Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Phantasm: A Story of Senior Citizens, Jawas, and Balding Blues Musicians

Sometimes a movie comes along that's just difficult as fuck to explain and understand, something like David Lynch's Eraserhead, or less popularly the awful New Zealand-spawned shitfest The Uglies.
Phantasm is, easily, one of the most entertaining film series that fall into this category.

Our franchise begins way back in the 1970's. A time where apparently it's not that odd for a teeanger and his younger brother to live alone and spend time with a balding 30 year old blues musician, a time where it was alright for a kid to drink alcohol, and a time where someone could see Star Wars IV: A New Hope in theaters and shit themselves in terror at the little robed sand merchants in the film's first act.
Wait, did that last part describe anyone? Well, it must have at least described this film's director, as this movie is -full- of evil Jawas.
The plot is as follows: The lost member of Molly Hatchet is having sex with a beautiful woman and her body double when she turns into an old man and stabs him.
The man's brothers go to his funeral, his youngest brother sees said old man lift a coffin himself, assumes he must be evil, and gets paranoid.
We're treated to some exposition about how both of their parents are dead, and how it's just the two brothers now (I should mention the youngest is played by A. Michael Baldwin, who apparently isn't actually a Baldwin brother. The more you know.) and their blues-playing, middle aged, horny as hell balding friend Reggie Bannister, played by an actor named... Reggie Bannister. ...Also A. Michael Baldwin's character is called Mike. Pretty sneaky, screenwriter.
We're treated to a blatant ripoff of a scene from Dune. Mike visits a fortune teller/psychic chick who asks him to stick his hand in a box, he feels pain, gets scared, takes his hand out, and it turns out it's filled with nothing. To hammer in that the scene is outright stolen from Dune, the psychic's daughter even says "Fear is the mindkiller."
This scene serves almost no purpose beyond to tell us that Mike's brother won't leave him, despite every other scene telling us the exact opposite, meaning this scene makes no sense at all.
Anyway Mike gets attacked by Jawas... again, I'm not joking. They're dwarves in dark brown hooded robes whose faces you never see, they look -exactly- like fucking Jawas.
He survives the ordeal and begins spying on the old guy from the funeral home, only to get attacked by a flying silver ball that stabs people in the head and drains their brain fluid. This is actually kind of awesome. The old guy, hitherto referred to as The Tall Man, chases after him only to have the kid chop off his fingers... which for some reason becomes a flying bug thing that attacks Mike and his brother.
And that's before the film even gets confusing.
What follows is a mess of sequences that either do or don't happen, more Jawa fight scenes, characters dying and then being okay moments later... it's just confusing as hell. It's fun, it's entertaining to mock, but damn is it confusing as hell.
Just as the film starts to end on a "It didn't make sense because it was all a dream" note, it turns out it wasn't, and Mike gets attacked by Jawas.

Amazingly, it was seen fit to give this film a sequel, that mostly starts right after the previous film. It has some flashbacks that retcon some things, make the first film less confusing, and it does a so-so job of that. So at that point you kinda relax in your chair and go "At least this won't rape my mind."
The bulk of this film involves grown up Mike and Reggie going through the US, which has largely been taken abandoned due to the Tall Man's Jawa army.
Anyway Mike and Reggie fall in love. ...err. Not with each other, both magically find women. Only Reggie's turns out to have flying silver balls for tits. Before this, we also get a really, really bad sex scene where it's all too obvious the woman, who is in cowgirl position, is quite obviously wearing bottoms. I mean sure you could probably move them a bit, but they obviously aren't, and even then that'd give you an irritating case of something similar to rugburn.
The film ends in a similar way to the first film. Tall Man out of nowhere, glass breaks, scream, blackness.
Despite its flaws, the movie is at least -much-, much easier to follow than the first film. This is more conventional, apparently due to studio meddling, and would require you drop some acid to make the movie feel more like its predecessor. Maybe the acid would also help you find Jawas terrifying.

Then we get the third film.
Reggie and Mike apparently survived the last film and are now exploring the nearly entirely destroyed US (much more so than the previous film) in search of safety. They split up, and Reggie ends up with a new bunch of adventurers. Mike's older brother, now a sentient silver flying stabby-ball. Hot Black Chick, whose role is Hot Black Chick. Also there's a kid that kills a bunch of people in what I can only describe as an r-rated Savini-assisted Home Alone situation that is easily the most memorable thing in this movie.
Anyway they all regroup, they fight The Tall Man in a giant mansion-mausoleum-funeral home, and all seems okay. Only it turns out somehow, for some reason, that Mike's brain is actually a golden flying stabby ball. He runs away, ...for some reason. Then The Tall Man... come on, you read the last two, you know how this ends. The Tall Man randomly appears, the kid of the group gets pulled through a window, screaming, blackness. Seriously, this fucking ending gets used in three films.
This one's sort of a mix between the previous two. It's more confusing and drug-fueled than 2, but it's also got the random gore and action that 2 had.
Despite how negative I may sound about it, I actually enjoyed this more than the previous film, maybe because it feels way more like a sequel than the other.

Finally we get Phantasm IV: OblIVion, the movie so nice they shoved the roman numeral for four into it twice.
I have no fucking idea how to describe this movie. Seriously.
The films is... just... what.
Basically it's like 3 things going on at once.
First off we've got flashbacks to the previous films. Except almost all of them are from deleted scenes and such, none were actually -in- the previous films. Secondly we have Mike in the realm of The Tall Man, which is some vast desert thing, and his interactions with him. Then thirdly we have Reggie uncovering info about The Tall Man and trying to get to Mike. These all combine into a really weird, confusing, mindfuck of a mess that leaves you feeling like you just dropped some ambien and popped on Twin Peaks.
I seriously can't make heads or tails of this movie, no matter how many times I rewatch it. On top of that it's pretty boring, and the only memorable scene involves The Tall Man, pre being evil, as a civil war era doctor that offers our hero some lemonade. Beyond that, I can't really praise this movie. It's like someone shoved the previous three films in a blender and then drugged you before you watched the finished mess.
The film then has the balls to end on a cliffhanger, like it expects to get a sequel. I'm just fucking glad it didn't end with The Tall Man showing up, someone being pulled through glass, screaming, then blackness.

Thankfully we never got a followup. There's been a remake in development hell for like 20 years now that was going to feature Bruce Campbell, but it's unlikely to ever be made. Instead the director went on to do Bubba Ho-Tep, which features Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis Presley in a retirement home.
He's also apparently doing the John Dies At The End film. Given how odd and drug-fueled JDATE can be (unlike the dating service for people of the jewish faith) I'm okay with this.

Sorry for the short article. My next one's going to be larger, as I'm reviewing two dinosaur based franchises at the same time. On the big budget Hollywood end there's Jurassic Park, and then on the b-grade end we've got Roger Corman's Carnosaur series.

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