10.28.2016

Midnight Confessions Ep. 104: "Halloween '16 - 80's bloodsuckers"


Halloween is here and we're celebrating with 2 80's vampire flicks; ONCE BITTEN (1985) and FRIGHT NIGHT (1985). We also discuss the season premiere of The Walking Dead season 7 and Mark reviews the whole HALLOWEEN franchise in 5 minutes. Plus music by Zacherle, Alice Cooper, J. Geils Band, Seraphim Shock, Type O Negative, Tim Curry, Oingo Boingo, King Diamond and more.



 




Like "Midnight Confessions" Facebook Page: Midnight Confessions Podcast


Follow us on Twitter @MC_Podcast!


Subscribe on iTunes! - Midnight Confessions


Visit our archive stuff - MC_PodcastVault


We're now on Stitcher! - Stitcher Version

10.21.2016

Midnight Confessions Ep. 103: "Would you like cheese on your horror and metal?"



Horror and heavy metal 'should' go together like peanut butter and chocolate...so what the fuck happened here? This week the MC Crew take on two heavy metal tinged horror "classics": ROCKTOBER BLOOD (1984) and BLACK ROSES (1988). I give a review of the new ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and the new PHANTASM movie is discussed. Plus music by Sorcery, Murderock, Lizzy Borden and ...Sheena Easton?




 




Like "Midnight Confessions" Facebook Page: Midnight Confessions Podcast


Follow us on Twitter @MC_Podcast!


Subscribe on iTunes! - Midnight Confessions


Visit our archive stuff - MC_PodcastVault


We're now on Stitcher! - Stitcher Version

10.18.2016

Original vs Remake: Cat People (1942 & 1982)



DIRECTED BY
Jacques Tourneur (1942)
Paul Schrader (1982)

STARRING
Simone Simon (’42)/Nastassja Kinski (’82) - Irena
Kent Smith (’42)/John Heard (’82) - Oliver
Jane Randolph (’42)/Annette O’Toole (’82) - Alice
Tom Conway (’42) - Dr. Louis Reed
Malcolm McDowell (’82) - Paul Gallier
Ruby Dee (’82) - Female
Ed Begley, Jr. (’82) - Joe Creigh

Genre - Horror/Drama/Supernatural/Animals Run Amok

Running Time - 73 Minutes (1942)/118 Minutes (1982)


It’s been quite a while since I’ve done an Original vs. Remake post. Due to lack of time and laziness [sorry about that], I haven’t really treated this segment with as much respect as it deserves. However, thanks to Ryne from The Moon is a Dead World and his Halloween Fifteen, I finally get a chance to resurrect this bad boy. This time around, it’s for 1942’s CAT PEOPLE and its 1982 remake of the same name. Both films deal with the “scary” idea of female sexuality, but executed in completely different ways due to the eras they were released in. And while one film is definitely better than the other, both films are worth a look. Let’s see why both films deserve their nine lives.

PLOT
(1942)
Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), an architect and a hopeless romantic, goes to a local zoo and meets the beautiful and mysterious Irena (Simone Simon). Really quickly, the two end up marrying - yet Irena has not consummated the marriage with Oliver. Apparently, Irena comes from Serbian descent and has a big fear that any sort of intimacy will unleash a dormant evil inside of her. Supposedly to legend, her lineage will transform into giant cats if they become angry or sexually aroused. Oliver doesn’t get it, only leading him into the consolation of his co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph) out of frustration and unhappiness with Irena. Irena becomes increasingly jealous, coincidentally leading to a series of events where both Oliver and Alice are attacked by a black leopard. Is it just pure coincidence, or is Irena’s legend coming into fruition?

(1982)
Irena (Nastassja Kinski) arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged older brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) whom she hasn’t seen since childhood. She is soon disgusted by Paul’s lustful interactions with her, especially since they’re family and because she’s a virgin. To escape from this stress, Irena visits the local zoo and asked to join the workforce by zoo curator Oliver (John Heard). She agrees, especially since she has become fascinated by this new panther at the zoo who has been on a killing spree. Paul eventually reveals to Irena that they are the last two of their species - a cursed tribe who are only allowed to mate with each other. If they mate with humans, they’ll turn into giant cats that can only be cured by murder.

REVIEW
(1942)
The Val Lewton produced CAT PEOPLE is one of the finest horror films ever made. In a lot of ways, it’s probably should be considered the first psychological horror film - more concerned with playing tricks on your mind through shadows and sound, rather than showing us what we may think is going on. Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur changed the horror game, getting away from the Universal monsters and putting a more realistic spin while maintaining a supernatural edge.

