Phantasm: Ravager full movie review - The sequel we deserve
I came in to Ravager with high expectations. It's been a very long time since I anticipated a film with quite as much excitement as the promised final installment of the phantasm series, and the last screen performance of Angus Scrimm.
Ravager is the sequel fans deserve. It is the sequel that we have waited decades for. I am a phantasm apologist, and I will happily explain there is at least half a good film in Phantasm three, and if you get rid of the Pink Cadillac Crew and I like Phantasm 4, despite the fact people complain it feels cheap. I think the phantasms inter cutting of all the new footage with the old unused shots is surprisingly effective and Phantasm 4 does more to world build and push the story then most sequels do, particularly late series ones.
Still, I'll admit that these are weaker films then the first two. Not so with Ravager. It starts off strong and does everything that Phantasm is supposed to do. It fulfills all the promise and potential that I saw in the last two movies.
Ravager is the first Phantasm film not to be filmed by Don Coscerelli, and It makes me wonder if Don shouldn't have handed over the rains awhile back. The fresh perspective of a 21st century director like David Hartman goes a great way towards refreshing this franchise. Watching Ravager, I felt very similar to the emotions I had during Star Trek 6; It was a feeling of "this is finally great again? why does it have to end now that they've finally got it right?".
Reggie is in rare form ? even though the third film also focused primarily on him, the performance he turns out in five is far superior. The balance of humor and horror, the more serious tone works perfectly.
In the 21st-century, CGI abounds. Still, I really can't complain about the CG balls. The computer graphics allow them to do things with the balls they weren't quite able to do before ? and we see a great deal more of the spheres than we have in any other sequel. Honestly, this is what a sequel is meant to be? to take what's gone before and double it. More importantly, they've managed to make the Tall Man scary again. I've always said that the reason you go to Phantasm films is because it's a reunion ? it's time spent with Reggie and Mike and Angus and Bill? Even Don, whose presence is still felt though he's never seen on screen. But in the last couple of films, while the Tall Man has been made mysterious, he hasn't seemed as scary as he once did ? his obsessive focus on Mike, and whatever special talent it was that he needed to extract from him? It made him intimidating, but he never did anything to anybody else. He wasn't the terrifying specter of the first two films. With Ravager, that has all changed. The Tall Man is once again a malevolent monster. There is an iconic moment where the tall man is surrounded by the hooded dwarf lurkers, and the masked "gravers". It's terrifying and intimidating and everything that the Tall Man is supposed to be. There is a moment of the tall man lurking outside a victims house. His eyes are all that are lit and silver sphere hovers at his shoulder before taking off to do it's diabolical work. He's not just a threat to Mike in this film. It's an expanded cast, there's more characters here and anyone can die. We don't cede any of the mystery, we don't give up the familiarity, but man? Angus Scrimm is terrifying again! And that is as it should be.
If I have one complaint, it is the over reliance on CGI. I realize I just praised it for their use in the spheres, but this film uses an awful lot of green screen. This is understandable, the original plan was to make a series of shorts, and release them as web episodes. You don't necessarily require the same high levels of resolution for internet content as you do for a film. I wouldn't be surprised if part of the delay in getting this film out was having to re-composite some of those backgrounds with higher quality images. Still, sometimes it gets to be a bit much.
On the other hand, it provides us with a scope that Phantasm has never quite been able to achieve. If anybody out there is familiar with the Phantasm's End concept, you'll recognize some of those elements here. Back shortly after Phantasm 3, Roger Avery, the co-writer of Pulp Fiction presented Don Coscerelli with a script for a final Phantasm movie. It would be an expensive film? Far greater in scope and storytelling then anything that had come before. It was too expensive, but a number of the ideas show up here. Infection from a disease that ravaged mankind and the spheres have invaded?it works better than it has any right to.
Don Coscerelli always aspired to make the Phantasm films a dreamlike fantasy, insisting that there was an off-kilter quality and a surrealist philosophy. If you want that surrealist, dreamlike, feel this is where that really comes into play, jumping between time lines and realities with Reggie lost in the world of Phantasm's end, wandering in what appears to be our world, and then the next moment, frail and delusional in a nursing home.
At the end, I think we see Reggie finally back where he belongs. It's hopeful, in the way a Phantasm film never has been before. It's a good place for comics and books to take over now ? and they should. Even as it ends, Phantasm has given us a world ripe for exploration.