Saturday, January 14, 2017

Phantasm IV: Oblivion


   I've realize that at this point, the Phantasm movies have moved beyond the horror genre. This is just sci-fi absurdism. Phantasm IV is the abstract apogee of a franchise known for being weird, nonsensical and confusingly dream-like. It's not a bad movie... It's a pretty bad movie all things considered, but it's familiar and marginally enjoyable all the same. I know a lot of fans appreciated this one more than the previous, and while I know why, I don't really understand it.

   At some point in these movies (somewhere in III) we discovered that Mike has a sentinel sphere in his head and he bleeds yellow like the Tall Man and his minions. At some point, we also discovered that the Tall Man has been 'taking' entire towns. We also found out (also in III) that the sentinel spheres are powered by the brains of the people he turns into minions- who he leaves brainless as he shrinks them down to size. There's thousands of spheres to boot, so he's clearly been doing this for a while. But, these movies immediately lose sight of the 'why'.

   Why (and how) is Mike no longer human? What did we miss? What didn't we get to see? If you think IV has answers to anything, you'll be pretty disappointed. The Phantasm movies never answer questions, they only redirect and throw more abstract twists out there with the distant promise that maybe we'll get to figure it all out in the next one. Remember the girl from II? Did we ever find out why or how Mike and her were magically psychic? Nope. She DIED and we never heard about her ever again. That's par for course with literally everything in these movies, and that's kinda sad to me.

   I always felt the original concept of an inter-dimensional being harvesting the dead from our world to reanimate as a slave labor force in his was fascinating and brimming with potential, but with each subsequent movie in the franchise, it becomes more and more apparent that creator Don Coscarelli is fresh out of ideas and has no intentions of fulfilling that potential. The red world disappears from the plot in III and IV, and the portals become convenient plot devices that let characters travel when/wherever the flying fuck they please.

   There's a scene in IV where Mike decides to go on goddamn walkabout (for reasons that are never clearly explained) and finds him in the desert. Then those portal poles start popping up. Why? I don't fucking know. I'm not sure anyone even making the movie knew. Oh and the Tall Man has been after Mike for two (or three, depending-) movies now and we have no clue why. He's said he has plans for Mike, but what? We don't know. Mike shows in this one that he has the kind of telekinetic powers that the Tall Man has, but doesn't use them when it would end up actually oh, I dunno, BE USEFUL? Like escaping from the Tall Man? Yeah, that's the perfect time to not use your newfound powers.

   The acting in these movies was never better than borderline, and it's kind of endearingly bad here. I didn't even know that was possible. But, here's the thing, all of these complaints are completely moot because these movies are fundamentally abstract. They buck the trend of sequels that explain things. Each Phantasm sequel is an anti-sequel. It reminds me of a friend I had in elementary school. Had big dreams of making horror movies when he grew up, and his inspiration was the Evil Dead trilogy- specifically Army of Darkness. In 5th grade, he wrote a series of stories about an evil child overlord named Jeffrey that was bitten by a squirrel, died, and came back to live as an omnipotent tyrant.

   Each story made less sense than the last, and that was the whole point. He knew it, our classmates knew it, and it was hilarious. It was a running gag. It was a post-apocalyptic, horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, romance epic saga, and absolutely all of it was completely absurd. I feel like that is the Phantasm franchise in a nutshell, and IV falls right in line with one glaring exception. It's too damn serious. Too droll. Too dry. These movies were becoming more and more absurd with each one, and that is precisely how it should've been. The franchise's trajectory demands nothing less, and sadly- despite some cool moments, and fun gadgets, Phantasm IV is a clear misstep.

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