Tag Archives: Reggie Bannister

CAPSULE: PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016)

DIRECTED BY: David Hartman

FEATURING: , , Angus Scrimm

PLOT: Reggie and Mikey try to thwart the Tall Man’s  plans to dominate our world, slipping between different realities as things build toward an explosive showdown in a post-apocalyptic America.

Still from Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While this is the second-least-straight-forward movie in the five-film franchise, Phantasm: Ravager isn’t quite worthy of a Certified slot (an honor that perhaps should be reserved solely for the original entry). Certainly there are time slips, an unreliable narrator, and the ever-nebulous Tall Man, but everything’s well grounded in context. Gargantuan Sentinel Spheres looming over a blasted metropolis do provide a pretty weird sight, though.

COMMENTS: The Tall Man waits for no man. In this, the (allegedly) final chapter of the long-running Phantasm franchise, his assault on mankind reaches a crescendo in a whirl-wind of Plymouth Barracuda stunts, reality jumps, and spheres both large and small. Passing the reigns on to David Hartman, Don Coscarelli readies himself for his post-Phantasm career. But Phantasm: Ravager is still very much Coscarelli’s baby, and he bears that responsibility with all due gravity. And just what kind of final chapter are the fans given? As one wag from Variety quipped, “It’s kinda-sorta like an Alain Resnais movie, only with zombie dwarfs.

Hewing to precedent, Phantasm V picks up right where Phantasm IV left off, with the Reg-man (Reggie Bannister) emerging from the barren distance with his quad-shotgun over his shoulder. He’s just come back from the Tall Man’s world to find his ‘Cuda has been jacked. He is not a happy camper. Events proceed, spheres appear, and then something odd happens. With a gasp, we see Reggie again, being pushed in a wheelchair by long-time friend Mikey (A. Michael Baldwin). Our dear hero may not be a hero so much as a poor old man succumbing to dementia. Or…maybe not. Time and space keep shuffling, and as we hear Reggie’s story, a new adventure unfurls that shows a future grimmer, perhaps, than mental decay. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) has laid waste to large swaths of humanity and Mikey, after years of being pursued by the Tall Man, now finds himself leading the resistance.

It’s clear early on that Phantasm: Ravager is for the fans. I mean this as no criticism, but this movie has little to offer those just jumping on the Phantasm bandwagon. This series became a by-word for clever low-budget horror, and it does not disappoint in this installment. CGI abounds here, but enthusiasts will hopefully be forgiving: the vision for Ravager requires a much larger canvas than the original. The editing of the narrative keeps you on your toes, and much like the four preceding pictures, Ravager‘s claim of explaining all the mysteries is undermined by considerable ambiguity. As a director, David Hartman keeps things novel, with perhaps his greatest coup being that by the end, the audience is hoping that it’s not the story of an Alzheimer’s victim, but that the world as we know it has been done in by gargantuan laser-equipped flying balls.

Staggered over the years (’79, ’88, ’94, ’98, and 2016), the franchise  has maintained a grip on a large group of horror fans. The movies’ linchpin—the Tall Man—stands as one of the great figures of horror film history. Angus Scrimm was pushing 90 when filming began, and while Phantasm: Ravager won’t go down in history as a great movie, there’s something gratifying about the fact that he got one more go-around in the role that made him famous. Ravager is an adequate capstone to a film series that, against all odds, made itself an institution. Certainly more “horror” than “weird,” the Phantasm phenomenon is well worth a look: a look that we will soon give with the review of the holy-mega-totally-comprehensive Phantasm Blu-ray box set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the surreal thing, a time-tripping, dimension-hopping whirligig that suggests ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ (or, better still, Resnais’ ‘Je t’aime, je t’aime’) reconstituted as the fever dream of a horror-fantasy aficionado.”–Joe Leydon, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Bunnell

FEATURING: , De Anna Joy Brooks, Les Williams, , Creed Bratton, Jed Rowen,

PLOT: Alien juvenile delinquents are exiled to earth, where they scheme to control a “resurrection suit” that can bring a recently deceased rock and roll star back from the dead.