The story itself really isn’t anything special. The premise that a mysterious person may be able to unleash something more monstrous, and hurt the ones they love because of it, is nothing new even by 1942. In fact, THE WOLF MAN had done it already in 1940. The way it’s executed is a different matter. The social commentary is an interesting one, as it seems to imply the danger of female sexuality. One of the main characters, Dr. Louis Reed, explains that Irena’s delusional tales of turning into a cat-person is because she’s afraid for sex and how it’ll change her once she has it. I’m sure feminists would have been in an uproar if the term had existed back in the early 1940’s, but it adds a memorable layer to the narrative. As the film moves along, you’re left to wonder whether Irena is really cursed, or if it’s all a figment of her imagination. There’s a scene where Irena finds a key in the lock of a panther cage, giving us a few beats until she presents the key to the zookeeper. We notice the cage door may have been a bit loose, meaning there’s a possible predator on the loose. So is the stalker an actual animal, or Irena herself in her primal form? Until the very end, we’re never really sure even when the hints hit us on the head. 

The characters are fairly basic on the surface but add a lot of depth to the story. Irena is exotic and social awkward, making her an interesting character when it comes to her relationships. She quickly falls in love with good guy Oliver, even though she knows she can’t have sex with him and be his wife in the most complete way. She is encountered by women dressed in black, calling her “sister”, almost sensing Irena’s struggle with wanting intimacy. As the film moves along, we watch Irena change from soft-spoken woman to jealous and angry wife, almost becoming “catty” with her rivals. Oliver is a hopeless romantic who is willing to marry a beautiful woman without sleeping with her. How many men would do that today in 2016? His naivety and wanting happiness with a woman who excites him makes you want to root for him, even though we know his idea of romance isn’t exactly realistic. There’s no hope for Oliver and Irena, even though you wish there was for Oliver. At least he has Alice, his co-worker who admits having a crush on him. Yet, Alice never tries to ruin his relationship with Irena, actually trying to help Irena with her issues so she could make Oliver happy. Because she becomes the target of Irena’s anger, Alice is the one who figures it all out and try to save Oliver from his wife. Then we have Dr. Reed, who tries to help Irena, but really lusts after her. It’s as if he finds Irena’s story so bizarre, he wants to test her theories on a personal level, being her first. I think we can guess how well that goes for him. Not a lot of characters in CAT PEOPLE, but they add a lot to the film.

The direction by Jacques Tourneur is pretty fantastic. Tourneur tells us a lot with so little, focusing more on the psychological aspect of filmmaking rather than the visual style of showing us a monster to scare us. CAT PEOPLE is filmed almost like a film noir at times, using the dark and the light to the film’s advantage, showing us things that may or may not be there. Probably the film’s best, and most iconic moment, is when Alice is walking through the park after a meeting with Oliver. Irena has seen the two interact and follows Alice in jealous rage. As Alice walks, we just see her walking with the sound of high-heel footsteps behind her. Then subtly, the footsteps are gone, yet Alice is still being followed. After a suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase, Alice is startled by the hissing of a bus that is making its stop. We then see movement in the trees as Alice is freaked out. But is it just the wind, or cat-Irena? A scene later, where Alice is terrorized by the growling and shadow of a large cat at a swimming pool, only to later reveal Irena just wanting to ask Alice a question, is also presented extremely well. Both scenes present terror in a more emotional and mental manner, rather than a visual one, letting our minds play tricks on us to see things that probably aren’t there. Tourneur is very subtle in his direction, creating a haunting mood that lingers because he doesn’t really show us anything. CAT PEOPLE is a thinking man’s horror movie, which is probably why it has stood the test of time compared to some other horror films of the same period.

The acting in CAT PEOPLE is a bit dated. It’s 1940’s acting that presents itself as more romanticized and stagey, rather than something more natural and improv. But Simone Simon carries herself well as Irena, conveying a layer of mystery while also coming across as sympathetic due to her strange belief. Her struggle to be normal, despite the fact that she feels that normalcy will destroy her relationship with Oliver, is conveyed well. I do feel Kent Smith and Jane Randolph come across as a bit old-timey in their performances, but it works for their characters and for the time. Tom Conway plays Dr. Reed in a semi-lecherous sort of way that I liked. The actors are fine here, even if modern audiences might find the performances a bit hammy.

(1982)
After the success of 1978’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake, the idea of a CAT PEOPLE remake was discussed. It was on the back burner until the dual release of two werewolf films - 1981’s THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - both films that displayed incredible transformation effects. Wanting to be different from the original film, director Paul Schrader and writer Alan Ormsby want to showcase some cat transformations, while also destroying any subtlety the original had proudly showcased. While the 1982 remake is definitely of its time and does certain things well, it also proves why sometimes less is more. 

