Thursday, May 6, 2010

Film #23: Phantasm 2

First is the worst.
Second’s the best.
Third’s the one with the hairy old chest.
The saying rings true with the Phantasm franchise, where somehow the second film in this ridiculous series ended up outshining the unintelligible first. Hooray for miracles!
But, let’s not get carried away here. Saying Phantasm 2 is better than the first Phantasm is like saying World War Two was better than World War One. They were both horrible, and caused many men to lose their lives.

Phantasm 2 picks up ten years after the events of the first “movie.” Loveable little Mike, who had his entire family butchered by the mysterious mortician/alien/grave-robber The Tall Man in the first movie, is now all grows up and ready to leave the psychiatric hospital he’s spent the last ten years.

Seems Mike’s doctors have been trying to convince him his Tall Man Tall Tales were all just a bunch of make-believe hooey. Mike sings a song and dance about finally believing the Tall Man is not real, and is promptly released from his padded room.
Yet wouldn’t you know it, the first place Mike goes upon release is to the Tall Man’s cemetery to dig up graves, hoping to prove to the rest of the world his nefarious body stealing plot.
Mike hooks back up with ice-cream man turned full time d-bag Reggie, the only other person to survive the first movie’s events.

Hot damn! It’s a full on Phantasm reunion! Not wanting to be left out, The Tall Man soon shows up too. But he’s pissed he didn’t get invited in the first place (“nooobody wiiiiikes me cause I’m soo tallllll,” he cries), and in an act of revenge he causes Reggie’s house to explode with his entire family still inside – killing them all. What a dick!

Now with nothing to live for, both Mike and Reggie have had enough of that bastard Tall Man. They decide to craft zany weapons, hit the road and track that son of a bitch down to kill him once and for all. Tracking him is easy, seems they just have to watch for rural small towns that show signs of being ravaged by The Tall Man – dug up cemeteries, burned-out downtowns, and freaky hooded hoodlums who rove the night. The Tall Man must be currently stationed in Detroit!

But Mike and Reggie aren’t the only ones looking to fight the tall one. Beautiful 80s-haired Liz has been having dreams about the Tall Man and Mike for years. She’s been researching Mike’s story too, and trying to track the Tall Man’s exploits. When the Tall Man finally comes to silence Liz, Mike and Reggie are not far behind. Throw in a strange hitchhiker that horny Reggie picks up along the way, and we have ourselves a Tall Man fighting force!

But can four ordinary Joes take down a demonic-alien-grave-robbing-murderous giant? If I learned anything from watching Hulk Hogan body slam Andre the Giant in the 1987 classic Wrestlemania III, it is that anything, ANYTHING, KIDS, is possible.
The Tall Man’s killer silver balls are back in the 1988 shriekquel, “Phantasm II.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews
C-Rating: 2.3
Chris Dimick proclaims:
“Remember when you were in high school and instead of studying for your history test you went out to run around inside abandoned “haunted buildings” until 2 a.m. That seemed like a great idea until come test time, when you didn’t have a clue, and just had to throw answers randomly down on the page.
The next day when the teacher passed back your test, you just knew it was going to be an E. You felt it in your heart and bones. “I didn’t know shit on that test!” But every once in awhile, when the Gods were smiling upon, you’d flip over that test and see none other than a glorious, wonderful C-!

A C- in any other circumstance would be an occasion to sulk. It’s not just average, but below average. But in this case, since you were expecting the worse, that C- is the equivalent to a gold medal, a hot plate of cookies, and warm hug from Grandma.
Such was the feeling I got while watching Phantasm 2. I went in expecting the absolute worst, and while still delivered a mess of movie crap, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be entertained.

The plot still has its holes – the Tall Man is going from town to town turning dead bodies into alien slaves and NO ONE notices but three people? But at LEAST this Phantasm movie made sense. It had a story arch, an actual plot, likeable characters, fluid train of logic, gory effects: all those things the first movie didn’t bother with. Of course, every movie should have these traits, but with the bar set so low by the first movie, I couldn’t help but smile when the sequel of all things ended up being better than the original.

