The Film: Phantasm II (1988)
The Principals: Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, James Le Gros, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips,
The Premise: The Tall Man (Scrimm) returns to menace a now adult Michael (Le Gros) and Reggie (Bannister), after Michael’s spent several years in an asylum, and Reggie has settled down. When Reggie returns to his home with Michael, his house explodes in a fire set by the Tall Man, killing Reggie’s family. Michael and Reggie resolve to track down the Tall Man to get their revenge and stop his harvesting of the dead once and for all. Using homemade weapons (including a righteous quad-barreled shotgun), the two track him to Oregon, where they meet Alchemy (Phillips), a hitchhiker from the town to which they’re heading, and Elizabeth, a young girl to whom Michael has a strange psychic connection. In Oregon, they find the Tall Man, conducting his usual grave robbing, and his fun flying spheres of death waiting for them.
Is It Good: It’s great, creepy fun, filled with plenty of excellent gore, Scrimm again on his ghoulish A-Game and a cool buddy relationship between Bannister and Le Gros. Le Gros reportedly had to be cast over A. Michael Baldwin due to the insistence of the studio to get name actors in the lead roles. I saw this film before I saw the original back in 1988, so this was my indoctrination into the franchise. As much a classic as the original is deemed, I remember that after I saw it, that while a cool b-movie, it had its issues. In II, director Don Coscarelli looked to have settled those for the most part, and I think the story in II is probably more solid than in the original…at least from what I can remember. Been a long time since I’ve seen the original, so I’ll probably need to revisit it and reassess. But I loved II so much that when I saw it in the theatre, I turned right back around and saw it again.
Coscarelli crafted a genuinely creepy installment with II, and there are occasionally some movies whose atmosphere really grab me, and II had it in spades. Story was solid also: Reggie and Mike on the road tracking the Tall Man, seeing the towns to which he’s laid waste in his campaign to harvest the dead and turn them into funky Jawas. The entire sequence when Reggie and Mike pursue Tall Man to the cemetery and fight with his henchmen was good. Really love the carnage the spheres did and Reggie’s chainsaw fencing match with the Graver. Small kudos also to the look of the henchmen. They were some creepy looking bastards.
Of course Coscarelli, with a bigger budget on this installment, upped the gore. There’s the easter egg Tall Man left for Reggie and Mike in the form of Liz with the whatever the hell that thing was on her back. The “sphere-mouthed” hench was also good, and the final scene with Tall Man dissolving was also nice. Also, concerning the recasting of Baldwin with Le Gros, given the Sophie’s Choice Coscarelli had to make with keeping either Baldwin or Bannister, he chose correctly, because there really is no good Phantasm without Bannister. He was fun in this movie.
If there’s one issue I have though, it was that the Tall Man was the nebulous nature of the ending. Was the Tall Man very tricky or unkillable or both? Was he Chemy? He had the same patch of hair missing in the final shot of him in the hearse that she did as I recall. Was that really him that got turned into a slurpy by the hydrochloric? Whereas the first film posited that it was all a dream, this one was unclear about that. Still, though, a good time at the movies.
Is It Worth A Look: Not if you don’t like fun, gory horror flicks.
Random Anecdotes: A. Michael Baldwin reportedly still had resentment about being left out of this one and negatively referenced the circumstances where he was recast on the commentary track for Phantasm III.
Cinematic Soulmates: Phantasm, Phantasm III, Phantasm IV