Still from The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Pitched as a juvenile delinquent rock n’ roll sci-fi musical, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is, as the tagline claims, “a truly mad concoction.” In fact, if anything it tries a little too hard to live up to that billing. Better jokes and musical numbers might have put it over the top, but as it is this deliberate, overproduced camp doesn’t have the stuff to make it on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS: The Ghastly Love of Johnny X sports so many cool hepcat influences—it’s like a mashup of Rocky Horror Picture Show, Teenagers from Outer Space and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, full of space-age rumbles, rock and roll zombies, and soda jerks taking teenage femme fatales out to the drive-in—that you really pull for it to work. Unfortunately, the flat musical numbers and lame attempts at comedy ultimately lead to nowheresville, man, but you can still catch a few campy kicks on the way. Musicals are a difficult genre to tackle, especially for a first second time feature director, and especially nowadays when the average actor doesn’t double as a song and dance man. Although there are no hummable hits, Ego Plum’s score isn’t bad—it’s just that the choreography and general staging of the sparse musical numbers fails to impress. For example, the first big song, set in a hash-house trailer that turns into an abstract set when the music begins, is almost purely character exposition, setting up Johnny’s gang as a bunch of hooligans, Mr. X as a brooding James Dean type, and his slinky ex-girlfriend as a scorned woman. The session flips back and forth between musical styles, tries to shoehorn in exposition, and forgets to be tuneful. (The incidental music, which is sometimes Morricone-esque with its wordless female vocals, surf guitars and rattlesnake percussion, can be quite impressive, on the other hand). The black and white Barstow set photography is crisp and beautiful (more on that below), and when Johnny X poses with arcs of electricity shooting from his magic gloves it looks flat-out cool—visually, Ghastly Love does hit the right notes. Casting is pleasingly eccentric. Will Keenan is still playing a teenager six years after Tromeo and Julietbecause the film took six years to complete due to financing issues. He isn’t bad, but as the female lead, but previously unknown De Anna Joy Brooks is a pleasant surprise. She’s a little old for her role, but then again there is that six year filming gap, and her character is supposed to be sexually advanced. She’s slinky, breathy, and looks good in a tight black dress, and you can see why a guy would overlook the scent of danger rising off this dame like a fogbank of Chanel No. 5 and try to play her knight in shining armor. Looking like Dick Cavett would if a wicked witch turned him into a bespectacled, withered gnome with a bad goatee—and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible—Paul Williams has fun playing a very strange, sarcastic and kinky talk show host named “Cousin Quilty.” The big casting coup is “The Office”‘s Creed Bratton as a Roy Orbison lookalike rock and roll superstar. Wearing a long black wig in a silly attempt to hide his age, he’s an absurd choice for a teen sex symbol, and to top off the casting joke he spends most of the movie dead. With closets housing flashbacks, zombie rock concerts, and alien bubble-heads popping out of UFOs, Ghastly Love does have a weirdness beyond its genre-mashing premise. Ghastly Love may not be quite the bee’s knees, but it is light and zippy, and if you’re in the mood for a retro juvenile delinquency flick with aliens and Sharks vs. Jets-style musical numbers, you don’t have many choices besides this.

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X probably won’t be remembered for long, but it will be the answer to very obscure trivia questions in the future, because it marks one least and a couple of lasts. For the “least,” some snarky mainstream journalists have picked up on the fact that it only made a ghastly $117 in its one-screen run (opening in Kansas, no less), making it technically the lowest-grossing theatrical release of 2013. As far as “lasts” go, Ghastly features the last on-screen appearance of Kevin (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) McCarthy. This was also the final movie shot on Kodak’s venerable black-and-white Plus-X film stock, which has been discontinued in the digital filmmaking age.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There is surrealism in even the film’s smallest details that recalls something of the work of David Lynch. But in Lynch’s films the surrealism is inexplicably unsettling. Here it is inexplicably amusing.”–Scott Jordan Harris, RogerEbert.com (DVD)

NOTE: After the original review was published, director Paul Bunnel sent these additional comments, which are reprinted with his permission:

JOHNNY X was a real labor of love for me.  It was in production for 10 years.  I shot some B-roll footage in 2002 and continued to refine the script for another year until I felt it was ready to shoot.  In 2004 my wife and I borrowed against our house to begin principal photography (we’re still paying that second mortgage today).  I initially thought we could complete the movie for the amount we borrowed, but ran out of money after only 10 days of filming.  This created a major dilemma.  We had invested over $100K in a partially completed movie.  I knocked on every door in Hollywood (and out of Hollywood) to try and get financing, but no luck.  The clock was ticking!  After a few years the situation became dire.  I began to wonder if I would ever find the money to finish the movie, and if I did, would the actors all be available and would they still look the same???  Another few years passed during which I never gave up on my crazy dream of finishing the movie.  Pretty much everyone, including the actors, wrote it off.  Friends suggested I make a short film from the existing footage or finish it on digital to save money, but I wasn’t about to compromise the high standards I had set for the project.  Amazingly, after SIX years (and five nervous breakdowns) — when I was about to throw in the towel — a friend of mine said he would give me the money to finish the movie.  It was that simple.

