Marked most noticeably by the vast improvement in movie special effects circa 1994, “Phantasm 3” also gets a much-needed boost by way of a coherent screenplay. In “Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead”, franchise creator/writer/director Don Coscarelli brings the whole team back to continue their never-ending battle with the Tall Man and his minion of zombie workers and sentinels. Sentinels, for those of you who don’t know, are those shiny flying balls that have more killing gadgets than a Swiss Army knife.
Opening immediately after the events of “Phantasm 2”, “Phantasm 3” brings back Michael Baldwin, who originated the part of young Mike in the original “Phantasm”. To recap: Liz, the heroine from part 2, is unceremoniously killed off in the first couple of minutes, Mike is abducted by the Tall Man, and Reggie must ride to the rescue armed with his quad barrel shotgun. Along the way, Reggie gets help from Tim (Kevin Connors), a gunslinging kid whose town was wiped out by the Tall Man, and Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), an ex-Army ballbuster armed with nunchukas.
As was the case with the first sequel, Coscarelli gives a recap of the events leading up to the present installment, but anyone who hasn’t seen any of the previous movies will be hopelessly lost. With “Phantasm 3”, Coscarelli has made a concerted effort to answer a lot of questions. We learn that the flying sentinels are piloted by brains of the Tall Man’s victims; the brainless bodies are then modified into drones, i.e. the demon dwarfs. The Tall Man, we also learn, is in fact not of Earth, and is an inter-dimensional being, able to move through space-time using his super-duper space gate doohickey.
Much anticipated explanations aside, “Phantasm 3” also benefits from what amounts to a starring turn by franchise sidekick Reggie Bannister, who is this installment’s unquestionable hero. The script by Coscarelli is a lot tighter than the previous two, which isn’t saying much considering the nonsensical madness that was the screenplay for “Phantasm 2”. The only plot hole that I can see in “Phantasm 3” is this: Reggie and Tim leaves Rocky at a town and drives off; later, Rocky appears waiting alongside the road, well ahead of them. How did she manage that?
The pluses: there is more action, more comedy, and the sentinels have never looked cooler. The special effects have clearly benefited from the advance in technology, and 6 years after the last sequel, and nearly 15 years after the original, “Phantasm 3” is the best looking episode in the franchise yet. (This conclusion is made, mind you, with me not having seen parts 4 (made in 1998) and the upcoming part 5.) There is also a lot more gore, severed bodyparts, and death by quad barrel shotgun. It’s a good ol time had by all.
Like the last two installments, “Phantasm 3” offers up a host of new questions, such as: has the Tall Man turned Mike into one of his mindless workers? Where exactly is the Tall Man sending all of his demon dwarfs? And why does the Tall Man have thousands of sentinels? All of these questions, presumably, will be answered in part 4, but I won’t hold my breath. Knowing Coscarelli’s M.O., part 4 will answer some questions, but offer up even more new ones.
To be honest, I’m beginning to warm to the “Phantasm” franchise. It’s a lot smarter and more ambitious than its fellow Horror franchises, that’s for sure. The “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” franchises, for example, are now nothing more than the same-o same-o of mass teen killing. With “Phantasm”, you get the feeling of continuity, of each installment leading up to something else, something bigger. Although they can be viewed separately, there’s no question that the viewer will have a greater appreciation and enjoyment if they can watch the “Phantasm” movies in sequential order.
Besides the return of Michael Baldwin as the adult Mike, Bill Thornbury also returns as Jody, Mike’s brother, who died in the original. With his brain now implanted in one of the Tall Man’s sentinels, Jody has defied his master and now seeks to help Mike not only understand the enemy, but defeat him as well. This installment ends with Mike and Jody on a journey of discovery, with Jody offering up a cryptic message to a wide-eyed Reggie.
It’s interesting to note that while it took 9 years to finally get part 2 made, part 3 only took 6 years; part 4 was even quicker, taking only 4 years. Of course, any sort of pattern that one may infer from these numbers is quickly dashed by the fact that part 5, being made in 2003, is 5 years after part 4.
Don Coscarelli (director) / Don Coscarelli (screenplay)
CAST: Reggie Bannister …. Reggie
A. Michael Baldwin …. Mike
Bill Thornbury …. Jody
Gloria Lynne Henry …. Rocky
Kevin Connors …. Tim
Cindy Ambuehl …. Edna