching the story evolve over the past decades. That’s what is most admirable about this film. Unlike some new installments in retro sci-fi and fantasy franchises, Ravager does not have the feel of a cynical cash grab. There is some ambition to this movie in its themes and in its scope. The filmmakers attempt to give this series an epic conclusion and in some respects they succeed.

What Doesn’t: The Phantasm series has never made very much sense. Some of that is due to the surrealistic nature of the stories but it is also due to sloppy storytelling and a disregard for continuity. On the whole, the Phantasm movies lack the necessary exposition to make the metaphysics of the story world understandable. The films begin and end in ways that don’t lead from one installment to the next and the series’ internal logic is, at best, flimsy. Phantasm: Ravager shares most of those flaws. It alternates between Reggie’s different realities but it is frequently unclear what is actually happening. Phantasm’s opaqueness is a part of its appeal; surrealism is what made this series distinct. But as the final chapter of an ongoing series—and after making the fans wait eighteen years since the last installment—the movie ought to provide more closure and clarity than it does. There is nothing about the ending of Ravager that makes the conclusion of this film any more decisive than the finale of the previous instalments. One area in which Ravager is lacking is in comic relief. Previous sequels had an absurd sense of humor that made the series fun and allowed Reggie to be endearing. This film takes itself more seriously. Ravager also lacks the bond between Reggie and Mike and Jody. Reggie’s attempts to reconcile with his friends has been at the core of Phantasm’s appeal but Ravager pushes Mike and Jody aside in favor of new characters. The film misses an opportunity to bring their stories to a meaningful conclusion.

Bottom Line: Phantasm: Ravager is an uneven conclusion to what has been an uneven series. The movie contains both the flaws and the strengths of its predecessors and in that respect it is a mostly appropriate ending to the series. But Ravager is also a missed opportunity to do something more conclusive. 

Episode: #618 (October 30, 2016)