Don Coscarelli Review – Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead (1994)

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6 years after the release of Phantasm 2 and Don Coscarelli granted upon the cinematic world Phantasm 3: Lord Of The Dead. After the production conflict between Don Coscarelli and Universal that caused problems during the making of Phantasm 2, Universal decided that they didn’t want to produce another Phantasm movie. However, they still gave Don Coscarelli the option, however they made it clear he would get less support from the studio. So, in light of Universal’s ‘generosity’, Don Coscarelli rehired A. Michael Baldwin in the role of Mike to replace Universal’s decision to hire James Le Gros in Phantasm 2, and thus bring all of the original cast back together again for the first time in 15 years.

However, when conflict started happening again between Universal and Don Coscarelli, Universal refused to theatrically distribute the movie, hence why Phantasm 3 is the first Phantasm movie to be released direct to video. Nonetheless, the ‘Phans’ continued to show their passion and support for Don Coscarelli’s work, and Phantasm 3 was one of the top 100 highest selling direct-to-video titles according to the Los Angeles Times in 1996.

In terms of the film’s quality, Phantasm 3 is a very odd sequel. It still retains quite a few elements from Phantasm 2 such as the more action-oriented content and a semi ‘road trip’ style plot, but in comparison to Phantasm 2, Phantasm 3 makes some very odd plot and style choices. In my last review, I stated how Phantasm 2 had some very silly moments that are quite jarring to witness. Well, Phantasm 3 continues that transition by adding in a lot of very silly moments that don’t gel at all with the esoteric horror tone. One thing that I felt stood out to me throughout the film is that Phantasm 3 feels like it’s trying to be a ’90s’ movie with all the clichés and silly moments, when in all honesty, what made Phantasm good was that, content wise, it never tried to fit into the zeitgeist. The original Phantasm doesn’t really reflect 70s horror and Phantasm 2 doesn’t exactly reflect 80s horror, yet Phantasm 3 definitely reflects the changing face of 90s film. For example, the film includes a child character, Tim, who’s far too similar to Macaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone, complete with his own R-rated Home Alone style sequence when his house is ransacked by cheesy gangsters. Now, if that sound out of place, it’s because it is really out of place and makes absolutely no sense. I was bewildered as to what this Home Alone homage had to do with the story of The Tall Man and his hooded dwarfs, or as this film decided to call them: Lurkers. That’s another odd element as well, Phantasm 3 makes a conscious effort to explain a lot of the more mystifying elements of the Phantasm lore, such as what the hooded dwarfs and the silver spheres actually are, as well as their official names: Lurkers and Sentinels. In my opinion, the fact that these elements weren’t explained in the first and second movie is what made those movies particularly scary. This explaining away of the ever-present evil diminishes the fear factor that made the previous movies stand out amongst horror movies.

Now, usually, I wouldn’t have a problem with 90s styling, out of place comedy and oddly funny sexual content in a horror movie that doesn’t contain a lot of ‘horror’ – slasher movies would end up doing this for years to come and I do enjoy a decent slasher movie, but the reason why it doesn’t work in Phantasm 3 is because of the overall tone of the movie. The film feels quite schizophrenic at times because as much as Phantasm 3 gets sillier, the film also manages to have some very good horror elements. Phantasm 3 goes out of its way to make The Tall Man scary again after his watered-down portrayal in Phantasm 2. In Phantasm 3, The Tall Man plays a very active part of the story instead of just being a faceless antagonist. He’s portrayed as a clever, omniscient, plotting, devious creature who can never die. The esoteric ‘mystery’ of who The Tall Man is has returned and developed in this movie, and I found his character improvement to be one of the greatest aspects of the movie as well as the fantastic performance by Angus Scrimm – one of his best performances thus far.

Sadly, though, Angus Scrimm’s performance is one of the few things that I liked about this movie. Reggie Bannister returns as always as Reggie, but his character development doesn’t go well with the tone of the overall movie. Reggie’s character has gone from having a bit of a silly, hedonistic streak in Phantasm 2 to becoming quite distractingly perverted in Phantasm 3, albeit with more a loose silly tone than a disturbing one as he continuously tries to get the cliched 90s kick ass African-American woman, Rocky, to sleep with him by using varying degrees of creepy come ons. That’s not to mention Reggie’s continuous sex dreams as well which are very out of place. A. Michael Baldwin returns as Mike, but he’s taken out of half the movie so it’s hard to comment on his performance. Tim and Rocky are very one note, overly cliched and ridiculous characters that feel so out of place with the horror atmosphere created by the esoteric horror of The Tall Man and his spheres. Phantasm 3 also decided to bring back Bill Thornberry as Jody, albeit as a shoddily written ‘Deus Ex Machina’ type of role in order to drive the plot along. Bill Thornberry wasn’t a great actor in the original Phantasm, but then again, none of the actors were good in the original Phantasm, but as time went on, Reggie Bannister and, to a degree, A. Michael Baldwin manage to deliver decent performances. Bill Thornberry, however, is still a very bad actor. Compared to the other actors, Bill Thornberry is very distracting to witness as he still delivers dialogue without believable realism, and it always feels like the first take was used because of how reserved his acting ‘style’ is. Granted, Bill Thornberry isn’t in the entirety of the movie, and probably spends less time on screen than A. Michael Baldwin, but whenever he is onscreen, his performance takes me out of the cinematic illusion. He needs more passion and enthusiasm in his role, but he just doesn’t have the charisma to do so.

As for the film’s Technical aspects, Phantasm 3 isn’t poorly made. Although the film does have more of an independent style than Phantasm 2 thanks to Universal taking a step back, there’s still a fair degree of production competency. The sets are still quite striking to witness and some even mirror the strange, dreamlike sets utilized in the original Phantasm. The gore is creative, realistic and definitely adds impact to the film’s tone. Cinematography is decent as well, but the greatest technical aspect that stood out to me was the film’s fantastic lighting. Not only is Phantasm 3 lit well, but in certain scenes of the movie, the lighting is incredibly creative and it creates a dreamlike atmosphere similar to the original Phantasm. Problem is, it’s only used in ‘some’ scenes, not the majority, and the majority of the movie plays off in plodding realism much like Phantasm 2. This ends up making the dreamlike sequences quite powerful, but the rest of the movie pales in comparison.

Phantasm 3 is, unfortunately, a film with many flaws and a few good moments. Although those few good moments do stand out, they are overshadowed by questionable plotlines and ridiculously silly moments. I’d say a lot of the film’s major issues come from the writing. Don Coscarelli definitely wanted to add more humor into this sequel, but it mixes poorly with the more serious elements, so the comedy really just drags down the whole movie overall. That being said though, Phantasm 3 is still fairly enjoyable as the good elements are still quite present. However, for me, Phantasm 3 is a definite middle-of-the-road-movie: it’s not terrible, but it’s not really all that good either. It pales in comparison to its predecessors, but not warranting of hate and disgust.

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