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Old 03-02-2008, 10:49 AM
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Default Phantasm II (R2 PAL)



Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: March 1, 2008

Released by: Anchor Bay (UK)
Release date: 10/30/2005
MSRP: £14.99
PAL, Region 2
Widescreen 1.85:1



The entire Phantasm series eluded me for much of my life. Just before hitting my teenage years, my days were often spent riding my bike down the local video store with my two closest friends. All too often we came home with a Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or a Hellraiser sequel of some sort. I suspect my misfortune with Phantasm was simply a matter of the video store not having a copy on their shelf. Had my friends and I saw a VHS with a silver sphere and protruding drills on the cover, I suspect we would have nabbed it right away. As fate would have it, it wasn't until I was a young adult that the Phantasm series made its way into my life. When I got my first real job and started to become a full fledged laserdisc addict, the Phantasm special edition laserdisc (the box set was a bit too pricey back then) was a no-brainer. I bought it and became hooked on the series. I snapped up the Phantasm III laserdisc on ebay and, many years later, Phantasm Oblivion was lucky enough to get a laserdisc release too. Yet even then, I had not seen Phantasm II, and I wasn't in a particular rush to due to the high cost of the seemingly sought after laserdisc. Once I heard about Anchor Bay UK releasing a sphere box set of the entire series, any thoughts of obtaining Phantasm II on laserdisc, VHS, or through one of the other DVD imports was immediately brushed aside. I was waiting for the full 16x9 kitten caboodle from Anchor Bay UK. And wait I did. It was with great anticipation that I opened my sphere and popped in the disc to Phantasm II.

This review marks my third viewing of Phantasm II since receiving the sphere. Lets take a look and see if it was worth the wait...

The Story

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The first Phantasm ended with Michael being dragged away by The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). The sequel picks up where the original left off. The Tall Man and his crew of cloaked dwarves are about to drag Mike out of the house, but Reggie (Reggie Bannister) won't stand for it. He runs downstairs and grabs the shotgun, only to find himself surrounded by dwarves. Reggie turns up the gas on the kitchen stove and, after a brief struggle with the dwarves, grabs Mike and escapes by jumping through a second floor window.

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It's now several years later and Mike (James LeGros) is about to be released from a psychiatric clinic. During his time there, Mike established a psychic link with a young woman named Liz (Paula Irvine). Liz has visions of The Tall Man and his army of creatures moving from town to town, plundering grave yards. She senses The Tall Man coming for her and calls to Mike for help. Mike tells the doctor what he wants to hear in order to be released. Once out, Mike does the most sensible thing he can imagine: goes to the local graveyard and starts digging up graves, only to find them all empty. Reggie shows up shortly after and tries to convince Mike it was all in his head. The Tall Man welcomes Mike home by blowing up Reggie's house, which had several of Reggie's family members waiting inside to celebrate Mike's release.

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Mike and Reggie stock up on supplies at a gun shop and hit the road in search of The Tall Man. They encounter abandoned, rundown towns with empty graveyards and traps that The Tall Man has left behind. During their travels, Reggie picks up a hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips. Mike has had visions of Alchemy and worries what the future holds with her in tow.

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Mike and Reggie catch up to The Tall Man, but it may be too late. He has found Liz and has already sent his dwarves to capture her. She manages to escape to the cemetery and it's here where she at lasts meets up with Mike. They embrace as if long lost lovers and return to Alchemy's place. Not long after, The Tall Man arrives and kidnaps Liz. Reggie and Mike quickly follow. They must catch up with The Tallman if they are to prevent him from destroying Liz. But it's not only The Tall Man that awaits the duo. Chainsaw wielding maniacs, flying spheres, and midget dwarves are standing in their path to The Tall Man. They must battles these foes if they are to save Liz and attempt to destroy The Tall Man once and for all.

While my feelings for each of the Phantasm movies vary, Phantasm II is hands down my favorite. While this review is for Part II, I'll preface my thoughts on it by stating just how much I love the original. Phantasm writer, director, and creator Don Coscarelli created a horror masterpiece with the original Phantasm and managed to do so on a shoestring (at best) budget. The eeriness and dreamlike atmosphere that made the first movie so magical is unmatched by the sequels. Having said all that, I find myself enjoying the sequel more, and certainly watching it more. Three viewings in two years may not seem like much, but for me that's plenty.

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Coscarelli has talked publicly about many of his grand ideas for the Phantasm series. The much talked about Phantasm's End script by Roger Avery was indeed grand, but ultimately canned when Coscarelli and company realized they'd never be able to raise the money needed. Instead it is Phantasm II, at least as of this writing (one can always hope), that ends up as the big budget movie of the series. To Coscarelli, long since a master of the low budget domain, the meager three million dollar budget mine as well have been thirty million. Luckily for horror fans, Coscarelli's Phantasm II fails to fall into the same trap as other big budget horror sequels that simply squander the excess funds away and fail to deliver anything memorable. He instead took the three million and made a movie that not only gleams with its high production value, but also gives us a glimpse of the epic tale Coscarelli dreams of. The rundown towns and plundered graveyards are two examples of this. The bigger budget also gave fans some of the best effects of any Phantasm movie to date. Not only is there more gore and special makeup effects to go around, the spheres too get an upgrade. Part II has three primary spheres, with one being gold. The spheres are fitted with nice new razors and other weapons to help in their tasks. One of the spheres even has an infrared motion sensor of sorts.

