Thursday, April 30, 2009

Phantasm II

Note: Despite the fact that “Phantasm” I, III, and IV are out on DVD, you cannot purchase Phantasm II on DVD in the United States. I guess because Universal doesn’t like making money.

So as you read this, realize that I watched it on video in pan and scan on a VCR that hadn’t been used in at least two years. Oh, and the tape was about 20 years old as well. And my remote was dead because of a leaky battery, so to pause and take notes I had to get out of my chair and press buttons by hand.

If Universal sees fit to provide me with a DVD, I will happily take another look at the movie.

For that matter, if Don Coscarelli, easily one of my favorite filmmakers, would like to stop by my house, watch the movie with me, and describe what was missing from each shot when he lost 40% of the screen space, I will provide him with muffins and Strawberry Quick.

Now, on with the show.

The cover of “Phantasm II” boldly declares that “The ball is back!” Which is not unlike selling “Caddyshack II” with the tag line, “Kenny Loggins is back!” It’s accurate, sure, but it’s not the point.

Because The Ball is not the villain. The villain is The Tall Man, and he is cutting a swath of destruction across the country. Or something.

It’s easy to make fun of the way villains often seem to go to ridiculous lengths to achieve mostly undefined goals, but The Tall Man takes the cake. And also several corpses. But we’ll come back to that.

“Phantasm II” sorta-kinda starts back up where “Phantasm” left off. And I say sorta-kinda because it starts off with a blonde girl waking up all of a sudden.

Her first impulse is to check the stove, though it’s unclear what her reasoning is. Perhaps she was concerned she left it on. Or maybe she was hoping that she had made some soup while sleepwalking.

After noting the lack of soup, she opens up a notebook, and we’re treated to a drawing of Reggie and Mike, and also a whooole lot of voiceover. I wrote some of it down, but typing it up isn’t going to help you or me to understand the plot. So we’ll just go with, “This girl has a psychic connection to Mike, and it’ll all make sense later.”

Then we cut back to the closing five minutes of “Phantasm,” as Reggie explains to Mike that Jody is dead, and that they should totally go on a road trip. Mike heads upstairs, encounters The Tall Man, and gets pulled into his mirror.

The movie cuts back downstairs to Reggie, who now looks ten years older, because the actor is ten years older and there is only so much that makeup can do to hide that fact.

Reggie hears the sounds of a struggle upstairs, and runs up to check things out. He sees Mike being pulled out of the closet by a robed and hooded dwarf, and he runs downstairs to get some sort of weapon.

A note before moving on, however. So, apparently, The Tall Man decided to stand in Mike’s room, waiting for him to walk in, having stuffed a couple of his dwarves in the closet just so they could smash through the door and the mirror and pull him in.

Am I the only one who finds this plan astonishingly complicated? We’re approaching sharks-with-lasers-on-their-foreheads territory here.

Back to Reggie, who grabs a shotgun, and tries to load it. Only he’s attacked by one of the dwarves. At this juncture, we learn that “Phantasm II” had an actual makeup budget, because we get to see what the dwarves’ faces look like.

Reggie, it seems, hasn’t quite figured out the best way to use a shotgun yet, so instead of shooting the dwarf, he beats it to death.

He then runs to the kitchen, where he’s confronted by more dwarves than he can beat to death with a stick. He notes that the fireplace is burning away in the living room, and comes up with a cunning plan.

This cunning plan involves him snuffing out all the pilot lights on the stove, then turning the stove on, and waiting for the gas to hit the fireplace.

Then he runs past various and sundry things that want him dead, grabs Mike, and jumps out a window.

At which point the house explodes.

Don’t worry about The Tall Man, though. He’s outside the flaming house, and ready for action.

Only we cut back to the blonde girl again, who is still narrating. Her name is Liz, by the way. So we’ll call her that, because referring to her as The Blonde Girl is going to get irritating.

Either way, she helpfully lets us know, still through voiceover, that The Tall Man has started crossing the country, stealing the dead from graveyards.

