Monday, 17 April 2017

Phantasm I - V: Limited Edition Collection (1979 - 2016)



Arrow scores a hit with this ultimate collection for PHANTASM fans, with all five films on Blu-ray and DVD and a bonus disc of extras. Let’s go through all the shiny silver things one by one, shall we?

Disc 1: PHANTASM (1979)

         PHANTASM is a one of a kind. 38 years later it still remains perhaps the ultimate film of Small Town Weird, and the fact that the narrative might simply be the fevered imaginings of a bereaved young boy in his early teens means that Don Coscarelli’s stream-of-consciousness collection of oddness makes more sense rather than less. It has all the ingredients for a cult film, including an iconic, scary villain in Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man, and that elusive but essential element that makes you feel that if you just watch the film  once more you might possibly understand what it’s all about. 

         The basic plot is this. An alien disguised as a Very Tall Man Indeed is in charge of the local mortuary in a small American town. He is taking the bodies of the dead, shrinking them down into dwarves and shipping them off to his planet to be used as slave labour. Teenager Mike (Michael Baldwin), his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and guitar-playing ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister) try to stop him. But as with so many films that achieve cult status, it’s not so much the story, but how it is told that’s important. 

         Don Coscarelli’s original looks quite spectacular in this new 4k transfer supervised by J J Abrams. For those of us who have grown up watching it via VHS and even DVD, this will still be a revelation. There’s been a tiny bit of spit and polish with CGI but it’s not intrusive and I have to say I think it makes the film look even better. Picture resolution is stunning and I don’t think anyone could imagine PHANTASM could look this good.
         The disc comes with 4 sound options: original mono, 5.1 surround, commentary track with Coscarelli, Baldwin, Thornbury and Scrimm, and ‘The Los Angeles Premiere Experience’ which is a 5.1 surround track recorded at that event. All I can say for that last one is that the audience is extremely well behaved - you get occasional applause but that’s it. However you can add to the experience from the special features to see the audience queueing up, followed by an entertaining 30 minute Q&A afterwards. You also get 30 minutes of Q&A from the Austin, Texas screening.
         Part 1 of ‘Reflections of Fear’ is a new 30 minute featurette with cast and crew reminiscing. The series carries on throughout the other discs. Ported over stuff includes an Angus Scrimm intro, a 1979 30 minute TV interview with Scrimm and Coscarelli, deleted scenes, trailer, TV and radio spots.

Disc 2: PHANTASM II (1988)

         It took nearly ten years for a PHANTASM sequel to appear, with a bigger budget and a ‘more commercial’ James Le Gros replacing Michael Baldwin as Mike. The story is basically still the same, but this time Reggie and Mike are on the hunt for the Tall Man through small town America, making PHANTASM II perhaps the ultimate gothic road movie. The effects are greatly improved from the first, and the film still boasts a terrific atmosphere as well as that feeling of ‘watch one more time & it just might make sense’. The music score has been bumped up as well. While Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave’s work on Part 1 is iconic, I actually prefer Christopher Stone’s arrangements of the music in this one, especially that end theme.
    Extras on the PHANTASM II disc include a commentary with Coscarelli, Bannister and Scrimm, Part 2 of Reflections of Fear, an archive making of, Greg Nicotero looking back on his work on the film, deleted and behind the scenes footage, Angus Scrimm’s marvellous appearance at the Fangoria convention where he runs through all his dialogue as the Tall Man in about a minute, a trailer and TV spots.


         Things start to get a bit ropey with part III. A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury are both back, and the film starts off well, but soon things starts to feel a bit laboured, and third time around for many of the same ideas and setups is perhaps one too many.
    Extras include a commentary with Baldwin & Scrimm, part 3 of Reflections of Fear, behind the scenes footage, deleted scene, trailer and still gallery.


        A weird film indeed is PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION, cobbled together from excess footage shot for part 1 and inserted alongside new material. While the budget for the new stuff was obviously very low, it’s still creative and on occasion extremely stylish. Like much of the series, PHANTASM IV is at its best when it’s not trying to tell any kind of cohesive story at all and is just allowed to go off into a world of weird imagery and strange contraptions. The ending of this one is exceptionally dreamlike, and the film as a whole is a definite step up from Part III.
    Extras include commentary with Coscarelli, Scrimm and Bannister, part 4 of Reflections of Fear, behind the scenes, trailer and stills gallery.

Disc 5: PHANTASM V: RAVAGER (2016)

        Carrying straight on from part IV, Reggie is still looking for Mike and the Tall Man. Or is he? Might he, in fact, be a resident in a care home for patients with dementia and PHANTASM is all in his imagination? This plot thread allows PHANTASM V to end up as perhaps the most affecting of the series, as it deals with growing old, losing our faculties, and the friendships that persist and grow and change through our lives. Oh yes, and there are giant silver spheres demolishing tower blocks, scenes of apocalyptic devastation, and a infinitely large room filled with infinite Tall Men. Angus Scrimm looks very frail in this (he passed on soon afterwards) but actually has more dialogue than in many of the other PHANTASMs. After so much time had elapsed there was much talk of if there would ever be another PHANTASM. Bearing in mind budgetary constraints and the fact that movies often felt like stream of consciousness (or even jumbled consciousness) pictures, PHANTASM RAVAGER actually provides a fine and touching end to the series. Personally I loved it. 

         Perhaps best amongst the extras is the three and a half minute introductory public information film Phantasm and You in which director David Hartman explains the PHANTASM movies for those who ‘didn’t realise the V in the title meant this is the fifth film in a series’. It’s delightfully quirky, right down to using a small child’s drawings to illustrate what happens in PHANTASM II (“due to rights issues”).  Definitely play this before the movie starts - it may even endear that friend of yours who has never seen a PHANTASM film. 

         Other extras include a commentary with Hartman & Coscarelli, Reflections of Fear Part V, the Los Angeles Premiere Experience (another 5.1 surround track with clapping), the Q&A panel from the Austin Texas premiere, deleted scenes, blooper reel, a behind the scenes bit, and a trailer. 

Disc 6: Bonus Disc

         A collection of bits and pieces old and new, including Phantasmagoria, the feature-length documentary on the making of the first four films, Reggie Bannister’s tour of PHANTASM locations, a tribute to Angus Scrimm from Kristen Deem, newly edited footage from Phantasmagoria with more Angus, a piece on the stunt sequences, and another looking at the enduring nature of PHANTASM ‘fandom’.

In summary, Arrow’s PHANTASM collection is marvellous and represents a fitting testament to perhaps the most original, offbeat and creative horror franchise ever. It’s a must buy, and the set even comes with a replica sphere and a 152 page book with new writing from Kim Newman and Bill Ackerman, plus an archive of posters and stills. Absolutely phantastic. 

PHANTASM 1-5: Limited Edition Collection is out as a dual-format release from Arrow Films on 24th April 2017

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