Phantasm IV: Oblivion


Reviewed by: Gator MacReady

After taking the series too far in the direction of horror hokum, Don Coscarelli pushes Phantasm IV further into sci-fi than any previous incarnation, but brings back the narcoleptic approach that II and III sorely lacked. In doing so, it becomes the most atmospheric and haunting of them all. Just don't expect long scenes of exposition, or plot details being unsubtly wrapped up. The mystery of the Tall Man is too strong ever to be fully understood.

As you should remember, at the end of Phantasm III Mike disappeared into the darkness after the Tall Man did some kind of unnecessary brain surgery on him and Reggie was literally left hanging, after being pinned to the wall by a dozen killer spheres. Well, you can relax. The Tall Man knows that killing Reggie will achieve nothing and focuses on catching Mike, who has a plan to draw him out into the open by hiding in the desert. Reggie closely follows, driving through loads of deserted towns, already pillaged by the Tall Man. And the ghost of Jody (now looking like the identical twin brother of Stellan Skarsgard) comes back to offer some suspicious advice.

It's all very, very minimalist and reminds me of the Myst video games in regards to the overwhelming sense of abandonment and isolation, the journal-keeping, the doorways to other worlds, the stark silence of desert landscapes and the weird contraptions. The true identity of the Tall Man is finally revealed, but the forces behind him are still kept in the dark. The answers are hinted at rather than announced and the dialogue is sparse without being empty.

Another cool thing about this sequel are the many eerie and haunting (and haunted?) locations, such as a lonely beach, spooky rock formations, a lifeless Wilshire Boulevard (the biggest street in LA) and barren salt flats that give it such an otherworldly, supernatural feel that the typical mausoleums and old graveyards of II and III didn't.

Again. the Tall Man steals the show from Reggie, who is putting up a harder fight to make it his movie. Both are great characters who shrug off the typical characteristics of villain and hero and become people you can REALLY root for - yes, you can side with the Tall Man! It's a shame that Angus Scrimm has never received true recognition outside cult horror circles, as his approach to the character is unique and he takes his acting very seriously.

Since Coscarelli shot so much unused footage for the original Phantasm. he incorporates some of it into the story, thus heightening the already warped space-time continuum that the Phantasm universe exists in. As a result, the ending may seem annoyingly ambiguous, but can be interpreted in so many different ways. Since Coscarelli is busy with other projects right now, it seems unlikely that the long-rumoured Phantasm's End will happen any time soon.

When you enjoy a series so much, do you really want to see it finish? The non-closure of Phantasm IV keeps the story alive after the credits roll, instead of killing it off for good, which is how I would prefer it. I've always thought that if you wish to tackle something outlandish and imaginative, you must have an equally strong counter-imagination to fully take it in and comprehend. If you prefer films like Bridget Jones's Diary and turn your nose up at Lost Highway, then you are best advised to steer clear of the Phantasm series.

If you're better than that, or, at least, open to new cinematic experiences, then you're in for one helluva crazy ride.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2006
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Phantasm IV: Oblivion packshot
Not the end quite yet, but the chase goes on, and the atmosphere is darker and the Tall Man more iconic
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Director: Don Coscarelli

Writer: Don Coscarelli, Don Coscarelli

Starring: A Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Angus Scrimm, Christopher L Stone

Year: 1998

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

Lost Highway
The Phantasm 5 Disc Boxset