Instead of what? Taco Bell?

So now it’s seven years later (um… well, let’s try that again… since that last bit was mostly flashback, as far as Liz is concerned it’s now, and for Reggie and Mike it’s seven years later) and Mike is at Morningside Psychiatric Hospital, noting in voiceover that he’s totally not going to talk crazy while his doctor checks him out.

Out loud, it’s all, “Yeah, I dreamed the whole thing.” In his head, it’s all, “The Tall Man! He’s evil! And Reggie blowed up my house!” He does not say, “And now I’m totally played by a different actor, even though The Tall Man and Reggie are played by the same people!” But he should’ve, because he is.

The doctor lets Mike go, and Mike immediately goes to the graveyard and starts digging up graves. Hopefully this is not typical behavior for the doctor’s patients after he deems them “cured.”

Reggie shows up and reminds Mike that the whole house blowing up thing was only a dream. Mike counters this argument with the fact that he’s already dug up a few graves, which are all empty. He also throws in the fact that he wants to stop The Tall Man, and mentions Liz as well.

Despite all this, Reggie opts not to take Mike back to the hospital. Instead, they get in Reggie’s car and start tooling back to Reggie’s house, while Reggie talks about how all his relatives can’t wait to meet Mike. They’re all currently at Reggie’s house.

Which is too bad for them, as moments later Mike has a vision that the house is going to blow up. And then it does.

At the funeral of every single relative Reggie had, Reggie decides that Mike is right after all, and they head out across the country to find The Tall Man. This means we get even more voiceover, but this time from Reggie.

We get a weapons montage, where the boys break into a hardware store and take a bunch of things. Only they don’t really take them, because Mike pays for them before they leave.

There’s also a strange Do It Yourself component, as Reggie opts to make a four-barreled shotgun, and Mike makes a small but elaborate flamethrower. These will be their primary weapons. Oh, and also a small chainsaw.

Reggie does some more voiceover, noting that The Tall Man is easy to track, because he leaves ghost towns in his wake.

This means that Mike and Reggie are the worst trackers ever, because every time they get to a town it’s been emptied of people, which has to take a while.

They stop at a graveyard that has been totally emptied of bodies. It’s kind of hilarious, because all the graves are empty, but there are no nearby dirt piles. Which means that The Tall Man must have had all the dirt trucked somewhere else after his minions emptied out the graves. He’s clean and organized, I’ll grant him that. Not very efficient, but clean and organized.

Mike and Reggie break into the funeral home with a chainsaw, and split up. Because that’s how you deal with an unstoppable monster – you divide up your forces.

Mike goes to the embalming room, where he finds a dead, naked girl on a table. He turns away, turns back, and the girl is gone.

Reggie calls to him, and he and Mike enter another room where The Tall Man has left a person behind. Mike thinks it’s Liz at first, because he is an idiot. But it turns out to be some other blonde, who has a wormlike creature in her back with a head that looks like The Tall Man’s.

The Tall Man taunts Mike with his very special worm head, telling him, “Come East, if you dare.”

Meanwhile, somewhere in what I guess is the East, Liz, her sister, and her grandmother attend her grandfather’s funeral.

They are the only three people at the funeral who are not the priest or the dudes hauling the coffin around. And Liz’s sister takes off about four seconds after the priest says a few words over the body.

What do you have to do in life to end up with such a sparsely attended funeral? Hardened criminals have more attendants when they get shucked underground. One can only make assumptions about Grandpa’s shadowy past, but you’ve got to figure livestock was involved.

And probably a video camera.

Anyway, the sister takes off, and Liz gets up and goes after her, tracking her through the mausoleum. She sees a dwarf, panics a little bit, and pulls a pin out of her dress.

Through a slightly confusing series of events, she ends up stabbing The Tall Man through the finger. Then she runs away, leaving the pin behind.

Back at the “funeral,” grandma has walked out, so the priest takes a moment to stab grandpa through the heart to keep him from coming back to life. Or something. He’s a little vague about what he hopes to accomplish.