During the six year “hiatus” there were some script changes, which caused me to be locked into certain things while attempting to change (hopefully for the better) other things.  Musical numbers were also added during the hiatus to make portions of the script I thought were weak more interesting.  If JOHNNY X would have been completed in 2004 it would have been an entirely different movie.  But for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be finished until 2010 with yet another year to do post production (music, visual effects and sound).  I wasn’t entirely happy with the film when it was all put together, but I made the best of it.

The only other things I would like to add is that I never set out to make a cult movie, I set out to make a GOOD movie — and that I began making movies way back in 1974 at the age of eleven.  It has always been something I have done since that young age.  Amazingly I have always shot on film — all 23 of my movies (mostly shorts) but JOHNNY X was the first one shot on 35mm Panavision (aka GhastlyScope).  Given its history I like to call it the Citizen Kane of B-Movies.

I appreciate anyone who takes the time to thoroughly review the film.  It’s better to have folks talking about it than not.  I thought your review was intelligent and well-written.  Of course I would have preferred the review to be more favorable, not to make ME look better, but because I really want to make a movie that people like.

At the end of the day it was an amazing experience to see my dream through to completion – and if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: The Tall Man, a satanic funeral director from another dimension, continues to use his infinite superpowers to turn corpses into an army of zombie midgets with which to conquer the Universe, just as he did in the previous three films.

Still from Phantasm IV (1998)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a thematically identical but vastly inferior third sequel to the Certified Weird original.

COMMENTS: If you’ve ever wondered why , who started out making low-budget cult horror movies, is now a mainstream director of blockbuster superhero films, yet Don Coscarelli, whose breakthrough hit Phantasm is vastly more imaginative, ambitious, and technically accomplished than Raimi’s debut The Evil Dead, is still making odd little movies for a niche market, look no further than Phantasm IV: Oblivion.

The original Phantasm has been praised on this site and elsewhere for the gleeful absence of logic which contributes to its nightmare quality, but by the time the third sequel was churned out, it had become all too obvious that Coscarelli wasn’t so much being wildly imaginative as abandoning any pretense at creating a logically structured narrative because he wasn’t much good at that sort of thing, and didn’t particularly care. All four movies in this franchise end in exactly the same way: the heroes figure out the Tall Man’s weakness and destroy him, but then, minutes later, he pops up again as good as new and apparently wins. This would be fine in a weekly serial where every episode has to end on a cliff-hanger, but at intervals of roughly six years between films? Not so much. Even worse, Coscarelli’s use of this and many other increasingly predictable plot-devices in every one of the four movies makes the first one seem less imaginative in retrospect.

Phantasm IV is an anticlimax in every way. Even Coscarelli admitted at the time that he was only making it to squeeze the last few bucks out of the franchise. Having managed to obtain a budget of only $650,000, because nobody except the usual rabid clique of obsessive fanboys wanted more installments in this worn-out saga, he must have known all along that the proposed fifth movie—in which a near-future USA has been totally devastated by the Tall Man’s hordes, and the heroes face literally thousands of zombie midgets, silver balls, etc. in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—stood no chance whatsoever of getting the vast funding it would require. But he cynically shot a cheap, tired, inconclusive prequel to it anyway for the money.

In the laziest opening sequence ever, Reggie Baldwin, who ended the previous movie completely helpless and obviously doomed, is released for no reason whatsoever by the Tall Man, who mutters something cryptic about it all being a game, and then spends the rest of the film trying to kill him in ludicrously over-elaborate ways. As for Tim, a major character in Phantasm III whose final fate was extremely vague, he was supposed to be shown getting devoured alive by zombie dwarves. But they couldn’t afford the gore effects, so he’s simply forgotten about. Deleted scenes from the first and third films are used to pad out the running-time, and since they’re completely out of context, the narrative becomes especially muddled at these points.