The story takes the same commentary on female sexuality and really hammers it into the audience. We know right away that Irena is a virgin, with her brother Paul leering and lusting after her the moment he lays eyes on her. He stalks her like a cat, and even tries to rape her at one point, almost wanting to destroy her innocence to unleash who she really is. Unlike the original, we know for a fact that Irena and Paul are cat-people who can only mate with each other to keep their animal selves in check. In many ways, Shrader and Ormsby are not just focusing on just female sexuality, but sexuality of both sexes. For Irena and Paul, it leads to dangerous moments where their lust leads to murder. Sex isn’t really a fun thing. It’s a dangerous, evil aspect of our selves that many of us struggle to control. Paul picks up random women and hookers, having sex with them and then killing them to fully satisfy his lust. Irena wants to have sex with Oliver, but knows doing so will lead to something bad that could destroy them. CAT PEOPLE is sexually charged, using its eroticism to tell a dangerous story of how caving in to the pleasures of the flesh will only lead to destruction. While it’s an interesting foundation to base a movie on, it almost feels as if our filmmakers are criticizing human nature. We are sexual creatures, so why punish us for that?

The story also takes away what made the 1942 version work - the subtle nature of the cat legend. What worked there is that we barely saw anything when it came to Irena. Was she a cat? Was she just delusional? Was she maybe a serial killer with an excuse? Until the very end, we had to keep guessing. In the 1982 version, we start with the whole backstory, with how the cat-people tribe would sacrifice people to maintain their race. Paul and Irena actually possess cat-like agility and traits, such as yellow eyes and claws. When a panther murders a prostitute and is later caged, we know right away it’s Paul - especially since Irena is attracted to him in that form. The last act of the film features Irena understanding her ancestry, struggling with her human and cat sides. I shouldn’t complain too much about this, since 1982’s CAT PEOPLE does exactly what a remake should do - take what was established in the original and update it for a modern time. It’s a different take on the same story, which gives it a reason for audiences to watch both versions. But the subtlety still works from the 1942 version very well. And while I get the sexuality of the remake, it seems like it’s more style than substance.

It doesn’t help when classic scenes from the original are redone when they aren’t necessary. The bus and pool scenes are updated for the remake, but without the depth of the original. These scenes added something in the 1942 film, as the mystery elevated these moments. Watching them in the remake makes them seem pointless, especially when we know Irena is really a cat-person. Plus she goes after this version of Alice, who is Oliver’s co-worker and nothing more really. Why would Irena feel threatened by her? Why would she be a target? It’s just done to pay homage to what people remember from the original. But if these scenes were missing, the only things that would be missing are Annette O’Toole’s boobs [as nice as they are]. 

The characters are also lacking in this version as well. Irena and Paul are interesting because they’re cat-people who are forced to commit incest in order to survive and re-populate their race, as they’re the only two left. Irena’s struggle here isn’t as deep as in the original, although watching her confusion and frustration about the truth about her life is pretty good. Paul is purely a predator, who just wants to be with his sister sexually. The other characters, like Oliver and Alice, don’t get to do much but window dress. Oliver could be an interesting character, as the character gets more to do here. But he’s just there because the original had an Oliver, and there needed to be a rival for Paul when it comes to Irena. Alice is just a co-worker. Another character, Female, should have been given more to do since she knows about these cat-people. But she’s barely in the movie. There is so much potential to update all of these characters, but it seems Schrader and Ormsby were more focused on getting people naked.

The special effects by Tom Del Genio, Pat Domenico and Karl Miller are pretty good here. The cat transformations are done well, using editing to show the change for the most part. It’s no AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but it’s a nice attempt. I actually thought the death scene of one of the zoo workers was a better effect, where panther Paul rips the arm of Ed Begley, Jr. It looks pretty realistic and adds much needed blood to the modern remake. It’s pretty tame otherwise in terms of gore, but it’s not bad.

The direction by Schrader is more hit than miss. The photography of the film is absolutely stunning. The reds and oranges used for the land of the Cat-People is just strikingly beautiful. Also beautiful - Nastassja Kinski, who Schrader enjoys filming in her clothes and especially out of them. I’m not complaining. She is a gorgeous woman. I think it added an erotically charged atmosphere that audiences for that time were able to accept and to understand. And the use of Giorgio Moroder’s score is just fantastic, with David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” being one of his finest hits during the 1980s. I wish the direction was more restrained at times, and maybe had more tension and suspense. But this version of CAT PEOPLE is more of a sex thriller than an actual horror film.

