***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***
Before we get into the review, let me give you a brief run-down on the history on Ravager, and why I’ve been both dreading and anticipating it. In about 2006 or so a clip of footage surfaced on-line with a test reading between A. Micheal Baldwin and Angus Scrimm that seemingly reversed the roles of who the Tall Man was. This got the rumor mill going regarding a new film in the Phantasm series. Nobody knew exactly what was going on, but there was a door over there and something was behind it! Finally, Ravager was announced back in mid-2014. News came out that it was filmed over a series of years, starting in 2009 by Coscarelli acolyte David Hartman, a visual effects artist who worked with Coscarelli on John Dies at the End. A year later, there was no further news regarding Ravager.
Then, trailers of Ravager were forced down off YouTube and those who posted footage of it elsewhere were threatened with legal action. These things did not instill confidence. It was later announced that Ravager was in limbo due to visual effects that required finishing. Ravager requiring a lot of CGI really put a damper on my expectations as well. The series has thrived on practical effects, however, Phantasm: Oblivion had a shot with a horde of CGI spheres that made them end up looking like shiny extras in an M&M Mini’s commercial. A CGI filled Phantasm isn’t what I wanted. The footage I saw before Phantasm: Remastered didn’t inspire much confidence either. Were my fears unfounded? Let’s find out.
On to the review!
After the ambiguous ending of Phantasm: Oblivion, Ravager opens up with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) alone in the desert after wandering for an undisclosed amount of time since gong through the space gate to chase after Mike. Quickly he finds his way back to his Hemicuda and his stash of weaponry just in time to continue to do battle with the Tall Man and his army of silver spheres. But where’s Mike? This is the question Reggie sets out to answer, only to find out Mike is right beside him in the nursing home Reggie is currently housed in to treat his dementia. Reggie bounces back and forth from being in the home to fighting alongside Mike in an apocalyptic future. What is real? What isn’t? The film is very much Reggie’s story and it’s interesting to note his evolution to unconventional leading man as the series has progressed. Also, he amusingly over-reacts to situations more so than ever.
As with all entries in the series, what’s really going on is up the interpretation of the viewer. Personally, the bit about Reggie suffering dementia is something I really liked about Ravager. The Phantasm series has always been at it’s been when takes real life fears (death, aging) and embodied them in the Tall Man and his forces in fever dream plot lines. Acknowledging the age of the actors in a way that works in the plot line is a very shrewd move.
Another feather in the film’s cap: Phans have been clamoring for an adaptation of Roger Avery’s Phantasm 1999 script. Phantasm: Oblivion hinted at that world in one of it’s alternate timelines. Ravager actually gives us a glimpse into that world near the end and it’s the high point of the film. The CGI enhanced sequences look great for what they are, and what the budget of this film is. It’s also fun to see the new giant spheres doing battle with helicopters and laying waste to buildings like they were kaiju. There is also some new blood introduced into the series. Dawn Cody (Pleasentville, Laser Fart) as a new love interest for Reggie or Mike depending on the timeline (before meeting her end as all side characters do in this series, which is a shame). Also joining up for the battle is a drawf named Chuck (Stephen Jutras) who manages to steal the show by playing straightman to Reggie’s aging hippie shtick.
A. Micheal Baldwin gives us a different side of Mike during this sequence. After being beaten down the past couple sequels, it’s good to see the BOYYYYY become a man. Leading a squadron against the Tall Man, he finally gets the chance to be the one who saves Reggie. It’s nice to see the series close out by having Mike return to being a pro-active ass kicker rather than the Tall Man’s captive as in the past two sequels.
Now I’ll get into what I didn’t like about Phantasm: Ravager.
Ravager was originally conceived by Hartman to close out the franchise as a series of webisodes, before Coscarelli and himself decided it was good enough to release as a feature film. The structure of an episodic series shows while watching the film. This isn’t really a bad thing in and of itself, but I felt it should be noted that Ravager doesn’t quite gel as a film.
The most disheartening thing about Ravager is that the scenes with the Tall Man were hard to watch. Time and Angus’s health have taken away the menace of the character. The scenes that Scrimm are in make you feel like you’re watching a kindly grandfather rather than an supernatural embodiment of death. It is good to see Angus having fun, but his scenes lack the power that his presence once commanded. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the review.
