Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Finer Points of Essential Viewing

Phantasm II (1988)
directed by Don Coscarelli
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

In the nine years it took for Universal to green-light a sequel to one of my favorite horror movies, Evil Dead II had made a star of Bruce Campbell as the quintessential hapless, lantern-jawed sap. Reggie Bannister was such a great part of Phantasm because he was a funny-looking guy in an anything-but-funny realm of the senses. Don Coscarelli and Sam Raimi were/are friends, and when the check from Universal cleared, Coscarelli settled on an action film, starring “the Reg” as his Uncle Ash.

On the one hand, Phantasm II feels casual in a way that easy-going movies should, with plenty of time to rev the engine in Reggie’s muscle car, plenty of time to wander through a second round of great production design, and even an evening by the fire for a pair of pretty ladies lost along the way. But it trades too much on chainsaws, and feels more like a companion piece to Raimi’s franchise instead of Don’s, or else to the warrior/teenager spirit of Coscarelli’s own Beastmaster. Anything too similar to Phantasm would probably have left me cold, but Angus Scrimm is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery whose fearful facade works better when he isn’t racing his hearse down the highway. Although, again, that scene is pretty funny. Sometimes the sequel you want isn’t the sequel you need.

"You think that when you die, you go to heaven. You come to us!"