A word of warning: The “Phantasm” franchise is not very friendly to newcomers; if you’ve never seen any of the previous 3 installments, then I recommend not even bothering with this fourth entry. If you do watch “Phantasm 4: Oblivion” without having seen the previous 3, you will not only be hopelessly lost, but you won’t “get” the series. And if there was ever a franchise that needs to be “gotten”, it’s Don Coscarelli’s singular obsession.
Picking up right after the events of “Phantasm 3”, “Oblivion” finds Mike (Michael Baldwin) in Death Valley engaged in a mental battle with the Tall man (Angus Scrimm) with the aid of his dead brother Jody (Bill Thornbury). This time around, the Tall Man seems to have developed some secret master plan for Mike. Meanwhile, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) has to fight a zombie cop since the Tall Man has chosen not to finish Reggie off when he had the chance. As for Mike, he learns to use one of the Tall Man’s space-time transport gateway doohickey and ends up in 19th century America, where he encounters the Tall Man before he became, er, the Tall Man. Can Mike stop the Tall Man before it all began?
If the above description is confusing, you don’t know the half of it. Even though I’ve seen the previous 3 installments in the series, I was still confused. Don Coscarelli has made a concerted effort to screw with the series’ facts and timeline until nothing can be taken for granted anymore. I’m not sure how Coscarelli does it, but he’s somehow introduced whole new scenes that show the same events of the original film but from different angles. My guess is that Coscarelli is using footages that were either deleted or not used back in 1978, and is manipulating those footages in such a way that they either compliment “Oblivion” or they add to the complexity of the series as a whole.
Never content to keep things at the status quo, Coscarelli has now given Mike something approaching telekinetic powers. Mike can now move objects with his mind, which comes in handy when nearby demon dwarfs need to be crushed. (Although it’s not entirely clear why Mike stops showing this ability later on in the film.) Besides Mike’s (supposed) newfound abilities, Reggie is tougher and hornier than ever. Still armed with his too-awesome-for-words quad-barreled shotgun, Reggie finds time from fighting the Tall Man’s evil minions to put the moves on fellow traveler Heidi Marnhout, who unfortunately doesn’t stay for very long. Let’s just say that the breasts on the lovely Miss Heidi pack, er, two mean punches.
“Oblivion” can be looked at in two ways: as a continuation and further intellectualization of one of the most unique sci-fi franchises out there, or as a pretentious way to make a movie as confusing as possible while staying within a very limited budget. I like to think that Coscarelli knows what he’s doing, and in fact I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt. Even so, the budget constraints of “Oblivion” really show, and as a result the movie maintains a level of staleness in its picture quality that is a bit distracting.
There’s no question that I wait for Part 5 with bated breath. After all, you don’t devote as much time as I have with one specific series just to abandon it now. Especially when the series has as much quality in the writing, directing, and sheer dedication to continuity as “Phantasm” does. If Don Coscarelli and his troupe of actors can spend 20-plus years on one series, what’s 2 more hours of my time?
Don Coscarelli (director) / Don Coscarelli (screenplay)
CAST: A. Michael Baldwin …. Mike
Reggie Bannister …. Reggie
Bill Thornbury …. Jody
Angus Scrimm …. The Tall Man