The Tall Man’s female alter-ego, however, The Lady in Lavender (Kat Lester) returns to the series looking pretty good! She appears in one scene during a dream (or was it?) that is an effective little throwback to all that has come before, and is a nifty bit of nightmare fuel. Her appearance is later cheapened when she’s shot and killed by Reggie, as if she were a zombie, despite that she’s the Tall Man. The surreal nature of the series keeps everything in flux as to what is and isn’t happening, so overall this is forgivable, and well as an iconic scene.
One of the most important elements that has driven Phantasm over the years is the same cast keeps coming back to it, and have become a surrogate family to the series’s fans. With that in mind, we’ve always known their had to be an ending, especially due to the age and health of Angus Scrimm. At the . of Oblivion, we left off the series on a dark but pitch-perfect note. We had a sense of closure, even though we all still had questions.
And this is my biggest problem with Ravager. At it’s climax, Jody returns for no apparent reason after turning heel and being killed by Mike in Oblivion. The trio are reunited in heavy-handed fashion in a Mad Max version of the Cuda, off to do battle with the Tall Man in the future timeline. This bothered me because it is the worst type of nostalgia. It is done to try to make fans smile in remembrance and to be happy for these friends reunited, but at the expense of the power of previous entries in the series. Oblivion was the nostalgia trip we deserved, and also managed to move the series forward, even while seemingly ending it. Jody’s death is what solidified the bond between Reggie and Mike. I can make excuses as for how Jody returns in this alternate timeline, and I understand why Coscarelli and Hartman wanted it to happen, but I do not like it. We even get a quick shot of the nursing home timeline where Reggie’s on his death bed with Mike and Jody by his side, even after Jody’s death has been established in this timeline early in the film. All we needed was Scrimm to walk in and yell “What’s up, BOYYYYSSSSSS?”, and give everyone a group hug to make the scene more cheesy.
If they really wanted to bring someone back, it should have been Liz. Paula Irvine, who played Liz in Phantasm II and III, hasn’t been in anything since her last appearance in the series. The bond between her and Mike hinted at a larger mythology that was sadly abandoned.
Another plot line issue Ravager drops is Mike’s connection to the Tall Man. This plot thread has been built over the last two sequels, only to see the Tall Man, or his good counter part Jebidiah, pull the plug on Mike’s evolvtioin into an avatar for whatever the Tall Man is at the ending of Oblivion. This event is acknowledged, but glossed over, and any attempts to establish someone to fill the Tall Man’s shoes for new entries is a plot line that is left abandoned. Now Scrimm is dead, and we’re left without a fitting ending for The Tall Man, or a replacement for him moving forward. If there is a forward. The fact that this even got made is a miracle and I don’t want to hate on it, but I’m passionate about the series. I am grateful Ravager exists, but wish it could have been more as it is the last we’ll see of all of these characters together.
Coscarelli is protective of his baby and the family surrounding it. In interviews, he questions how the series can go forward without Scrimm. I understand and sympathize with that viewpoint. However, I’ll counterpoint by saying Phantasm is a creative wellspring. On Phantasm.com, there used to be a message board and fan fiction showcase. Anyone with any experience reading fan fiction can tell you what a cesspool is is. That wasn’t the case on the Phantasm website. Phantasm is a fertile playground of ideas that should be allowed to live on in some fashion. While I was entertained by and will revisit this entry in the series, I personally do not feel Ravager is the ending the series or the fans deserve. However, there is no doubt that Hartman is a big fan of the series and had it’s best intentions. I wouldn’t mind him carrying on the series further.
With the resurgence of Phantasm due to the restoration of the original and the finale of the series, new fans will latch on and become just as rabid as those of us who grew up with it were. It is my hope that this new generations interest will be enough to encourage Coscarelli to carefully put new life into the series. The post credit stinger leaves us with a never say never finale, so there is hope.
My personal issues with Ravager are my own. I understand given the time and resources they had that Hartman, Coscarelli, all of the actors and crew did an amazing job to please us, and I am grateful for this. While Ravager isn’t the film I want it to be, it is a fitting entry for this oddball series. I encourage everyone to rent the movie, go see it in the theater, and buy the restorations on blu-ray when they drop. We vote with our wallets on the future of the series. It might be too little too late, but I want more of this world, and encourage you to encourage it’s creators to do so.