Multi Film Review: PHANTASM (Box Set)

Multi Film Review: PHANTASM (Box Set)

Apr 23, 2017


Back in 2015 at Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, Texas, I waited on a rather long line to meet Angus Scrimm. The man had solidified his legacy as not only a quality actor on many fronts (check out his voice work on Tales From Beyond the Pale) but as the legendary horror icon known as The Tall Man from filmmaker Don Coscarelli “phan” loved and fever dream immersed horror franchise entitled Phantasm. Angus was the crown jewel of a reunion that included Coscarelli as well as several cast members like A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and more. It would be the last time many would see Scrimm in public before his passing not much soon after.

I waited on line for almost an hour as Scrimm finally arrived covered in a blanket and looking like time had finally caught up on him. Moving slowly yet smiling and meeting each and every fan for any reason they wanted, Scrimm signed autographs, took photos and recited the lines that made him so beloved. Just about everyone waiting had a Phantasm photo to get signed, I did not. I had ended up getting Scrimm to sign a photo of him playing the violin as Dr. Quint in the 2008’s I Sell the Dead, sharing a few words, thanking him and taking a photo of a figure who reminded me of my grandfather. I watched as people so devoted to a franchise, character and horror film waited with nothing but love and admiration for Scrimm and the memories that generations of fans had for him. For me, I had come across Phantasm as part of Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments watching masters like Eli Roth talk about not being able to look up for fear that the The Tall Man would be over him and the impact that film had on him. I watched every title recommended trying to understand what made this film so special?

Fans would call the series scary, frightening, dreamlike and surreal as the love buzzed through the convention crowd. I was not a fan and the film franchise did not connect with me like others. Little would I know that Phantasm would connect with me again as a simple moment changes so much. Over a year later, the franchise would cross my path at the 2016 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas as both Phantasm Remastered as well as the last chapter in the franchise Phantasm RaVager would both have huge screenings during the year I attended after giving up my seat on an airline flight home the year before. Again, I waited on line, this time covering it for a couple of horror websites and marveling at the love, admiration and excitement that fans beamed as they filled up the theaters. It was powerful to say the least, and reaffirmed my thoughts about the impact overall that this franchise had. I would be lucky to share my story during the RaVager Q&A about that Texas Frightmare Weekend with Scrimm and I believe his last time meeting the fans he loved! It was incredible to say the least, but I still was not much of a fan as the film did not find that connection. The remastering of the film on the Alamo Drafthouse screen was incredible as I saw detail not made so clear appear like the silver sphere and awe for the impact the films which was reinforced with speaking to Phantasm RaVager filmmaker David Hartman and the classy Bill Thornbury.

Now those who are taking the time to read this review may be saying, “Well, why the hell is this guy reviewing this box set and why does he deserve to? The answer is simple thanks to Well Go USA, Silver Sphere, those who produced the content, Scream Factory, Bad Robot, Anchor Bay, Coscarelli, cast, crew and more because this box set made that connection to the series and made me a fan of the franchise. That is how incredible, insightful and well done this box set is on every level. I will say that I have never done a box set review before. I plan to handle this review like the Phantasm franchise overall creation has (especially the first film). I am going to wing it and hope for magic. What you will read are some of my observations, likes, dislikes and a balanced opinion into what works, does not work and what meant the most to me as a fan overall. Each disc has common threads such as audio commentaries, behind the scenes and footage, featurettes, special features, “Making of…”, high definition 1080p picture, mono and mastered audio, color correction, trailers, various promotional spots, interviews with cast and crew and much more! So, grab a drink and welcome BBBBOOOOOOOYYYYYY!

Disc One: Phantasm Remastered

With over seven and a half hours and a price tag of $79.99 on the entire box set, even the most devoted of Phantasm phans expects variety and a diverse amount of content. You will not be disappointed! Disc one by far is the most beloved disc of the collection next to maybe disc five as the producers of the box set created an experience for fans of any walk. I really loved that this disc like disc three offered two different sets of audio commentary to switch back and forth as you watch the classic sequences, FX and makeup, classic scares, watch the detail brought out by the remastering and fully become immersed in the sound. Both sets of commentaries are headed by Coscarelli who joins the older commentary with actors Baldwin, Thornbury and Scrimm. This commentary is more performance and direction based with stories and conversation back and forth. The group does not overwhelm each other but instead finds a very happy, reflective and insightful dialogue getting deeper on the cult film. The newer commentary has a different dynamic as Coscarelli is joined by co-producer Paul Pepperman and visual consultant Roberto Quezada. The trio commentary is more of a detailed time capsule with behind the camera insight, stories on the growing pains, filmmaking and the technical side giving a much richer recollection about the film then with the quartet of cast in which Coscarelli creates more of sentimental reunion style dialogue with threads of insight.