The acting is probably the only real improvement over the original. Nastassja Kinski is not only beautiful, but she captures the innocence of a young woman who struggles with her real identity perfectly. She comes across so innocent, yet there’s a definite sexual energy through her performance that builds and builds towards the film’s end. Malcolm McDowell gives a charged performance as Paul, coming across as a villain who just wants to be loved and lusted by his sister. I wish he was in the film more, but he does well in his limited role. John Heard plays Oliver in a less hopefully romantic way, but more grounded and curious. He and Kinski have comfortable chemistry. Annette O’Toole is cute, but doesn’t really add much to the film really. Ruby Dee is great in her small role as Female, bringing mystery to a too small of a role. And Ed Begley, Jr. is there to be sacrificed for those who lust some blood in their horror. But he’s fine and likable in his short role. It’s a nice cast for a remake that should have pushed the envelope beyond the sexuality.

THE FINAL HOWL
While both versions of CAT PEOPLE are worth watching for different reasons, I get more out of the original 1942 version over its 1982 remake. The 1942 version takes a “less-is-more” approach that is still very effective today, while the 1982 version is more focused on its sexual energy over telling a more interesting narrative. If you want to feel a chill up and down your spine, stick with the original. If you want to feel a chill in your pants, go with the remake. I respect the remake for taking a different approach about that “dreaded female sexuality” and having good performances. But I’ll take the original any day of the week, as it gives me a lot with so little.


SCORE

(1942)
4 Howls Outta 4


(1982)
2.5 Howls Outta 4



CAT PEOPLE (1942)


CAT PEOPLE (1982)


10.09.2016

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

DIRECTED BY
David Hartman

STARRING
Angus Scrimm - The Tall Man
A. Michael Baldwin - Mike Pearson
Reggie Bannister - Reggie
Bill Thornbury - Jody Pearson
Kathy Lester - Lady in Lavender
Daniel Roebuck - Demeter
Dawn Cody - Dawn/Jane
Gloria Lynne Henry - Rocky

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 85 Minutes


*This can also be found on That's Not Current*




Eighteen years. Eighteen years I had waited to learn whether or not Reggie, Mike, and their friends would stop The Tall Man from turning their surreal reality into the red world we were teased with in the first PHANTASM from 1979. Eighteen years I had wondered whether or not we would get some answers, or closure, after the questions left wide open at the end of 1998’s PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION.  For years, there was just speculation whether Don Coscarelli would bring back the fan-favorite universe he had created 37 years ago to tie up loose ends and close the chapter to the PHANTASM franchise.

We had heard the rumors. Titles like PHANTASM'S END popped up for years, exciting fans before telling them that the rumors weren’t true. Don Coscarelli’s focus on other projects, such as 2002’s greatly underrated BUBBA HO-TEP and 2012’s adaptation of JOHN DIES AT THE END, also didn’t help PHANTASM fans in believing we would truly get an end before that inevitable remake veers its head.

There were talks around 2004-2005 with New Line Cinema about doing a new trilogy, with Mike coming-to-age as a horror hero against The Tall Man. But nothing came from that. But in 2013, Coscarelli confirmed that his protege, David Hartman, had filmed a short film involving Reggie that would end the franchise. Additional footage was then filmed in order to deliver a feature film, calling itself RAVAGER. It sat on the shelf for years until PHANTASM was back in the minds of the public, due to JJ Abrams restoring the original film for theatrical and Blu-Ray release in 4K resolution. With fans excited for a long awaited high-definition edition of PHANTASM [as well as its sequels], Coscarelli revealed that RAVAGER would finally see its release date as well.

Eighteen years. Eighteen years I waited for this moment to finally sit down and go back into the world of PHANTASM to see how it would all end. I can finally say that I watched PHANTASM: RAVAGER and be satisfied by the final chapter.

Eighteen years… and I wish they didn’t bother. Few films have disappointed me as much as PHANTASM: RAVAGER.

PLOT
Continuing with PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION left off, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) finds himself wandering around the desert looking for Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Along the way, he finds Jodi’s car, as well as several spheres waiting for him. Suddenly, Reggie wakes up outside a hospital with Mike, who tells him that Reggie is suffering from early dementia. Mike believes the stories of The Tall Man are all in Reggie’s head, but Reggie disagrees. Has the entire franchise been a figment of Reggie’s imagination, or is the Tall Man truly getting back at Reggie in the most evil way possible?

REVIEW
PHANTASM: RAVAGER is a film that has heart and soul, but has no idea how to execute what it’s trying to tell. The fact that it even exists is admirable enough, but we waited eighteen years for an epic finale. And unfortunately due to many outside factors, PHANTASM: RAVAGER ends on a whimper and a huge question mark.

