October Horror Movie Series-Phantasm IV:Oblivion

October 6, 2008

Phantasm IV:Oblivion(1998); Dir. Don Coscarelli. Anchor Bay DVD(2008)

Sadly, the film series with the tongue in cheek tagline “The Sequel With Balls” seems to have lost a few along the way to this fourth installment which attempts to explain the origins of the dreaded Tall Man and the undead horror he unleashed on mankind. Origin stories are such a tricky business, especially when they come years after the original film. While this film works in continuity and following the characters who have been played by the same actors across the series(except for Michael in Phantasm II), the emotional connection that the viewer should have with them just does not exist. It is often difficult in horror films to convince the audience to care about the characters because they are usually convenient plot devices to kill off. This is not the approach that Phantasm IV attempts to take but it falls short in clearly stating what the characters should be doing besides wandering around and fighting for their lives.  The fact that Michael’s brother Jody was converted to The Tall Man’s service in Phantasm III and returns as a force of good or evil trying to either lead Michael down the wrong path or help him is ultimately lost as the film progresses because of the ambiguity of the relationship they have with each other.

Reggie Bannister again reprises his role as the freewheelin’ ice cream man who has become a soldier in the war against the Tall Man’s minions and is in hot pursuit of Michael as he goes to fulfill his destiny with the Tall Man, who again is played wonderfully by Angus Scrimm. Throughout much of the movie, the action centers around Reggie(who is definitely the most fun character to watch in the movie) more than it does for Michael and in some ways they feel like two story lines that never really intersect except the scenes that involve Jody. Two of the best scenes in the movie involves Reggie’s character and an evil state trooper fighting it out on the highway but at this point the movie has drifted away from creepy, atmospheric horror, to something that resembles mad max meets night of the living dead. Then there is the scene with the woman he saves on the highway and tries to get lucky with only to find out she has killer orbs for breasts and is trying to do him in. The film meanders like this for many scenes, incorporating flash backs from scenes that must have been cut from the original film(which is actually a refreshing use of stock footage rather than recreating the scenes in fuzzy black and white recollection style) and despite the revelation of where the Tall Man actually comes from there seems to be no real resolution to the chain of events set off in the first movie.

I have to say that after watching Phantasm I would not have foreseen the story taking such a sharp turn into apocalyptic territory. Maybe it is just me, but this seems a little outside of the scope that the story is capable of operating in. The blend of science fiction and horror still works in this film where it becomes an inter-dimensional saga. However, this time travelling and collision of past and present seem to work contrary to the atmosphere of the film which is supposed to be a world in which no one is left. Is the Tall Man supposed to be like a plague that sweeps over the land? Why does he pursue Michael so intently?

As I stated in my review of  Phantasm, this is the type of movie where the first film was satisfying because very little was explained and the horror was much more palpable. While the acting and production value has certainly not decreased with the passage of time, the more that has been explained the less makes sense as you are watching this series. In the end, I am not sure what to make of this film except to say that it is good fun as long as you don’t try to think about the philosophical issues it attempts to raise or the hints of apocalyptic good vs. evil it tries to mix into the story line. But in the end, isn’t having fun with a movie like this what it’s all about?

Up next the October Horror Movie Series might be located on top of an old indian burial ground in the Stephen Spielberg produced and Tobe Hooper directed classic Poltergeist.

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