Either way, grandma comes in just in time to see her dead husband take one in the ticker. This will not be important later.

Later that night, the priest sits around drinking, until he hears a noise. He looks out the window, and sees grandpa standing there with a knife in his chest. This is also not important.

Then grandma goes to bed, only to wake up at 3 AM with grandpa in bed next to her. This is semi-important, inasmuch as we never see grandma at full size again.

Back with Mike and Reggie, Mike falls asleep in the car and dreams that he saw the dead girl from the autopsy room hitchhiking. Only when he wakes up, Reggie has picked up a hitchhiker who is, of course, the dead girl. Only she’s less dead. And named Alchemy.

Mike and Reggie stop the car to empty their bladders, and as they do so, Mike explains to Reggie that it’s not safe for Alchemy to be with them. Reggie argues that he’s really lonely. He also throws something in there about how the girl is in danger whether they’re there or not, but at least if she’s with them they can protect her.

But his primary argument is the loneliness. And by loneliness, I mean the loneliness in his pants. Oh, Reggie. Things will not end well for you.

Reggie and Mike and Alchemy keep on driving, and arrive in another ghost town.

Back with Liz, things are not going well. She finds out that grandma has gone missing. The pin she rammed through The Tall Man’s hand is on grandma’s bedside table. Then she goes to grandpa’s grave and finds it empty. So she goes to the funeral home.

Probably to give The Tall Man a thank-you note for returning her pin.

Elsewhere in town, Alchemy leads the boys to her uncle’s bed and breakfast, then can’t figure out why there’s no one there, and the building is boarded up. This despite the fact that every other building in the town in empty. Alchemy is clearly not hitchhiking home from a stint at an Ivy League school.

Reggie chainsaws them into the B and B, and Mike booby-traps it.

Over at the funeral home, Liz appears to wander around aimlessly. This allows her the chance to see a person get embalmed.

Back in the graveyard, Reggie and Michael check out the lay of the land. By which I mean, the dude digging up graves.

Inside the funeral home, Liz has now progressed to the mausoleum, where she passes by the hiding priest. Who I guess saw a living dead guy, freaked out, and opted to go where there were lots more dead guys.

The priest takes a walk down a hallway, tossing blessings at people, when The Tall Man appears, and informs the priest that no one there needs his services. The priest’s rosary then slips around his neck and lifts him into the air, choking him.

Eventually, The Tall Man lets the priest go, and the priest runs.

Behind the priest, a tiny coffin opens up, revealing two silver balls, and one gold ball.

The priest runs into Liz, and explains that The Tall Man has been harvesting the people of the town. This might explain why grandpa’s funeral was so sparsely attended, but I choose to stick with my livestock theory.

But while I’m at it, so, what, Liz didn’t notice that, for example, every single store in the city was closed? How much of a shut-in is this girl? Is she the Emily Dickinson of psychics?

The priest hears a noise, and goes to investigate. The investigation is brought to a close when a ball cuts off his ear, comes back for another pass, sticks in his head, and drains his blood.

The Tall Man grabs Liz, and throws her against a wall.

She lands in a heap on the floor, where she encounters a dwarf. She refers to the dwarf as grandma, but it doesn’t really look like her grandma, so maybe it’s one of those things where her parents had her refer to some old woman as Grandma So-and-So.

Wisely, she opts to run, eventually getting outside and falling into a grave. Where Mike is. There is kissing, despite the fact that they a) are in a grave and b) just met.

So apparently, Reggie is not the only one giving more thought to “loneliness” than survival.

Speaking of Reggie, he shows up, and the three of them head back to the B and B. Once they’re there, Mike lights the fire with his little flamethrower. Minutes later, everyone heads upstairs to get some sleep. Or rather, Mike and Liz head upstairs to get some sleep, and Reggie and Alchemy head upstairs to get some “sleep.”

Mike and Liz engage in some psychic dream talk, which lasts right until there’s an explosion downstairs. A booby-trap has gone off.