I know this review already sound negative, but there are things that I did enjoy with PHANTASM: RAVAGER. I actually liked the first half of the film. I thought the montage to the previous films to catch us up was well done. I enjoyed the scene with Reggie in the desert, finding someone had stole Jody’s car while he was hitchhiking and being a bad ass. The scenes with a beautiful girl he meets down the road named Dawn feel a bit old hat when it comes to Reggie, but it’s such a PHANTASM staple that it almost felt welcoming. Then when the shift happens and we see Reggie at a retirement home of sorts struggling to figure out what’s going on in his head while Mike pities him, I was captivated. I started questioning what was real - the desert stuff, or the dementia stuff? Isn’t that what this PHANTASM franchise is about? Confusing us and giving us questions rather than answers? I liked this aspect of the narrative. I also found most of the scenes with The Tall Man very interesting, as they gave you more insight on who he is and what he was willing to do and exchange in order to make his goal be met. I was grooving to the first 40 minutes, even with some technical flaws I’ll get to shortly.

Unfortunately, the film fell apart for me once new characters were introduced in the Tall Man’s world. I’m not sure why it rubbed me the wrong way to see a short person named Chunk and his beautiful redhead partner Jane being led as some sort of resistance soldier unit led by Mike. We’ve seen so many other characters other than the principal cast in the sequels that fit in well and added something to the narrative. While Chunk has a lot of personality, even if his dialogue is questionable, and Jane is pretty hot, I felt this was the wrong path for PHANTASM: RAVAGER to go. I think if this was intended as the last film as advertised [and with Angus Scrimm’s passing earlier this year, how could they believably continue this franchise without a reboot], the final confrontation should have been between The Tall Man, Mike, and Reggie. Ever since the first film, this battle has been real personal. Having outsiders who were barely introduced fifteen minutes before the final confrontation, and be a major aspect of what happens to The Tall Man is kind of insulting. If you wanted to bring some survivors from previous films to help out, then I’m cool with that. But the last battle should have been Tall Man vs Mike and Reggie. That’s what this franchise has been building on, besides the surreal takes on reality vs. fantasy/life vs. death. To say I was not happy with the film’s ending is an understatement. I honestly don’t understand how some thought it was fitting. It didn’t really solve anything in my opinion.

In fact, PHANTASM: RAVAGER added more questions than answers by the post-credits scene. Is this the last PHANTASM film? Are they planning on making more films [I hope not]? Was this all in Reggie’s head? Was the Tall Man stuff real? Are there different dimensions and universes all happening in parallel with each other at once, with different versions of these characters dealing with similar things? I get that PHANTASM was built on confusing people and keeping things surreal like a dream. But Angus Scrimm isn’t coming back to make more of these films. And judging by the filming of this film, the man didn’t look to be in the best health. There should have been a definitive answer that would please fans who have loved this franchise since 1979. If Coscarelli and Hartman want to do more sequels, all the power to them. But at least finish what you started before leading fans down another path. All we wanted was some closure. I didn’t get any of that honestly. And it’s sad because I thought the character stuff was interesting. They just weren’t executed property and felt truly disjointed. You can tell this was meant to be a short film with Reggie, with other scenes added in to fill up a running time. PHANTASM fans deserve better than that after eighteen years.

PHANTASM: RAVAGER was shot for about $200,000 and it shows. The film looks like a fan-made film with the original cast starring in it. Fortunately it’s not too bad in the first half, where the special effects aren’t really in the forefront. The spheres look good flying around, but look a bit cartoony when they’re murdering people. The CGI blood is pretty terrible, considering it’s not that expensive to create your own fake practical blood. The last half of the film, where the characters are on the red planet, really highlights the cheap look of the movie. You can tell the actors are in front of a green screen. PHANTASM: RAVAGER was developed as a web-series of sorts, which these scenes capture pretty well. But for a feature, it definitely stands out from the other movies - and not for the better. It’s a shame Coscarelli and Hartman weren’t able to get a bigger budget to tell this story. I admire and respect them for making it work as best as possible, but sometimes too much ambition is a bad thing if it doesn’t exactly go the way it ought to.

The direction by David Hartman is a big flaw for PHANTASM: RAVAGER  A protege of Don Coscarelli, Hartman is more accustomed to working on animated work such as Transformers Prime and Winnie the Pooh stuff. PHANTASM: RAVAGER is his first live-action feature, and you can tell. The editing is a bit weird at times, with the dimension shifts ending up as jarring by the end rather than interesting. The editing was much more solid in the first half, as the time shifts made more sense. The flow is terrible here as well. Even in the other films, the narrative would still move along naturally even with all the different universes, dimensions, and time travel. You had questions, but you still knew what was happening. PHANTASM: RAVAGER is terrible at this, as every scene change feels jarring. Maybe it’s meant to be Reggie’s bout with dementia and how dementia patients’ minds work. But the film never really gets in depth with this aspect, using it as a plot device rather than a meaningful character arc. So it’s just weird. The film does look nice though, even though the CGI uglies it up unfortunately at times. But I wish Coscarelli would have directed this film and finished his story visually. I’m not sure why he didn’t. Maybe he wanted to give Hartman a chance to stamp his own take on the series. But if this was meant to be the end, Coscarelli should have finished what he started. It looks and feels like a different film from the rest of the franchise, and not in a good way.

