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Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/6/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/19/2016

If you are a sports fan, then you've seen it -- the athlete who is past their prime, but they refuse to retire. They continue to play (probably after being passed from one team to another), but they clearly aren't performing up to their previous standard. The player may also be plagued by injuries, which just makes things worse. The bottom line is that while it is admirable to see them keep trying, the whole affair is just sad, and we would have all been better off if they had gone out while they were on top. Phantasm: Ravager, the fifth film in the series which dates back to 1979, elicits the same sort of response, as the viewer is forced to watch this decrepit movie limp onto the playing field.

Phantasm: Ravager opens with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) appearing in the desert, having returned from a visit to another dimension where he had been battling The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Reggie retrieves the famous 'Cuda car and begins traveling the backroads. There, he meets stranded motorist Dawn (Dawn Cody), who takes Reggie back to her house. However, they aren't alone, as The Tall Man's deadly spheres encroach on the dwelling. As Reggie flees, he finds himself once again confronting a dimensional portal. But, he then awakens in a hospital, where he is visited by his old friend, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), who informs Reggie that he is suffering from dementia and that what he believes to be real is not. However, the hospital also serves as a gateway to a future world in which a battle is raging with The Tall Man's forces. Reggie now finds himself fighting on several fronts as he attempts to determine what is true.

When series creator Don Coscarelli released Phantasm: Oblivion in 1998, it was presumed that the franchise had come to an end. That film was comprised in part of deleted scenes from the original 1979 Phantasm and certainly felt like a send-off. For years, Coscarelli had spoken of making a huge finale to the tale, but he could not secure the funding. So, it was somewhat surprising when Phantasm: Ravager was announced. It was even more shocking when we learned that Coscarelli would not be at the helm, but instead David Hartman, who had spent the bulk of his career working in children's animation. Was he the right candidate to bring proper closure to the series?

The answer is a resounding no, as Phantasm: Ravager is a complete mess. The credits state that Hartman and Coscarelli are responsible for the script, but you would think that the two of them working together could have come up with more of a story then what we get here. (I can only assume that most of the pages simply read "Reggie wanders".) I don't think that it's a great leap to assume that this was a very low-budget production and the lack of action in the movie certainly reinforces this. What we get are a series of very episodic scenes in which Reggie encounters some sort of obstacle and then either runs away from it or gets sucked into another dimension. These scenes were clearly designed to appeal Phantasm fans, as many of them echo moments seen in earlier films. But, I didn't come here for a "greatest hits" package, I wanted something new and satisfying, and that's certainly not what we get.

There's also a big problem with casting and the characters. At some point during the Phantasm series, it was decided that Reggie should be the main character. I know that some fans like this, but I've always seen Reggie as a supporting character, going back to the first film when it was somewhat funny that an ice cream would be fighting the undead. (My kids saw Phantasm and thought that Reggie was creepy.) I don't know if Baldwin and Bill Thornbury (who do appear here) didn't want to commit to the movies, but Reggie shouldn't be asked to carry a movie. And then we have Angus Scrimm. He barely appears here and one has to assume that it was due to his health. The presence of The Tall Man are part of what makes the Phantasm series work, and his absence is felt here. Without him, the villains here are a few dwarves and the spheres, which makes everything feel pointless.

My love for Phantasm is well-known (I've shared the story about how 9-year old Mike watched the film by himself with Coscarelli) and I think that the first and second films are classics. There's no denying that the quality of the series has waned as its progressed, but that did not prepare me for Phantasm: Ravager. The movie plays like a fan-piece that would be found on YouTube. The jumbled storyline does the movie no favors and the visual effects are shoddy. I think that it would be very easy to make a new chapter in this series, which makes this even more disappointing. Even "Phans" will hate this. Do yourself a favor and simply watch Phantasm and Phantasm II again.

Phantasm: Ravager reminded me that there can be too much impromptu music in one of these films on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing on overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The image has a crispness to it, but that isn't necessarily a good thing, as it makes the questionable visual effects really stand out. The colors look good, but the image does get a bit dark in some spots. The level of detail is good and the depth is fine. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The classic sound of the spheres fills the speakers, giving depth to the front and rear channels. There are nice stereo and surround effects during the action sequences, especially those in the finale. We get some solid subwoofer effects from the 'Cuda and gunfire.

The Phantasm: Ravager Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director David Hartman and Co-Writer/Producer Don Coscarelli. "Behind the Scenes" (5 minutes) is a brief featurette (which also played in theaters prior to Phantasm: Remastered) that contains comments from Coscarelli, Bannister, and Hartman and some on-set footage. The piece does offer a nice tribute to Angus Scrimm. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 8 minutes. It's here that we learn that the movie was apparently meant to be a web series. The three scenes are simply longer versions of scenes from the film. "Phuntasm: Bloopers & Outtakes" is a 9-minute gag reel. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long