Studio: Anchor Bay
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli
Producer: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, Cindy Ambuehl, John Chandler, Brooks Gardner, Angus Scrimm
When Mike is captured, Reggie enlists new allies to help in his ongoing battle against the otherworldly evil of the Tall Man.
Keeping up the series’ sequel tradition, “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” picks up from “Phantasm II” (review here) in the same way that the first follow-up did from “Phantasm” (review here). Which is to say that it completely disregards any previously established detail that doesn’t jive with the always-in-flux storyline’s current needs.
Left for dead on the side of the road when the previous installment concluded, Reggie is very much alive at the start of “Phantasm III.” His car ride companions however, aren’t faring so well when the getaway hearse they were riding in suddenly explodes.
In a middle finger move proving once and for all that the series never had any use for her in the first place, love interest Liz dies in the blast and has her face chewed off by a dwarf who presents her severed head to the Tall Man. Mike and Reggie never mention the girl again, as if the only person who even cared about her at all was the Universal Studios suit who insisted on her insertion into “Phantasm II.”
Reggie recovers his custom four-barrel shotgun, the same gun he left on the floor of Perigord Mortuary, and eventually makes his way back home, the same home that blew up (twice) in the previous movie. After the Tall Man kidnaps Mike, it’s time for Reggie to take to the road once again and search for both men in his Hemicuda, the same car that belonged to Mike and Jody in the first film and overturned before exploding in the second.
Hey, I understand that fluctuating reality is a signature part of the series, and I even affectionately snicker that the franchise has such a wacky “Tall Man May Care” attitude about its own mythology. But there comes a point where you wonder if “Phantasm” mastermind Don Coscarelli is creatively going his own way to maintain that nightmare state sensation, or just arm swiping the other movies off his desk when they inconvenience the drafting of a new screenplay.
For all the fuss made before, during, and after the swap of A. Michael Baldwin for James Le Gros as Mike in “Phantasm II,” Coscarelli goes through the trouble of bringing back both Baldwin and his onscreen brother Bill Thornbury as Jody only to sit them on the sidelines 14 minutes into the film. That’s bad news for “Phantasm” phans excited to see the original trio reunited after 15 years, though it is good news for anyone interested in watching ice cream vendor Reggie step up as the movie’s main man.
“Lord of the Dead,” a subtitle presumably referring to the Tall Man although who knows for certain, follows the “Phantasm” formula to a fault. This starts by teaming Reggie with a Robin to his Batman as well as a pseudo-femme fatale certain to lead him into trouble when blood rushes below the belt.
The fresh faces dodging silver spheres at Reggie’s side belong to gun-toting tiny tike Tim and martial artist Michonne precursor Rocky. Kid sidekicks are often more annoying than they are entertaining in many movies. Child actor Kevin Connors luckily keeps Tim on the latter side of that line by not overstaying his welcome when it comes to screen time and generally spending more of that time getting out of trouble than getting into it.
Tim surprisingly comes across as a better addition to the “Phantasm” fodder roster than Rocky. Actress Gloria Lynne Henry comes to her role with a light voice and soft-spoken edge that doesn’t exactly fulfill the Grace Jones vibe of no-nonsense, nunchuck-wielding badassery the character aims for. It’s hard not to rate Henry’s performance with a downward-turned palm pivoting at the wrist.
That hand-waving technique turns out to be a fair way of grading the film as a whole. The good includes the mustard-colored gore of FX maestro Mark Shostrom complimenting increased insanity from chrome ball carnage and shotgun-blasted dwarves. The bad consists of too much treading on trodden trails without meaningfully advancing the overall arc, right down to the third straight time a “Phantasm” film climaxes with hands grabbing someone through glass. The ugly is an overdose of humor in the form of one too many nyuk-nyuks and a goofball thief trio with a bad penny habit of clawing back into the story whenever a new beat of action is needed.
Of course, being a bizarre blend of such all over the place tones and incongruous concepts is par for the course when it comes to “Phantasm.” And here’s the thing about being three movies deep into the series:
By this point, you either “get” the “Phantasm” films, or you don’t. Not in a logic or narrative sense, mind you. No one “gets” that, not even creator Don Coscarelli, who can’t seem to keep his own continuity consistent from one scene to the next. Rather, revisiting these misfit characters and their weird world carries a magnetic appeal that can be difficult to articulate to anyone outside its influence, no matter if the movie is mediocre.
“Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” features some of the best ideas in the series, though it also includes some of the worst. That leaves 7/10 as a perhaps generous final score, even by franchise faithful standards. But there is no discounting that a not so hot entry in the Tall Man and silver sphere oeuvre can still be entertaining, in spite of a scatterbrained imagination reliant on reusing old tricks… or reinventing them when they are no longer useful.
Review Score: 70