I will say the acting is good, considering Hartman doesn’t have much experience directing actors. Reggie Bannister does very well playing different versions of Reggie, capturing the bad ass and confused personality we’ve seen in the last five films. I think he carries the film as best as he can. A. Michael Baldwin is decent as Mike, even though he doesn’t get a whole lot to do. His Kyle Reese impersonation is an interesting move. I just wish Baldwin was allowed to play around with the role more. Angus Scrimm, who sadly passed away earlier this year, still brings class and gravitas to the Tall Man. His dialogue is probably the best in the film and Scrimm conveys all of them powerfully well. The other characters are decent, especially Stephen Jutras as Chunk, who brings a lot of personality and charisma to a small role. I wish the cast were in a better film and in a better “finale”, but they do their best with the material.

THE FINAL HOWL
PHANTASM: RAVAGER is a film I really wanted to like more than I did, especially since I waited eighteen years for it. It has an interesting and good first 40 minutes, but quickly falls apart in the last half. The CGI is shoddy. The direction is wonky and ruins the flow of the narrative throughout the runtime. RAVAGER has interesting ideas and the actors are game. And RAVAGER does contain a heart and soul some other horror films don’t have these days. But it’s not enough, as PHANTASM: RAVAGER is a disappointment and the worst in the series in my opinion. Some things aren’t worth the wait, I guess.


SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4


10.07.2016

Midnight Confessions Ep. 102: "I Was A Teenage Podcast"


October has arrived and we're getting into the Halloween spirit with two b&w horror classics: I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957). Plus we discuss the clown epidemic, Rob Zombie's 31, PHANTASM and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Music this week by: The Keytones, Lord Luther, Murderock, The Cramps, Alice Cooper and Big Bee Kornegay.



 




Like "Midnight Confessions" Facebook Page: Midnight Confessions Podcast


Follow us on Twitter @MC_Podcast!


Subscribe on iTunes! - Midnight Confessions


Visit our archive stuff - MC_PodcastVault


We're now on Stitcher! - Stitcher Version

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

DIRECTED BY
Don Coscarelli

STARRING
Angus Scrimm - The Tall Man
A. Michael Baldwin - Mike Pearson
Reggie Bannister - Reggie
Bill Thornbury - Jody Pearson
Heidi Marnhout - Jennifer
Bob Ivy - Demon Trooper

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 90 Minutes


*You can also read this review at That's Not Current*


You have to respect the PHANTASM franchise for thriving as long as it has, especially when you consider the sporadic nature the installments have been released to the public. The first PHANTASM was released in 1979, right before the slasher boon kicked off with 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, allowing the film to carve its own niche and find an audience. 1988’s PHANTASM II was released during a time when the boon started to show its age, sticking out due to its more action-oriented nature and energy that a lot of horror films didn’t have at the time. 1994’s PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD was released during a time where the horror genre was barely a blip on the mainstream audience’s radar, settling for the direct-to-video market to much success. At the end of PHANTASM III  fans knew another installment was necessary. So many questions were left unanswered, solidifying that another sequel had to be in the works.

1998 must have been a weird time for Don Coscarelli and PHANTASM  The last film was released when horror was on life support. Now thanks to 1996’s SCREAM, the horror genre was alive and well. The genre created new monsters and extended the lives of our old favorites. PHANTASM was ripe for a release during this period because it would gained some sort of audience looking for scary things to watch. However, Coscarelli didn’t have much of a budget to work with. He didn’t have major studio backing anymore to fund his projects. There was no Kickstarter or GoFundMe back then, so fans couldn’t really chip in and help him out. Coscarelli probably wanted to continue the more action-oriented stuff since they were a hit with audiences, but how can you do that without money? So Coscarelli did just the opposite - go back to his roots and present PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION as a much quieter, arthouse, surreal type of film that would answer questions that needed to be addressed. Sound familiar?

Another direct-to-video feature, PHANTASM IV was a sequel that definitely divided its fanbase. While fans of the surreal aspects were excited to see that kind of narrative return, fans of the more action sequences were probably disappointed to learn that PHANTASM IV was a slower, more science-fiction type of film that relied more on brains than on the eyes. Even today, fans either think OBLIVION is the best of the sequels or the worst of the sequels. After having not seen this film for over a decade, I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t have appreciated PHANTASM IV all that much when I was seventeen years old. But as a thirty-five year old who has watched these PHANTASM films in a row, I respect Coscarelli for making a film like this in 1998 that was unlike the mainstream horror that was being released at the time. It may not be the best sequel in the franchise, in my opinion, but it’s a sequel that needed to exist for the franchise to gain back what it may have lost in II and III.