Reggie and Mike head downstairs, where they learn that cats can set off booby-traps just as easily as an evil being from another dimension.

Mike undergoes a crisis of faith, which probably isn’t helped by the fact that upstairs, Liz is being snatched from her room by The Tall Man.

The Tall Man throws Liz in the back of the hearse and takes off, and Reggie and Mike give chase in their car. This lasts right up until The Tall Man opts to bump them, and their car flips and explodes, with Reggie and Mike just barely escaping in time.

Back at the funeral home, Liz is strapped to a gurney and taken to the cremation room, where she eventually turns the tables on the minion who has been charged to burn her. I’d feel bad for him, but his inability to, say, shoot Liz in the head before attempting to cremate her is his own fault.

It just goes to show that there’s more than one way that sloppy work can end up with you getting fired. (I’m so sorry about that pun. Really.)

While all that is going on, Reggie and Mike head to the funeral home, where they find the embalming room. Reggie fills the embalming fluid machine with hydrochloric acid, and Mike notes that a nearby “keyhole” looks like it needs a ball to open it.

Which is like saying that all you need to win a million dollars is to survive a headshot with a shotgun.

So the boys split up, because they’ve totally failed to learn to watch each other’s backs over the course of two movies.

Mike locates Liz just as she finishes torching her captor in the crematorium, and they run off, with another minion close behind them. Oh, and a ball. A silver one. Which ends up embedded in the minion’s hand, pinning it to a door.

At which point the gold ball comes out and the minion cuts off his own hand to escape and the ball goes after Mike and Liz.

Mike and Liz run, and the gold ball demonstrates that it has laser powers, can stop and track people, and can sprout teeth all around itself and become a massive saw-drill, which will totally hit you in the back and burrow all through your body.

If you’re a minion, that is. If you’re the hero and there’s still ten minutes to go in a movie, then it can’t hit to you save its life.

Reggie ends up on adventure of his own, which starts with him chainsaw-sword fighting a grave-digging minion, and ends with him using the four-barrel shotgun on four dwarves. Yes, it does hit all of them, and yes, it is pretty awesome.

Reggie, Mike, and Liz all meet up, and Mike take the ball and the minion’s hand out of the door, mumbling something about flesh keeping the spikes out, while preventing the ball from attacking.

Because this is the point where the movie needs some logic, right? Not back with all the grave holes but no dirt to fill them. We need the ball explained.

Elsewhere, the completely forgotten about Alchemy’s car breaks down. So she hotwires and steals The Tall Man’s hearse.

Back with our bumbling heroes, the ball is used as a key, and we get to see barrels with dwarves in them, and a magical gate, just like in the last movie. And just like in the last movie, Mike falls in. As a slight variation on a theme, however, Reggie goes to rescue him, instead of Jody. Because Jody is still dead.

Liz, who was smart enough not to get sucked into the gate, is instead captured by The Tall Man and is strapped to a table for embalming.

Except that Mike and Reggie have escaped from the gate. So Mike throws the “key” ball at The Tall Man, who gets a couple of spikes to the head, and gets to bleed some yellow blood.

This does not kill him. Nor does the worm that pops out of his head.

However, Liz stabbing him with the embalming needle that fills him with a bunch of hydrochloric acid seems to do the trick.

Reggie sets fire to everything.

Liz, Reggie, and Mike all run outside, where they are picked up by Alchemy in the hearse. Convenient, no?

Well, no. Reggie gets up front, and Alchemy starts twirling her hair, which is pretty hot until she pulls off her scalp.

And then the car comes to a stop.

Mike and Liz, who are in the back, get to watch Reggie pound on the window and expire by the side of the road.

At which point, Mike says, “It’s a dream.”

And The Tall Man appears and says, “No, it’s not.”

But what does that guy know? Because seriously, Reggie blew up his house at the start of the movie, and THAT was a dream. I guess. Possibly.

Maybe we’ll find out in Part III.

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