Spotlight

One Too Many: PHANTASM III – LORD OF THE DEAD!

09 July 2019

We forced our intern, Charlotte Daraio, to watch a film, not just any film though, it had to be a sequel to a film from a franchise that she had never seen any of the films from before…then we asked her to review it. 

One too many times have I found myself watching a continuation of a beloved franchise that doesn’t quite hit the mark, or watching a follow-up to a film I didn’t like that much in the first place. I’m all too familiar with the bitter disappointment and self-hatred of having probed the sanctity of closure, only to never be able to shut it quite as tightly.

Well, what better way to eradicate these negative emotions than to jump the hurdle of the high bar altogether? That’s right: I’m talking about skipping the original. Because who needs all that pesky pretext that hinders a sequel-viewing experience?

These reviews are based not on tech specs or creative merit, but on stand-alone-ability – on how well the sequel braves the cruel elements of knowledge, nostalgia and time. So sit back and let an ignoramus warble on about – and maybe trash talk –  the nth instalment of your favourite franchise. Because let’s be real: you know she’s right.

PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994)

A very tall man from…God knows where. He kills people and he shifts their bodies back to…wherever.”  

This quote from Phantasm III accurately encapsulates how nonsensical the film is, whereby not even its characters understand the universe they live in or the threat they’re up against.

Phantasm III is not quite a zombie film, not quite an apocalypse film and not quite a film in general. It’s convoluted and somehow also vapid: a black hole of WTFs and guttural groans. Honestly, it’s a total snoozefest: I struggled not to fall asleep while watching it, though this had nothing to do with the film being ‘boring’ in the traditional sense. No Siree, those obstacles and climaxes kept on coming. And coming. And coming. The action was overwhelming, yet bland. Not overly extensive, yet tedious.

Let’s put this aside for a moment, though, to discuss how much I hate the story’s ‘hero’, Reggie. What a completely unfunny, unwholesome and all-round yuck human being – a mediocre white man who could and should have been replaced by his female co-protagonist, Rocky. But of course, Hollywood don’t work that way and so we’re forced to suffer through his lewd attempts to coerce Rocky to sleep with him. These scenes are unnecessary, to say the least and deplorable, to say the most. They add nothing to the story, ruined my day and have probably taken a few years off my life. To add insult to injury, a sex scene between Reggie and Rocky does eventually happen, but it makes so little sense – story-wise and consent-wise – that it has to take place in Reggie’s dreams. This is hilarious to me – and not in the way the film intended it to be – because how sexually depraved does a filmmaker need to be to include a dream-sequence sex scene? Don Coscarelli wanted this sex scene in this movie so badly that he willingly tarnished what little integrity the film had. Not on, Don. Not on.

Phantasm III is something David Lynch would make – that is, if David Lynch had a brain tumour that had swallowed up the talented part of his brain and left only obscure fractures of what makes a watchable film. It’s a B-grade Lynchian wonderland – a cheap knockoff. I can only assume, however, that the original 1979 film served as a huge inspiration to Lynch: the over-the-top, yet dry, acting of this sequel reminded me a lot of Twin Peaks, but this film’s rendition of melodrama seemed tactless and incidental.

The movie itself seems to be aware of how terrible its own actors and main characters are: it continually digresses to other people within the story-world, ranging from doom-mongering hooligans to a random woman who looks after orphans. While these characters may seem to be there to add depth, they’re sloppy layers of world-building that add nothing to the film’s over-complicated universe.

A scrapbook of obscure ideas and pre-textual presumptions, Phantasm 3 is either a terrible, vague film or the magnum opus of a filmic genius and I’m just not getting it. My guess is that it’s both these things at once: a movie made by a smart person who just happens to be a terrible filmmaker. I imagine Coscarelli scratching his head at his writer’s desk, thinking ‘how am I supposed to get all these ideas on paper?’ and then just never figuring it out.

I have a feeling the first movie wouldn’t offer much help in untangling the mystery of this convoluted world. One thing is for sure, though: the film’s antagonist, The Tall Man, reaffirms that we should definitely be wary of creepy, old men who lurk in our blind spots.

1/5 for stand-alone-ability.