PLOT
PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION takes place just moments after the end of PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD.  Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), suffering from the effects of the Tall Man’s (Angus Scrimm) experimentations on him, escapes and hits the road - remembering the days before and after The Tall Man’s arrival. He senses The Tall Man at Death Valley, tired of the cat-and-mouse chase. Trying to end his life, Mike is unsuccessful due to the Tall Man - wanting Mike to travel through dimensions and learn some truths about the Tall Man. Meanwhile, Reggie (Reggie Baldwin) escapes the clutches of the Tall Man, doing whatever he can to locate Mike and stop the Tall Man once and for all.

REVIEW
PHANTASM IV steers away from the fast-paced, fun narratives of PHANTASM II and PHANTASM III, instead settling for a more psychological feel that deals with memories, dreams, and traveling through space-and-time to answer questions. While there are some action moments [I’ll get to those eventually], the film’s $650,000 budget didn’t allow Coscarelli to reach the levels he reached with the previous two sequels. This forced Coscarelli to focus more on the characters and answering questions presented in the first film, believing PHANTASM IV would be the franchise’s end [this year’s RAVAGER would prove that wrong, but we’ll get to that one soon]. While this sequel isn’t the most exciting nor the most inviting to new fans who want to get into the franchise, it’s a necessary sequel that focuses on much needed character arcs. Unfortunately, it still leaves us with questions that won’t be resolved for 18 years.

The narrative is the tale of two stories merging together. Reggie, who was the lead character for the last two films, takes a back seat in OBLIVION. He doesn’t get much to do in this film really, sticking to the road trip deal and looking for Mike. He ends up being let go by The Tall Man for whatever reason, looking for Mike before getting distracted by a beautiful blonde named Jennifer. Reggie does his typical “I need to bang the new girl” thing he’s known for, only getting rejected again. Then he deals with spheres coming out of her breasts, before finding Mike and dealing with dwarves at Death Valley.

While mainly a side character in this one, Reggie gets the more iconic moments. He battles a zombie trooper in the first act, which is probably the most action-oriented sequence in the entire film. It’s a very good, and well shot, scene that shows how tough Reggie is. Reggie also deals with the spheres in this film, which aren’t many unfortunately. But the tuning fork is at play here and a nice throwback to the first film. And when he faces the dwarves in the desert, Reggie uses his switchblade and four-barrel shotgun to take them out - sometimes not even looking at his target while doing it, like a total bad ass. Reggie Bannister can play this role in his sleep at this point, maintaining his charisma and appeal twenty years after the first film.

The problem is that Reggie doesn’t really get to do a whole lot other than that. Yes, his scenes are the most memorable because they’re similar to the fan-friendly scenes from II and III. But he’s barely in the film, maybe 20 percent tops, and it’s just the same old same old. His meeting up with Mike at the end feels a bit too on the nose as well. I believe fans who dislike this film cite this as the reason. Reggie is pretty much the star of this franchise next to The Tall Man, so seeing him in a more supporting role similar to the first film probably throws people off.

The majority of the narrative focuses on Mike and The Tall Man. Getting the shaft in the last installment, A. Michael Baldwin gets a beefier role to spotlight on how much he has changed since the first film, and he does a very good job portraying the conflict between good and evil. In a lot of ways, Mike’s relationship with The Tall Man seems inspired by the STAR WARS franchise. The desert is Tattooine. Mike, all dressed in black here with telekinesis, resembles Luke Skywalker in RETURN OF THE JEDI. He’s corrupted by The Tall Man, who plays his Darth Vader, wanting Mike to join the Dark Side and possibly replace him as The Tall Man. He’s guided by a spiritual figure in Jody, who is a hybrid of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. The dwarves are Jawas. And Reggie is the bad ass Han Solo character. It’s an interesting shift from what was established before, making PHANTASM IV feel fresher than the last sequel.

Throughout the film, Mike struggles with the growing change within him - the sphere implanted in his skull by The Tall Man controlling him and making him see things that may, or may not, be true. It makes him colder. It makes him distrust his own brother, feeling like Reggie is the only true family he has. It’s an evolution of a character that didn’t really get much focus since the first film, and it’s nice to see that he has a purpose now. The Tall Man is obsessed with him, seeing him as an equal of sorts. Who knew the little kid from the first film could possibly be the villain’s successor against his will?