Disc One not only features the beautifully remastered film but contrasts with Coscarelli’s vintage home movies capturing the silence and splendor of behind the scenes during the production. This footage showed the youth, growing and family created no matter the challenges that came about. Disc one also offers a ton of promotional content like stills and interviews (including Coscarelli and Scrimm in a very cool 1979 interview). TV and radio promotional spots, deleted scenes and trailers. Some of my favorite extras come from this disc as it includes the 2013 Graveyard Carz television show surrounding Coscarelli and Baldwin visiting a garage that has created an homage version of the famed Cuda! Also, the Fangoria commercial with The Tall Man is funny and such a treat to see. This disc builds that appreciation for what Coscarelli and the Phantasm crew were doing over those years as they were truly guerrilla filmmaking and creating indie horror by the seat of their pants. The audio commentaries from both conversations on this disc offer so much. I found myself watching a scene and switching between the two. Both groups creating an understanding the budget, FX of the sphere, the friendships, classic shots, the impact of the music, the unity on the set, the character of The Tall Man, the feel of the film, Baldwin’s performance, style choices, finding the money and time, fans reaction, the Hemi Cuda design and so much more reflected in their conversation.

Disc Two: Phantasm 2

Listening to it now, disc two seems to be the most painful in this box set as this franchise learned some hard lessons on this film. That was the feel I got listening to the audio commentary by Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister. This commentary however was more educational then most as it was more than memories and celebration. It was war stories, adjustment as well as working with the studio on a much larger budget and scale. Especially with Coscarelli, who discussed being away from for a near a decade and changes in the franchise. Those who had passed on over the time as well as recasting Baldwin for actor James Le Gros. The challenges surrounding more of a budget, less control and such. Never sounding bitter, all three are have such a respect and give the professional side of that experience blending humor, experience on set, endearing connections and more during the viewing. This is the first commentary where they discuss the transition of Reggie as a character and a ladies man.

This disc contained some great featurettes including “The Ball is Back” and “The Gory Days” which took you behind the scenes with very interesting and insightful interviews with Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero who both worked to create the makeup and FX associated with the gore and horror of the film. This paired with the story of how the franchise returned after so long and the struggles it faced along the way gave great understanding. Definitely my least favorite of the films, the remastering is wonderful as it is brought to a new level of spectacle and thrills. One other entry on the disc is the very cool short film featuring Rory Guy aka Angus Scrimm that adds a charm and connection to the box set.

Disc Three: Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead

This film brought the Phantasm family back… Honestly, Baldwin was arrogant on the audio commentary for part three. Joined by the humble and easy going Scrimm for the commentary, you wonder how deep the wound went for Baldwin returning to the franchise after not being cast in part two? It seems to really come through in him as an actor and his role within the franchise that turned me off on this disc. Thank god, I could switch over commentary to the pair of Coscarelli and film editor Norman Buckley which was not either great but definitely better. It’s an interesting process pertaining to producers getting the talent together for the audio commentaries sessions as Buckley seem to be off and not connecting at the beginning of the commentary but is guided back by Coscarelli who was a marvelous source of knowledge and a wonderful facilitator of the conversations throughout each disc knowing how to connect with each person on commentary. One of the interesting bits of commentary for this disc was the editing of the opening sequence where Le Gros is replaced by Baldwin in the hearse in a smart edit.

While the audio commentaries did have the expected knowledge, stories, dirt, discussion of the stunt work and the insight that fans expect about the complete production, it fell short compared to the other discs in the set. Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead is known for not only introduced new leading characters like Rocky and Tim but bringing back Baldwin who never skipped a beat as Mike on screen developing his role in the universe that would reflect the remaining films. One of the aspects I enjoyed was the remastering and color correction of the film especially in the freezing chamber during the final battle scene. The featurette entitled “Balls of Steel: Bob Ivy Stunt for the Ages – The Phantasm III Car Stunt” is one of the most breathtaking and enjoyable segments in the box set. We watch the levels of prep, the execution and see the love, respect and reverence by the Phantasm family for Ivy who is one of the most important members of the film franchise.

Disc Four: Phantasm 4: Oblivion

One of the lines that Coscarelli continues to echo over the years and perhaps the most telling is, “The larger the number for the sequel. The lesser becomes the budget.” Well after I watched disc four, it reflects on every level. The audio commentary with Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister has a different feel, understanding, perception and tone then the three previous discs. All three discussed the continued escalation of the stunts which were a huge topic in the commentary on disc three. Also, the impact of the locations, taking on multiple roles, the origins of The Tall Man and how Scrimm took on another side of his iconic character which like in previous disc commentaries was handled with class and appreciation. Bannister is very insightful as he delves into the physical side of Reg and the conclusion of the film which many thought would be the last in the series. The audio commentary is really the only stand out extra on this disc. The disc has some interesting conceptual and behind the scenes footage to go along with normal extras. I will say out of all the discs, Scrimm’s insight was so key and most enjoyable as he was given a chance to grow his lore and character in the franchise.

