Phantasm is one of those cult franchises that never seemed to get the audience it deserved. I've always found it to be far more inventive and frightening than the Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th series, but, while it has garnered a large cult following, the Tall Man never became a household name like Freddy or Jason even though, in this reviewers opinion, he deserved it more.
Phantasm II begins with a lengthy flashback sequence that summarizes the events in the original, but as seen through the eyes of young Liz, who is haunted by nightmares and visions of the Tall Man (Scrimm) and of her kindred spirit, Mike (LeGros), the young protagonist of Phantasm. We now see Mike 8 years later, as he is being released from a mental hospital where he has been undergoing treatment since the traumatic events of the first film. Mike soon meets up with Reggie (Bannister), who loses his family to the Tall Man, and the duo hit the road on a quest for vengeance. The journey brings them through one ghost town after another, following the trail of destruction left by the Tall Man, hoping to find Liz before their nemesis does.
Phantasm II is like Phantasm on steroids. Everything about the film, from it's sets, scope and locations, to the special effects and acting is much more polished, most likely due to the fact the writer/director Don Coscarelli had a bigger budget and a little more clout and experience in Hollywood (his Beastmaster proving to be a major hit in the wake of Conan Mania!). This newfound acceptance didn't taint Coscarelli's vision, however, for Phantasm II is every bit as crazy and unique as it's classic predecessor.
The scare factor is high with several effective "jump out yer bones" tricks and some truly unsettling imagery. Angus Scrimm is as terrifying as ever and his new "assistants" are a nice addition to the Jawa-like dwarfs in his employ. Big kudos to Bannister as well, who is just great in his role as the ex-ice cream man turned vengeance fueled killing machine, Reggie. He's the Ash of Phantasm, full of wry wit and, well, himself. He's just a hoot to watch, and, along with Scrimm, is the heart and soul of the franchise.
Phantasm II is not a "stand-alone" film, in my opinion, and that's equally its biggest strength and weakness! On the plus side, these films belong together, like chapters in a book, but on the negative side, it means you really can't expect to like this film much if you haven't seen the original Phantasm. I guess this in its self may be the main reason that this complex and unique series never attained the level of success of its far simpler genre cousins.
As of this writing, Phantasm II is not available on Region 1 DVD. The version reviewed here is a fairly barebones Region 0 NTSC...umm..."special edition" DVD I procured at a horror convention, whose sole extra is the film's trailer. Meanwhile, our friend across the pond get a kick-ass boxed set, which features all four films and loads of extras, all presented in a nifty sphere-shaped case!! Where's the justice?!?!?
Hopefully Universal will loosen its stranglehold on the film, seeing as how the studio obviously has no plans on releasing it, thus allowing myself and other U.S. Phans the chance to own a legit version of this flick! Until then, I have two words for you: bit torrent.