Mike also travels across different dimensions, allowing him to find out the truth about the Tall Man. We learn the Tall Man is from the Civil War era - a man named Jebediah Morningside who was a mortician who became obsessed with death during the war. Wanting to research a possible connection between the living world and the afterlife, he created a machine that could transport him between time and space. After the first attempt, he became corrupted with power and turned into The Tall Man. It’s a question that took many films to answer and it was done at the right time. While we knew what his intentions were, we now understand what his motivations are. Mike tries to stop The Tall Man on multiple occasions from becoming the evil being that he evolves into, but is always unsuccessful. It’s as if time and space always manage to come back to its destination, no matter how many times you take a detour. The Tall Man’s evil was always going to happen sooner or later. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. It’s a strong and cliche message that evil never dies, and Coscarelli expresses it in an interesting way.

Angus Scrimm gets his meatiest role in OBLIVION, playing multiple versions of himself. He’s still a chilling presence as the evil Tall Man, manipulating our heroes with a smile on his face. But he’s quite the opposite as Jebediah Morningside, portraying the role in a sweeter, almost humble way that makes you wonder how a good man could turn so vicious. It’s nice to see The Tall Man get more to do in one of these films. This film belongs to both Baldwin and Scrimm, giving their characters much needed depth and hinting us on what’s been going on between these two.

The narrative does have its issues. For one, the other characters I didn’t mention don’t get much to do. Bill Thornbury is back as Jody, but doesn’t really do a whole lot. The Jody character does explain what really happened to him in the first PHANTASM and displays a different side of himself for a bit, but not much else. And Heidi Marnhart's Jennifer is easy on the eyes, but that’s about it. At least Alchemy got more to do in PHANTASM II. Jennifer only existed for Reggie to lust after her, before the tables got turned on him. I get it’s a PHANTASM trope, but it felt hollow.

The film also doesn’t really have a lot to say other than the scenes I mentioned. It’s a very slow narrative that has many lulls where characters drive around, walk around, or just stare at things that seem important. Sure, we get some fight scenes and inter-dimensional scenes where Mike is learning about the Tall Man. Even though it feels like a lot, PHANTASM IV doesn’t really say a lot or move the story forward all that much. I’m surprised many fans thought this was intended to be the final film at the time because this sequel feels like a prologue for something bigger in a possible next installment. Nothing is really resolved.

In fact while it’s great to learn about the Tall Man, his origin doesn’t really change anything. Not much is done with this part of the narrative, as we’re just given some clues to who he was before turning evil but never really exploring his life prior to becoming The Tall Man. It would have been kind of cool to see more of a look on Jebediah's world and slowly witness the change. But we get like two or three short scenes and that’s about it. It almost feels as if Mike’s journey is for nothing, which is a shame.

Also, what the hell happened to Tim from PHANTASM III?  No explanation. Not one mention about the damn kid. Supposedly in the script, Reggie had seen Tim eaten by zombies or something. But Coscarelli didn’t have the money to shoot the scene, so he doesn’t bother mentioning him. It’s a head scratcher, seeing how big of a role he had in the previous movie.

I think the best thing about PHANTASM IV is Don Coscarelli’s direction. The photography in this sequel is stunning. The locations, such as the desert, the ghost towns, the ocean, and the flashback stuff with Tall Man, all look fantastic. I also believe Coscarelli using unused footage from the first film was absolutely brilliant. Apparently, Coscarelli had shot additional scenes and multiple endings back in 1978 and 1979 because he had no idea how he really wanted to end PHANTASM. Using these scenes to mold OBLIVION, it ties this sequel to the first film in an extremely believable way. Watching a young Mike interact with Reggie on his ice cream truck, or help Jodi trap the Tall Man by hanging him to a tree, really add to the narrative and the continuity of the franchise in a stronger way than the last two sequels. The integration seems flawless. Like I mentioned, the film is slower and more atmospheric and surreal than the last two films due to its budget. But visually, the film looks pretty great. Sure, some of the special effects look cheap and Coscarelli doesn’t really present an invitingly fun picture. But I think it’s Coscarelli’s best Phantasm film as a director since the first film. With less at his disposal, he tried to infuse more story and cool visual moments to make OBLIVION watchable and memorable. I have a lot of respect for that.

THE FINAL HOWL
PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION is a film I can understand the dislike for. It’s slow. It’s confusing at times. Ideas are presented, but it feels not much happens or changes within the narrative. But it’s a very interesting installment that ties the story believably back to the first film due to the use of unused footage from PHANTASM, and an honest attempt to give us some insight on the relationship between Tall Man and Mike. It’s not my favorite PHANTASM sequel, but it’s one I feel needed to be made to tie up some loose ends, while opening new doors for RAVAGER. New fans should start from the beginning before dipping their toes into this movie. But PHANTASM fans who may have missed out on this one [especially fans of the original] will probably find something to enjoy with OBLIVION.


SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4


Related Posts with Thumbnails