Disc Five: Phantasm (5): RaVager

Next to disc one, this is my favorite disc of the set. Perhaps it is more personal since I have talked several times with director David Hartman ad the respect I have for undying spirit in which this series and especially this film was made. RaVager’s content on these two-discs kicked ass! Disc five is of course contains the making of the film which out of all these featurettes truly for me gave great insight into what was needed on a shoe string budget to bring elements like multiple storylines to life, lock sets and locations, create the trademark action as well as the digital creation of FX for the The Tall Man’s red world to life with the large spheres in the sky and his minions enslaving the world!

The interviews contained on disc five offer some perspectives not seen on the previous discs with the time and experience that has gone by. Interviews and commentary cover such topics as the challenges of Mike’s character to take on the role of caregiver for Reg as Reg did in the first film. The idea of mental illness and the very emotional conclusion. The return of the Lady in Lavender and the return of not only of Lester but Jody’s as well. The introduction of new characters to the cast as well as Coscarelli in more of consultant role adding a fresh take on the franchise. This was refreshing since the previous discs contain a lot of the repeated stories, insight and memories seem to blend at times. Having Hartman at the center of this film really made a difference with the overall feel, energy and blend of fan and filmmaker which the franchise needed as Phantasm RaVager was truly a film made for the fans.

RaVager disc five has the behind the scenes featurette, trailers, and deleted scenes. However, for me, I recommend three standout segments on this disc. First, a very touching and special tribute to Scrimm as he passed away before the screening of the remastered and new Phantasm films. A “Phuntasm” bloopers and outtake reel as well as the special “Red Credit” music sequence with no title credits that is a must for fans.

Bonus Disc 6

This final disc was chalk full of Phantastic extras that were more recent and offer more of a fan perspective on the franchise. The disc kicks off with Hartman recapping the series in “Phantasm and You.” Smart, funny and creative, Hartman reviews what you have missed in very swift bullet points through animation, FX and live action Phantasm madness before watching RaVager. Disc six revisits the Phantasm cast and crew guest panels from the 2008 and 2014 Flashback Weekend in Chicago. Why both panels are full of laughs, knowledge, stories, questions and memories, both have many of the same content covered even six years apart. This is still worth checking out as the fans questions are entertaining and the links between the panel host and guests again reconfirms the why this is a special film franchise.

Disc six unfortunately only features the 2016 Fantastic Fest panel for Phantasm Remastered. After attending and watching this panel again, I felt an even greater appreciation the franchise and Coscarelli’s years of work. The panel hosted by Tim League is very personal and powerful.  One of the biggest disappoints for the box set was not only that there was no Texas Frightmare footage of the reunion but a huge oversight by those who put this bonus disc together with the missing Fantastic Fest Phantasm RaVager panel! Like the multiple audio commentaries on each of the discs, having these two panels from Fantastic Fest would have been an incredible way to show the growth, connection and perspectives from the beginning of the franchise to the latest chapter from cast and fans.

Not to end on a sour note, the bonus disc also includes some very cool featurettes and documentaries that tie up the box set including “Phantasmagoria: a documentary and Interviews with the Cast & Crew,” “Phantasmagorical Mystery Tour with Reggie Bannister,” “Phantasm Genesis” and my personal favorite “Phandom” which looks at some of the long-standing crew, collectors and first and foremost the fans who have been impacted by the franchise.

Phantasm Compendium and Poster

The box set offers the buyer a two-sided poster with the Phantasm Remastered cover art on one side and replication of the original film poster on the other. Brought together, written and researched by Ben Wan, the compendium was a great read before I jumped in as it set a base for me and offered stories and background that would be filled in as I watched the box set. The book has behind the scenes background with interviews with Coscarelli, Thornbury, Lester, Baldwin, Bannister and more discussing such franchise elements as the Hemi Cuda, origins of the story, a possible “X-rating”, the phan base, Scrimm’s life and career, film FX, makeup and stunts, being taken serious and more. Compact, well laid out and informative, the compendium while not having a constant format on interviews, offers a diverse amount of photos from the different films.

In the end, the Phantasm box set is a worthy investment. It encapsulates the love, fan support and true indie filmmaking that this franchise has been a pillar for close to forty years. It truly is the phans franchise in horror and something special as this box set on every level informs, provokes, remembers, cares for and brings together the viewer into the surreal universe of Mike, Jody, Reg and The Tall Man. We watch this world unfold with the wizard Don Coscarelli and his crew of creators bring Oz to frightening life. This as I like to put it, is “Neighborhood Horror” as it takes you back to being a kid as you watch each part of this set and empowers. Take the time, watch the box set fully for the featurettes, extras, stories, commentary, panels, phans and of course the remastered films. As they say, “It’s never over!” Thanks to Well Go USA for sending this to me for review!

(Images Found on Yahoo and Facebook with Panel/Con Taken Photos by Jay Kay)
Reviewed by Jay Kay @JayKayHorror