In 1978 an under-appreciated classic, Phantasm, took part in the revolution that would come to change horror as we know it by incorporating elements of its contemporaries- films like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween– as well as those of classic Universal monster movies to create a new kind of horror film, not quite being one of the slasher films that would come to dominate the next decade as Halloween‘s Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and then Freddy Krueger found their audiences.
The same year as Phantasm and Halloween, a film called Alien directed by Ridley Scott would come to take its own share of the burgeoning slasher genre, in this case by being a creature feature that utilized the best and most terrifying elements of the slasher genre to create a masterpiece in Sci-Fi horror. In 1986, two years before Phantasm II was to be released, James Cameron reinvented the Alien franchise, turning a terrifying and claustrophobic story about surviving a single alien into an action-packed war against an entire hive of them in Aliens.
Thankfully for Mike and Reggie, Phantasm II doesn’t feature a hungry nest of Tall Men. However, it does follow the Aliens formula of taking a horror franchise and making an action movie. A year before, Bruce Campbell became a horror legend by taking a chainsaw to a shotgun, twirling it, and declaring the result “groovy” before entering the lair of his inhuman enemy. In Phantasm II, Reggie does the same thing before going into battle with the Tall Man.
Phantasm II features Mike and Reggie taking to the road and following their enemy, the inimitable Tall Man. Far from being a simple slasher, the Tall Man is killing entire towns, leaving a path of destruction in his wake that should have captured national media attention, but somehow hasn’t. The stakes are raised here, and Jody, killed in the first film, is replaced by a pair of girls- an odd one named Alchemy, who somehow manages to have sex through her panties, and Liz (I think her last name is MacGuffin). Of course, this being a horror movie, they both play at least as much of a role as a love/sex interest as they do characters. Liz is slightly more interesting because she and Mike have a mostly unexplained psychic connection, which results in Liz having a crush on Mike before they even met.
Speaking of love interests, I have a feeling the Phantasm series joins Friday the 13th in being one of those movies that try to send a message against promiscuous sex. In the first film, sex equals you’re killed by the Tall Man once you pull out; in this film, you get Alchemy’s strange antics, and in the third film the sex scenes are equally weird. It’s either a message or some sort of sick joke intended to give half the audience a case of blue balls.
Phantasm II borrows heavily from both Alien and the Nightmare on Elm Street series in the visuals department. There’s even a boiler room, which for some reason a minion of the Tall Man’s feeds corpses into instead of having them transformed into jawas. Which in this movie start to turn into actual zombies. You can see their faces much more clearly and some speak, both of which leave sizable dents in their scary credibility, and there’s even one or two that’s life sized instead of being miniaturized. You also see a bit more of the flying balls, which display a bit more variety.
Like his minions, the Tall Man goes through some fundamental changes. Rather than simply being physically powerful, Angus Scrimm now seems to play Darth Vader. He telekinetically chokes a priest before letting him go, and goes on to use the Force in other situations where in the first film he would use his hands. There’s more of an action climax in this film than the first, not entire dissimilar but the protagonists use a lot more ingenuity against their lofty foe this time.
As a whole, Phantasm II is a very different film from the original. There are enough similarities to maintain continuity, but a full decade between movies really caused some creative shifts. It’s a lot more stable of a movie than the first, not as good as its best parts but not as boring as its worst, rounding out the quality and making it slightly less memorable but fairly equal in quality. There are some genuinely creepy or suspenseful moments, just not quite as creepy as the ones in the first film. If you enjoyed the opening to the first but found it difficult to sit through, or enjoyed the first entirely, this film probably won’t disappoint you.