Phantasm: Ravager (2016)
By this time in the franchise’s history, Phantasm fans are either still all about that silver ball, happy to team up with ice cream man Reggie as he blasts his way through ghouls, or have given up their fear of the sphere a long time ago, tired of chasing down the Tall Man via numerous nonsensical sequels that seem to go nowhere.
Starting way back in 1977 or so, the hallucinatory series has detailed the adventures of Reggie (the affable Reggie Bannister, Bubba Ho-Tep), a locked-and-loaded ice cream man with a penchant for folk music and the ladies, and his best friend’s orphaned younger brother, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin, Vice Girls), and their fight against the reality-warping and dimension-hopping mortician nicknamed the Tall Man.
Portrayed with dour aplomb by the perfectly monikered Angus Scrimm (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, the Tall Man seemingly has the sole goal of kidnapping the recently dead and turning them into diminutive Jawa-esque slaves — for what purpose, who knows. Try to stop him and he unleashes these iconic floating silver spheres that are programmed to drill deep inside your head and spew the contents in a shower of blood and viscera all over the darn place.
While subsequent sequels have managed to broaden the Phantasm mythology, they’ve also managed to confound even the most religious of viewers as well, operating on a totally collapsing reality that contradicts and swallows its own rules as soon as it makes them, kind of like what living in a waking dream slash nightmare must be like; this gaslit universe that finally has come to some sort of (in its own way) definitive conclusion with the long-awaited (almost 20 years) fifth and supposedly final entry in the series, Phantasm: Ravager.
Taking the directorial reins from franchise creator Don Coscarelli (John Dies at the End), new blood David Hartman (Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles) does a good job of inceptioning himself right into the atmospheric dreamworld of the series. He even opens where we last left off, with a ragged Reggie wandering the desert, shotgun in hand and reiterating the basic plot points of the past few outings. After a few minutes of that, Reggie recovers his beloved Hemi ’Cuda, and the action starts with said silver spheres tracking him down and getting buckshot in the process.
Things take a trademarked bizarre turn, however, when he wakes up in a mental hospital, a clean-cut Mike in tow, telling a confused Reggie that he has been diagnosed with early onset dementia since the death of his wife and kids, and that the Tall Man and all that have been products of the psychosis. Unwilling to believe him, Reggie fights back and forth, alternating between both worlds — and maybe a few more — until, in a final twist of fate, they collide in a way that truly does finish the series off while still allowing it to continue for possibly forever, as we see in the red-tinted image under the credits.
If you’re confused, welcome to Phantasm. —Louis Fowler