Friday, October 7, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by David Hartman. Written by Don Coscarelli and David Hartman. Cast: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury, Kat Lester, Gloria Lynne Henry, Dawn Cody, Stephen Jutras, Daniel Roebuck, Daniel Schweiger. (Unrated, 85 mins)

Released in conjunction with PHANTASM: REMASTERED, a J.J. Abrams-funded 4K restoration of the 1979 original, PHANTASM: RAVAGER is the fifth and supposedly final entry in this beloved cult horror franchise, and the first since 1998's awful PHANTASM: OBLIVION. It's also the first not directed by series mastermind Don Coscarelli, who remains onboard as a producer and co-writer, with directing duties instead handled by veteran animator David Hartman, whose TV credits include episodes of TRANSFORMERS PRIME and the Disney Channel's MY FRIENDS TIGGER & POOH. Hartman also contributed some animated bits to Coscarelli's 2012 film JOHN DIES AT THE END and initially conceived for Coscarelli a series of short PHANTASM "webisodes" with stars Reggie Bannister and A. Michael Baldwin that were to air online. These were shot over 2012 and 2013 after numerous attempts by Coscarelli to get a fifth film rolling in the early 2000s never materialized, even after the significant critical acclaim and instant cult classic status of his 2003 film BUBBA HO-TEP. Hartman filmed enough PHANTASM webisodes that he and Coscarelli ultimately decided to piece them together into a feature-length film.

It's not exactly some kind of dubious chicanery since they were always upfront about the origin of PHANTASM: RAVAGER, but it also never manages to overcome the fact that it's a bunch of shoddy-looking, quickie vignettes that really don't hang together all that well. The focus is on Bannister's Reggie, who's first seen wandering around in the desert, taking back his beloved '71 Plymouth 'Cuda from the poor schmuck who stole it before he has the first of many run-ins with the lethal, flying silver spheres, the weapons of choice for diabolical villain The Tall Man (the late, great Angus Scrimm, who died nine months before the film's release). Reggie then finds himself in an old folks home, visited by Mike (Baldwin), who informs him that he's been diagnosed with dementia. Then Reggie's in a cabin in the woods that belongs to sexy hitchhiker Dawn (Dawn Cody), who's attacked by the spheres, and so on. Coscarelli and Hartman try to construct a story out of the tenuously-connected "webisodes" in which The Tall Man is manipulating Reggie and Mike over multiple timelines, dimensions, and often intersecting planes of existence. Mike tells Reggie of The Tall Man unleashing an "alien virus" as giant versions of the spheres hover over skylines of major cities, causing INDEPENDENCE DAY-type destruction.

Angus Scrimm (1926-2016)
If anything, the ideas that Coscarelli and Hartman put forth represent levels of ambition that are entirely too far beyond the reach of their budget. It looks exactly like a stitched-together series of cheap webisodes, and once Reggie and Mike find themselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (probably an idea held over from a discarded late '90s script by PULP FICTION co-writer Roger Avary, who was briefly attached to the never-filmed PHANTASM'S END) following The Tall Man's unleashing of the alien virus, the amateurish visual effects are only a notch or two above BIRDEMIC, with some embarrassing CGI fire that looked like shit when Albert Pyun was using it in the late '90s. PHANTASM: RAVAGER gets by for a while just on pure sentiment and nostalgia: Kathy Lester (now billed as "Kat Lester") returns as the Lady in Lavender from the 1979 original, Gloria Lynne Henry reprises her role from 1994's PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD, and even the most jaded cynic will smile at the first appearance of Bill Thornbury as Mike's older brother Jody. And there's the always-engaging Bannister and his four-barreled shotgun, and the emotional impact of seeing Scrimm, albeit far too briefly, reprise his iconic role one last time. But sentiment and nostalgia can only carry RAVAGER so far, especially when it starts feeling less like a fifth PHANTASM movie and more like a film student's adventures in PHANTASM fan fiction. Look, we all respect Don Coscarelli, a unique voice in genre cinema who shouldn't have to schlep this hard to get a green light. We all love Reggie Bannister and we all mourn the passing of Angus Scrimm, But we can respect and appreciate these cult movie legends without pretending PHANTASM: RAVAGER is good.

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