Horror fans know it's not just the makeup and effects that make a good movie. Sometimes, even in a horror movie, the story matters. While the psychic link between Liz and Mike is a bit hokey, it's a minor plot point and is ultimately not a hindrance. On top of a good story, the action in Phantasm II is unmatched by any of the other movies in the series. It is best described as a combination of the original Phantasm crossed with an Indiana Jones movie. The last 30 minutes of Phantasm II are just pure action. I can remember being in a state of complete disbelief and utter enjoyment when I first experienced it a few years back. Truly Reggie and crew ran out of bubble gum, and it was time to kick some ass. Okay, different movie, but you get the point...

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The acting all around was top notch. Scrimm steps back into the role of The Tall Man with ease and delivers a masterful performance. Reggie proves that even a middle-aged, balding, ice-cream man can be an action hero. Some fans were no doubt disappointed by the departure of Michael Baldwin in the roll of Mike. Baldwin did return to the role in Phantasm III and IV. The reason for Baldwin's departure from Part II seems to be based on studio pressure. I'll admit I'm not partial to Baldwin's performance in III and IV, and I'm convinced that James LeGros gave the best performance as Mike. The change in appearance was easy enough to accept since several years had past between the original and Part II. The change in attitude, of Mike's growth not only into manhood, but of courage, is also easy to accept considering what he had been through during his first encounter with The Tall Man. Really it's Michael Baldwin who appears as the awkward one when Part III, and eventually Part IV, roll around and he's back in the roll of Mike. The courage in the character begins to dissipate and the whiny Baldwin delivers to perfection. I realize that's where Coscarelli was taking the character in the story, and perhaps LeGros wouldn't have done so good in Parts III and IV due to the very reasons I'm praising him. Still, I can't shake my opinion of Baldwin giving us a whiny, subpar performance of Mike.

Finally, lets not forget that Phantasm II is where Coscarelli first introduces some comic relief to the series. Fans seem to be conflicted on this, but I enjoyed it. While it takes away from that eerie, creepy atmosphere that was so well established in the original, its presence in Phantasm II helps take the series in a different direction. Bannister just does so well with the playful comedy; it's hard to imagine the Phantasm movies without it. Even with the comic relief, Scrimm manages to keep The Tall Man in check and deliver another chilling performance.

If on the off chance you've let Phantasm II slip you by, or you haven't seen it in ages, I strongly recommend giving it a visit. Fans of the original are bound to enjoy it, and even the crazy few that aren't too fond of the original are sure to enjoy its sequel. Highly recommended!

Image Quality

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Anchor Bay UK presents Phantasm II in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio that has been 16x9 enhanced. They did a great job with the transfer, too. Besides the presence of some light grain, the image is stays consistently sharp and boasts strong colors. No MPEG artifacts or other blemishes were found.

Sound

Anchor Bay UK included three soundtracks on the DVD – DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1, and Dolby 2.0. I've always been a DTS fan, so that was my soundtrack of choice for this review. Considering all the action that is in the movie, it won't be much of a surprise when I say there was lots of LFE activity and decent use of surrounds in the DTS mix. Dialog was crystal clear and no distortion of any sort was heard.

Supplemental Material

While perhaps not a full blown special edition (that was reserved for the sphere box set), there's still a good amount of supplements on the disc. First up is the commentary track with director Don Coscarelli and actors Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. As many fans know, the three have been close friends for a long time now. That being said, it's not too surprising to find that the commentary is playful, relaxed, and full of cool little tidbits about the movie. Angus starts off the track is The Tall Man, which, while goofy, was kind of fun too. A great track that fans are sure to enjoy.

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Next is a 10 minute video featuring Scrimm at a 1989 Fangoria convention. Scrimm is answering questions for the crowd and jumping in out and out character. It's a nice little segment and makes the perfect extra for a Phantasm disc.

Rounding out the supplements are some of the more standard features – TV Spots, a theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and biographies.

Final Thoughts

I can't thing of a better reason for owning a region free DVD player capable of PAL playback. While most fans will surely opt for the full blown sphere set, either way you go, this disc is a must own for all Phantasm fans. While this individual DVD release of Phantasm II lacks the full blown bonus disc included in the sphere, there are some great supplements included here. Anchor Bay UK did a phenomenal job, giving us a top notch audio/video presentation. I'll throw out the obligatory ”Lets hope for a Region 1 release” statement, but really I could care less. This import is affordable and gives us Region 1 owners everything we could want.

For those that have yet to see it, be sure to give Phantasm II a try. Even if the original wasn't your cup of tea, you may just find yourself enjoying the sequel. This disc is certainly the way it was meant to be seen.

Rating

Movie - B+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Rated R
  • Dolby 5.1
  • DTS 5.1
  • Dolby Surround 2.0
  • Chapter Stops
  • English subtitles
Supplements
  • Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Stars Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister
  • Fangoria TV spot starring Angus Scrimm
  • TV Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Image Gallery
  • Biographies

 

 

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Old 03-03-2008, 08:57 PM
Maniac
are you sure the aspect Ratio is 2.35? I have the sphere and I could swear its 1.85. Even the screen shots in the review seem to be 1.85.
Either way thanks for the review of one of my favorite movies!
 
 
Old 03-04-2008, 06:44 PM
Stalker
Yep, all of the Phantasm films were 1.85:1.
 
 

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