The Phantasm franchise is one of those pseudo hidden gems that exist in plain sight but never really gets the recognition it deserves. Throughout the four released Phantasm movies writer/director Don Coscarelli weaves a fun filled, horror packed, gore-slosion tale of suspense and awesomeness. Yes, that’s right. Coscarelli, the man who brought you the Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep, and John Dies At The End wrote and directed all four Phantasm movies. This is an important note, that most horror fans consistently overlook.
Phantasm came out in 1979. It launched the careers of Reggie Bannister, a now beloved cult horror movie icon, Angus Scrimm aka The Tall Man, and the young Coscarelli. The film is an amazingly atmospheric nightmarish meditation on dream logic and pulp thrills. Despite the film’s massive success, it would take around ten years for a sequel to be produced.
When Phantasm II was finally produced it would take a page straight out of the Sam Raimi Evil Dead play book. Phantasm II opts more for fun and excitement then genuine terror. Phantasm II is also, in many ways, a precursor to Terminator 2. It takes the core premise of the initial offering and sets it in an entirely different film. In Phantasm II’s case spooky action-comedy. The film is universally considered the best out of all the Phantasm films. It had the highest budget, largest scale, and the most to actually say.
That all being said, we’re here today to discuss the often overlooked Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead.
The main reason that Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is overlooked is that it was not released theatrically. It had a budget slightly less than Phantasm II but as the fates would have it the film was released straight to video.
Phantasm III does almost everything right. It introduces a few cool new characters, it brings back the original Mike actor A. Michael Baldwin. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you talk to, he was replaced for Phantasm II by another actor.
Phantasm III has one massive upgrade from Phantasm II the female lead. The female lead in Phantasm II is nothing but a damsel in distress. That’s fine. I understand why they used her that way. It’s lame, but I get it. In Phantasm III we have Rocky, as super awesome African American, ex-military type who can’t act her way out of a paper bag but still kicks tons of Tall Man ass. I love it.
Phantasm III doesn’t have the inventiveness or the scale of Phantasm II, but what it does have is shear awesomeness and fun. Phantasm III is the only franchise installment where adding a kid made things cooler. There are also real zombies in this one, which is really cool. Especially when they’re Guido, mall rat, big gold chain zombies. Awesome.
This is also the first installment where Reggie Bannister carries the picture on his back. It’s super fun to see. He’s an campy, lovable loser. You can’t help but root for him to win, because it seem like he’s going to die at every moment.
The Phantasm series, for some reason, is perceived as decidedly second tier. It never quite gained the popularity or acclaim as such franchises like Evil Dead or Return of the Living Dead but everybody knows about it, seemingly. It’s not quite mainstream, not quite underground. It’s in a very strange space culturally.
All of the Phantasm films are criminally under appreciated. None more so than Phantasm III.