Released nine years after the original film with big-time studio backing and resources courtesy of Universal, it’s no surprise that Phantasm II is much bigger in scope than the first film. Essentially a road movie that unfolds over an undisclosed period of time (weeks? months? years?), Coscarelli puts the budget to good use and smartly takes the iconography of his world and wreaks havoc with it. He expands the small-town horror of the first movie and stretches it far and wide, creating a far-reaching world of funerals, mausoleums, ravaged graves and night-time highways. This is the start of his own “American Gothic” saga that would continue across the rest of the series.
The great thing about Phantasm II is how it broadens the mythology to an almost giddy degree. When the three deadly spheres appear, in a range of colours and sizes with increasingly lethal contraptions inside, you can almost see your own big grin reflected in the chrome back at yourself. He teases the appearance of the Tall Man with actors who have similar silhouettes to Scrimm and further promotes Reggie – everybody’s favourite ice-cream man – to the lead. The bigger budget means the special effects are far more elaborate and there’s an absolute gauntlet of thrilling practical effects courtesy of Mark Shostram and the future founders of KNB. The film is cooler than the first too and even boasts a tooling up of excessive hardware montage to rival any in the Evil Dead series. Naturally, the humour is cranked up which makes it feel like a proper 80s sequel in that it pushes more toward ghoulish comedy than outright horror but it never fails to feel of a piece with the Phantasm brand. Coscarelli owns this malleable world through and through and his navigation of all the tones and moods is always rock solid.
The film’s only real shortcoming is the re-casting of Mike, with James LeGros replacing Michael Baldwin, which adds a frustrating blip in the series’ overall continuity (see also Tuesday Knight replacing Patricia Arquette in Nightmare on Elm Street 4. But that’s a minor quibble. There are so many individual moments of genre-bliss here. Take the way the Tall Man reacts to an exploding house, for instance. How he just turns out of curiosity, no fear, no emotion, is exactly how an otherworldly being like him would react to a pathetically humanistic problem like an explosion. Or how a set of teeth gets smashed to dust by a mallet and then poured into a jiffy bag marked with the name “Sam Raimi”. There’s so many of these details, too many to name. Just great.
Phantasm II is a minor miracle of a movie if only because it captures a moment in time in which one of the weirdest horror franchises in genre history was briefly given backing and shelter by one of Hollywood’s biggest studios. For a brief instant, the truly weird was part of the mainstream. It’s even better because Coscarelli was given apparent creative freedom to expand his original vision with the necessary budget and resources. Very nearly the perfect sequel.
Watched on Arrow blu-ray