The silver ball scenes are perfunctory this time; apparently they were only affordable because exceptionally rabid fans had worked out how to do the effect fairly well (and cheaply) for their amateur homages. The few prosthetics are extremely crude compared with those in previous movies. The most significant new monster is a big guy in a rubber mask. A great deal of footage was shot in Death Valley, because it was cheaper than building a set, but most of it consists of A. Michael Baldwin standing around having internal monologues and looking angsty. And the brief glimpse we get of post-zombie-holocaust LA, which, though deserted, is oddly un-devastated, is very obviously guerrilla footage shot at dawn when there was nobody about (the same trick was used in the Doctor Who serial “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” in 1963).

Rumors still persist that Phantasm V will finally go into production and the series will conclude properly, but with no serious claims that the project is alive since 2008, it doesn’t seem likely, especially as Angus Scrimm is, at the time of writing, 87 years old. So as far as the movies are concerned, the story ends here. For the fourth and final time, the Tall Man won.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I suppose that it’s very weirdness that makes it so distinctive and hypnotic becomes suffocating after awhile; parts of it are so arbitrary that they cross the line from surreality to pointlessness. Still, it’s a one-of-a-kind thing, a feverish gust of the warped and uncanny that works on a part of your brain older and more susceptible than the bits that deal with logic and reason.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy (DVD)

CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

DIRECTED BYJames Felix McKenney

FEATURING: Don Wood, Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Debbie Rochon, Michael Berryman, Larry Fessenden

PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and

Still from Satan Hates You (2009)

probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge.  But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.

COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place.  Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes.  It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs.  But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research.  The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices.  Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation.  We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.

Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does Continue reading CAPSULE: SATAN HATES YOU (2009)

32. PHANTASM (1979)

AKA The Never Dead (Australia)

“…when you’re dealing with a movie with this many oddball ideas, and a director who’s not afraid to ‘go weird’ just because he wants to, your best bet is probably just to keep quiet, enjoy the ride, and then see how you feel once the whole crazy experience is over with.”–Scott Weinberg, Fearnet

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Angus Scrimm, , Bill Thornbury,

PLOT:  While secretly observing services for a deceased family friend, recently orphaned 13 year-old Mike witnesses an impossible feat performed by the funeral director known only as The Tall Man.  Later, while following the older brother he adores to a tryst in a cemetery, he spoils the romantic ambiance when he tries to warn his brother of a dwarf-like creature he sees scurrying in the shadows.  The Tall Man begins appearing in Mike’s nightmares, and he journeys alone to the isolated funeral home to gather evidence to support his belief that the mortician is responsible for the strange happenings in his New England town.

Still from Phantasm (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • The kernel of the idea for Phantasm came from a dream writer/director Coscarelli had in his late teens where he was “being pursued through a corridor by some kind of flying steel ball.”
  • Coscarelli, only 23 years old when Phantasm began production, not only wrote and directed the film but also served as cinematographer and editor.
  • The film originally received an “X” rating in the United States (a kiss of death at that time for anyone seeking wide theatrical distribution) due to the blood and violence in the silver sphere scene (and the shot of urine seeping out of the dead man’s pants leg).  The scene is frightening and effective, but relatively tame by twenty-first century standards.  According to a widely repeated anecdote, Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin, who liked the film, intervened with the MPAA to secure an “R” rating for Phantasm. Per co-producer Paul Pepperman, however, it was someone from the distribution company who convinced the ratings board to change their verdict.  Champlin’s role was actually to recommend Universal pick the picture up for distribution.
  • A scene where the Tall Man appears in Mike’s dream was selected as the 25th entry in Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.”
  • The film cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to make, and eventually earned over $15 million.
  • Phantasm spawned four sequels, all directed by Coscarelli. None were as well received or fondly remembered as the original.  Coscarelli would eventually score an underground hit again with the bizarre horror/comedy Bubba Ho-Tep (2002).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Without a doubt, the unexplained appearance of the flying sphere zooming through the sublimely creepy marble halls of the mausoleum.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDPhantasm appears to be a standard horror film at first blush, but as it heedlessly races along from one fright to another, it becomes increasingly obvious that the plot is not resolving, or at least not resolving in any sensible way.  It is also obvious that this scattershot plotting, which elevates atmosphere and psychological subtext  by frustrating the literal sense, is a deliberate choice to “go weird” and not a result of incompetence.


Original trailer for Phantasm

COMMENTS: Mike wakes up to discover the Tall Man looming over the head of his bed like Continue reading 32. PHANTASM (1979)