Thursday, October 13, 2016

Phantasm Ravager

Phantasm Ravager marks the end of one of the most original and creative horror movie franchises in history, and more importantly wraps up the epic story of Reggie the ice cream man and his lonely quest to save his friends and humanity from the schemes of the Tall Man, a seemingly omnipotent being that can travel through dimensions, time, and space to reap the dead for his own nefarious purposes.  It seems impractical to recount the entire story thus far, as the newest entry is really a love note for the long time “phans” of the series, anyone wondering about the story at this point is better off watching the series and forming your own informed opinion about what is really going on in Phantasm, where seeing is easy, but understanding is the hard part.

When we last saw Reggie he was chasing the Tall Man through a dimensional gate while Mike laid dying on the desert floor after the Tall Man extracted a large dark metallic sphere from his skull; a wound he was very unlikely to survive.  Reggie’s back “home” now, we are not sure where the dimensional gate led him, or for how long he has been chasing the Tall Man since Oblivion, but it looks like he has returned to his original dimension.  He begins to recant his story, pointing out that even he is unsure of reality anymore after dealing with the Tall Man’s tricks for so long. 

I believe this opening dialogue leans into the idea that what we are seeing in Phantasm movies isn’t real; it is a dream state, a psychosis to deal with the idea of passing from this world into the next.  The first four movies were all in Mike’s head; when we see him in a coma in bed in part 3 those are actual glimpses of the real world.  He’s been in that twilight state between life and death since the crash that killed his brother and parents.  Reggie is his last friend trying to ease his passing bedside.  Mike is caught in a dream and refuses to accept death until the end of Oblivion, where he finally accepts what is happening to him, explained by the last sequence of the film, and allows him self to pass on.

I think that theory ties the series together nicely, but doesn’t apply to Ravager.  If the first four movies were about Mike dealing with his passing, Ravager is about Reggie dealing with getting old and being stuck in a nursery home with senior onset dementia.  Reggie is dealing with his passing, but in a different way.  The movie quickly shifts between Reggie being the bad ass undead ass kicker in the past, to the nursery home in his present, to an apocalyptic future where the Tall Man has conquered the planet, sometimes within the same scene or in the middle of a speech.  The transitions are so jarring and sudden that Reggie has trouble coping with it all.  He refuses to accept the nursery home reality; he believes it is all a trick by the Tall Man.

But I don’t think it’s a trick at all.  I think Mike truly passed on at the end of Oblivion and finally accepted his fate.  Reggie had a family at one point and somehow lost them, we aren’t sure how, but Mike was the only support he had left, and he died at the end of Oblivion, leaving poor Reggie alone and destitute.  He began grasping at the epic tale Mike told him bedside while coming in and out of a coma, perhaps embracing the fiction because it painted him as a hard luck warrior trying to save humanity from the legions of the dead invading our dimension; a lovely fantasy when Reggie felt he was at his lowest.  The early onset dementia only exasperated matters, Reggie began believing Mike’s story to be real, and started living through the adventure in his mind.  The few moments he is lucid he is brought back to the reality of the nursery home, where he struggles with the idea of being old, dying in bed, and being “shoved into some box”.      

When Reggie makes the speech about dying on his feet with his four barreled shotgun at his side fighting the forces of evil he is completely rejecting the reality of the old folk’s home, and a dimensional portal appears.  He goes through it and is completely lost in the rat maze of his mind, jumping from past to present to future without warning.  The Tall Man appears and offers him a chance to be re-united with his loved ones in death, but Reggie refuses.  He’s not ready to die yet; instead he demands that the Tall Man return his friends Mike and Jody back to him.

The rest of the movie is a check list of classic Phantasm-like moments for the “phans”; Reggie is stalked by the undead in a massive mausoleum resembling the same complex from part 3.  He’s re-united with Mike and battles the Tall Man in the red dimension all the while experiencing random lucid moments in the reality of his nursery home room.  He is finally re-united with his friends “in the future”, but in the real world Reggie is slowly passing away in his bed.  As the trio rides off into the sunset in the series staple 1971 Plymouth Barracuda, Reggie accepts his fate and dies with his best friends by his side, welcoming him into the afterlife.

Even writing that makes me emotional.  As a “phan” of the series I thought it hit all the right beats.  I would have wanted a bigger budget and less CGI, more polish, but this series has always made the most out of a dime store budget.  I didn’t like the addition of the new character “Chunk” so late in the franchise, I thought he was essentially terrible comedic relief, but rest of the movie is hot as love.  After watching this I’ve been spinning through the other entries of the series and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.  The Tall Man LIVES!  BOOOOOYYYY!