Writer, Director, Producer Don Coscarelli seems to have picked up a few tricks of the trade in this 1988 effort that he lacked in 1979. Those strange razor sharp silver kill-balls were really on in this flick, actually entering and tunneling through one guy in a very original “kill.”
Several “scare” scenes even had Nick and I yelling with shock and delight. The Tall Man has also been modernized, turning from a near silent creeper to a speedy fella who likes to spout witty comments before dispatching his foes.
Some of the dialog even made an effort at being deep. “Towns are like people. Some die a slow, peaceful, natural deaths. Others are murdered, taken before their time. In this case, it was clear this place died by way of the Tall Man”

When lining up movies for the RDHP, Nick and I usually try and select the best horror movie from each year. When we picked the first Phantasm for 1979, we truly thought we were selecting a great movie. The series is a classic with many horror fans, and respected in the genre. What we discovered is to not always trust what you hear. The first Phantasm is still one of the lowest rated movies by the RDHP.

Being a glutton for punishment, I felt it would be interesting to watch the sequel to Phantasm as a gag. “If the first one was so bad, I can’t wait to see how awful the second one is!” I yelled. Nick wasn’t so sure he wanted to waste another two hours of his life, and it took some lobbying and eye-lash batting on my part to get it on the schedule.

My motives were truly two-fold. Besides the fun of watching a bad movie, I wanted answers, damn-it. The first movie was so confusing, and left the viewer asking a million questions. What the hell is the Tall Man? Why is he turning dead humans into midget-killer-slaves for his alien world? What the fudge are those killer ball thingies? Was it really all just a dream or what?

Ironically, we went to the first movie looking for gold and found garbage. We went to the second movie hoping for trash and found a treasure. Point being, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me. Another morale I learned this week – you can find fun in the strangest places.

The only thing I ever ask of a horror movie is for it to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to be smart, emotional, well acted, dazzling with effects or even make sense. As long as I feel like I didn’t flush two hours, I’ll be happy. Well, Phantasm 2 was entertaining. Yes, it was more cheesy than the flesh under Aretha Franklin’s fat rolls. And I can still smell that rotten ending lingering in my hair.

But it had great “kills,” a chainsaw fight, an entertaining story line of vigilantism, and plenty of humorous schlock to make the evening worthwhile. I didn’t get many of my questions answered by this installment (Seriously, why does the Tall Man need slaves?) but there are two more movies in this series possibly holding the answers. (Don’t worry, this is the last Phantasm flick to appear in the RDHP, I’ll watch III and IV on my own time.)

Bravo, Phantasm II. You have done something few movies have accomplished. You were better than your elders. You truly earned your C-.”

N-rating: 2.3
Nick Rich proclaims :
Now, it may just be because I came off of 24 hours of excruciating stomach pain (due to food poisoning), but Phantasm 2 wasn't half bad! I can't think of a better preparation for watching a potentially horrible film than to writhe in pain for seemingly endless hours the day before - anything you do without said pain seems divine by comparison! It was with such a state of mind that I delved back into the world of nonsensical alien invaders, surprisingly dangerous henchmen and flying balls of death.

Phantasm 2 had so much more going for it than its predecessor: 1) there was a plot, 2) the camerawork looked at least somewhat professional, 3) the actors seemed like they had done more than one film, 4) there was a special effects budget and 5) I was expecting it to be horrible! All of these factors mixed together actually created a modestly average movie viewing experience. Sure there were some details that might be a bit bothersome, like how an attractive woman in her 20's would be interested in a middle aged man or how a 19 year old who spent the past 10 years in a nuthouse looks like an amateur Austrian body-builder... but again, these are things you don't let bother you much when your expectations are extremely low.

In spite of itself, there were some genuinely cool moments to be found herein... like when our heroes have a weapon-making montage (which results in a dual double-barrel shotgun!), or the first time you see the face of a dwarf henchman and it doesn't look like a reject from Troll 2, or the scene where a henchman is grinding some bones to ash, only to reveal that the remains belong to one Sam Raimi!

We here at the RDHP were freed during this viewing -- freed from any anticipation that what we were watching was going to blow our minds. In fact, the only minds that were blown in the Phantasm series are those of the poor chumps who don't realize they can duck when a flying object is heading towards their face.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you've ever wondered what happens to ice cream men after they stop being ice cream men... Not if you're in the mood for answers to an ongoing storyline.

