A. Michael Baldwin
Gloria Lynne Henry
John Davis Chandler
Horror / Sci-fi
Trivia Kathy Lester, the Lady in Lavender from the original Phantasm film, has a cameo as a nurse in the scene where the Tall Man is attending Mike as he's in his coma.
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Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
1st Nov 05
Mike’s been captured by the Tall Man. Reggie continues his road trip through small town America, following the Tall Man’s trail of destruction, looking for clues that will lead him to his friend. He’s joined by Tim, a young boy whose family were all taken from him, and Rocky, a feisty ex-marine armed with a set of nunchucks. And Mike’s dead brother Jody returns to guide them – in the form of one of the Tall Man’s deadly silver balls.
Review Reviewed as part of the Phantasm Box set
To follow a truly original horror film with one great sequel is hard enough; to succeed with a second sequel is even rarer, yet Phantasm maestro Don Coscarelli just about pulls it off with Lord Of The Dead, the third instalment of his enduring franchise. Six years after the modest success of the studio-financed Phantasm II, Coscarelli takes the story back to its roots, enlisting original Phantasm actors Michael Baldwin (as Mike – replaced by James Le Gros in the first sequel) and Bill Thornbury (as Jody) to rejoin series regulars Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm.
Taking up the story where the previous film ended, we’re thrown straight into the action. Reggie has just been chucked out of the hearse being driven by Alchemy (now revealed to be one of the Tall Man’s undead minions), with Mike and Liz still trapped in the back, which then crashes and explodes in a ball of flames. Less than five minutes into the film and we’ve lost Liz and Alchemy, poor Mike’s in a coma, Reggie’s using the dwarf-creatures as target practice, and the Tall Man is back – we see him returning from the gateway to dispatch of his old body in a scene originally shot for the ending of Phantasm II. Jody is back too, projecting his form from one of the spheres – “What the hell are you doing here? You’re dead!” exclaims Reggie to his old pal. Well, he wants to help, but before he can say any more, the Tall Man grabs Mike and bundles him through a gateway.
After beginning the series as more of a supporting character, Coscarelli acknowledges Reggie’s popularity with the fans and gives him top billing this time, so with Mike out of the picture for the next forty-five minutes, the emphasis switches to Reggie as he tracks down the Tall Man. Having added a strong female lead to the last film, this time we’re saddled with a kid, Tim. I can feel your hearts sinking already. We meet young Tim as he’s defending his house against a gang of scavengers, in a scene obviously influenced by the Home Alone movies which were so popular around that time. There’s no denying Tim’s a fighter, but whereas Michael Baldwin really nailed one boy’s desperation and fear of death back in 1979, here Kevin Connors comes across as a cocky little brat – no wonder then that Reggie tries to dump him at an orphanage at the first available opportunity.
Still, this is Reggie Bannister’s film and not even the presence of an annoying kid is going to stop him from making the most of it. With Grace Jones look-a-like Rocky in tow, this gives Reggie ample chance to wisecrack and flirt like only he can. “You ever try vanilla?” is his top chat-up line as he tries to entice Rocky into his bed, and there follows a hilarious scene later when Jody manifests himself just as Reggie is dreaming of taking Rocky from behind. In fact if the first two films were all about chills, then this one is much more focused on thrills and spills, and a sense of the absurd. The humour and knowing references to other movies are all too evident; there’s a nod to the Lethal Weapon films as Reggie mutters, “I’m too old for this shit,” as he prepares to do battle with the Tall Man once more, and a clear homage to Evil Dead 2 when the Tall Man’s severed hand takes on a life of its own.
The wonderful Angus Scrimm is also given more to do here, other than stride purposefully or raise his eyebrow manically at the camera. Within fifteen minutes he’s had more dialogue in this sequel than the first two films put together! Admittedly he’s not one for explaining his actions in any great detail, but he does get to say “boooooy!” at least five times, and that can only be applauded. Phans do finally get a few answers to their questions, as we get to see a little more of the Tall Man’s procedures for turning corpses into the small, cloaked slaves, and the origin of those deadly flying spheres is at last revealed – but Coscarelli also poses plenty of new questions too. Some of the dead – like Alchemy at the beginning of the picture – seem to be employed solely as zombies to do the Tall Man’s bidding. Hence the return of the three hoodlums who attacked Tim, reappearing purely to be used as opponents for Reggie and his gang, passengers for Bob Ivy's gobsmacking hearse roll, and finally, ideal cannon fodder for the bloodthirsty balls.
Out of all four of the Phantasm movies to date, Lord Of The Dead is perhaps the most violent of them all, utilising the balls to good effect, and recreating the skull-drilling, blood spraying carnage of the first film in a scene which was previously excised by the BBFC - as were certain shots of Rocky using her nunchucks. Whilst it misses the participation of Mike for long periods of the movie – surely the driving force of the series – Reggie is a likeable lead, albeit lending a more comedic bent to proceedings. Only Jody’s reappearance, whilst welcomed, is a little too awkward to convey successfully. Thankfully the film ultimately triumphs by delivering an action-packed fun ninety minutes and leaves the audience with a particularly satisfying cliffhanger. “It’s never over,” rasps the The Tall Man as the end credits roll. He’s not wrong – Roger Avary was already at work on a script entitled Phantasm 1999 which was due to wrap up all the loose ends in an explosive finale…
Versions Originally released on DVD in the UK by Digital Entertainment, in a slightly trimmed form, you’ll be wanting the new Anchor Bay release. The film has been digitally remastered and is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a DTS soundtrack. Extras include audio commentary from Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm, the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. Of course, if you buy the DVD box set then you’ll also get a whole bonus disc of Phantasm extras. So what are you waiting for?
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