Quote of the Viewing:
[Scene: Reggie picks up a sexy hitchhiker on the side of the road while Mike’s asleep. While taking a piss break, Mike asks Reggie if it is a good idea to bring the girl along with them, seeing as they are on a murderous hunt.]

Reggie: It’s fine. I mean, have you looked at her… we've been out here a long time, and it gets so hard on the road.
Chris: “Something is getting so hard.”
Nick: Silent head shaking… but with a smile.

RDHP Presents: Professions That Shouldn't Have Ponytails
In honor of our favorite ponytail wielding, former ice cream man Reggie, we here at the RDHP have compiled a list of professionals we would not like to see with ponytails.

As if worrying about having a watch end up in our body cavity isn't enough, the last thing we'd like to see poking out of our fresh stitches is the remnants of our doc's luscious locks!

President of The United States of America
As much as we love a good ponytail whip, a deterrent for nuclear war it is not.

Catholic Priest
The last thing anyone wants is a laid back man of the cloth... and nothing says "I'm ready to party" quite like a ponytail.

When accurately detailing events for posterity is the name, ponytails are most definitely not the game! Who knows how many hair conditioner names would end up in United Nations peace talk transcriptions due to wandering thoughts of flowing manes?

What We Learned from Watching Phantasm II:
-Love at first sight is possible, but only at the bottom of an open grave.
-When investigating a spooky mausoleum, always split up the group.
-When you die, you don’t go to heaven. You go “to the Tall Man.”
-Always sleep with your head on a gun.
-If you are going to stab a corpse at a funeral, wait until all the relatives leave first.
-Chicks dig older, bald, ponytail wearing guys who pick up hitchhikers and carry several weapons.
-Don’t get caught digging up graves your first night out of the mental hospital. Your psychiatrists wouldn’t approve.
-If you jump out of a second story glass window, you will totally be okay if you roll when hitting the ground.
-Even tall men still like to wear heels.
-You can have sex with your underwear on.
-“Come on you muther!” is the formal way to start a chainsaw duel.

Things That Are Better the Second Time Around:
The first of something is usually the best. After that, as more incarnations are craved from the original, it usually get more diluted than the liquor in your parents alcohol cabinet (No, filling that vodka bottle up with water won’t conceal your underage drinking.) Phantasm bucked this rule, becoming one of the rare sequels that is better than its original. Here the RDHP honor other things that are just better the second time around.

Just ask olde Blue Eyes, he wrote a whole ode to love the second time around. You are older, wiser, and already know what to avoid or pursue with the person. Get you some!

Refried Beans
They start as just fried beans, and that is okay for a night on the crapper. But boy when you refry those bad-boys and mush them up into paste, there is just nothing that can compare to their mexicany taste. Also great for smearing between your toes. Ooooooooooooh, so sensual.

Second Wind
Everyone has a first wind, either when running, working, or competition eating. But just when you lose hope that not another hot dog can be crammed down your larynx, BAM, the second wind comes and you power 12 more. The second wind is always the one you are most proud of.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Another rare movie sequel that was much better than the original. The effects were better, the plot more action oriented, and who can forget the first time they saw the T-1000 melt into a puddle. “Have you seen this boy?” Have you seen my pants!

Thanksgiving Leftovers
Typically food like turkey, mash potatoes, stuffing and dinner rolls would be better the first time they were prepared. But with all the loud talking, family fighting and Lions football watching going on, who has the focus to actually taste and savor this luscious feast?
That, friends, comes the day after Thanksgiving. All the relatives have gone, the house is quiet, and you can plop down on the couch with a heaping plate of leftovers and all the time in the world to savor each bite. There is never a Lions game on Friday making you lose your appetite… or the will to live.

Third Grade
Sure, some of the kids make fun of your at first, but repeating the third grade is actually pretty awesome. Your advanced size allows you to kick the snot out of anyone who second-guesses your intelligence. You know all the questions the teacher will ask. And best of all you still get to use the little boy bathroom toilet instead of the big boy urinal.
Being dumb is awesome!

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