Phantasm: Ravager (2016) [Blu-ray]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-01-09 20:14

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)
Studio: Well Go USA
Release date: December 6th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Note: here's my review of Ravager from back in October.

No movie last year was as bittersweet as Phantasm: Ravager. The (very, very) long-awaited follow-up finally arrived 18 years after the previous entry, long after most fans had given up on ever seeing it, so it’s hard to imagine a genre event being so simultaneously surprising and anticipated. It was a continuation that came with a few caveats: since it arrived in the wake of Angus Scrimm’s death, it most certainly represents the saga’s finale; furthermore, the final product is a shoestring, piecemeal production assembled from several years’ worth of footage. What began life as a possible web series ended as a shaggy, fragmented feature tasked with providing some kind of resolution, whatever that might mean in the context of this elusive franchise.

But could you imagine Phantasm ending in any other way—if, in fact, Ravager can be considered an end at all? It’s only fitting that this final entry would continue to confound and elude us in the same way this series always has. Ravager is arguably the most mind-bending entry in the saga, as it aggressively pushes its reality-warping into overdrive. Viewers shift between various planes of time and space here, desperately looking to cling to some semblance of “truth.” Of course, that remains as it always has with this series: something of an enigma, as it somehow isn’t as important as that inescapable, melancholic strain that has run through this franchise for nearly 40 years.

In the absence of some coherence, there remains that unmistakable feeling of inevitability. If there’s an overarching theme in Phantasm, it’s the insistence that death is omnipotent. Just as Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) learned as a teenager in the original, an elderly Reggie (Reggie Bannister) must reckon with the inexorable presence of the Tall Man, the sinister boogeyman that’s haunted this group of friends for decades. In his mind—or perhaps for “real”—Reggie is in pursuit of the Tall Man, having mounted an effort to rescue Mike and Jody (Bill Thornbury). However, it seems just as likely that the Tall Man himself—now armed with a legion of clones and dwarf minions—has manipulated his perception, leaving him trapped a prisoner in his own fevered brain. Inexplicably, The Tall Man is more inevitable and powerful now than ever before, with his presence taking on apocalyptic proportions.

But just as it was in the original Phantasm, the dystopian hellscape glimpsed here might not represent the literal end of the world but simply the end of Reggie’s life. What Ravager might lack in a definitive ending, it makes up for with a bookending quality: where the original captured the nightmarish angst of adolescence, this final chapter captures an old man’s possible death dream. The grim suggestion that death comes for us all has never been made more clearly than it is during a pivotal moment in Ravager that finds Reggie on his deathbed surrounded by his two longtime companions.

Yet, in another reality, those same companions ride alongside him, blazing a trail right into the heart of the Tall Man’s apocalypse. Which of these represents the truth is irrelevant: all that matters is the suggestion that companionship is the only comfort in the face of impending doom. Since 1979, Phantasm has been an otherworldly transmission that almost demands to be decoded, and, while Coscarelli remains coy about the particulars, the broad strokes are obvious enough: as much as Phantasm has been about death, it’s also been about friendship. It’s no coincidence that the original hinges on a group of friends being separated by death: “a hell of a way to end the trio,” Jody and Reggie lament as they prepare to bury their friend Tommy. No wonder the entire franchise has been about those two—and Mike—clinging to each other in their constant battle with The Tall Man.

That Ravager commits to this makes it a worthy conclusion to the franchise. Is it a bummer that it couldn’t be achieved on the budget it deserves? Does it show its seams at nearly every turn? Is it a bit too ambitious for its own good? Sure, but Ravager achieves a sincerity that can’t be bought. You can’t put a price on an audience’s decades-long investment in these characters, and Coscarelli and company are fully aware that this is the draw. Ravager isn’t about tying up loose ends or finding resolution because that’s not how life always works; what’s more important is that our various journeys unfold in the company of loved ones. It’s one last chance to hang out with a group of friends that you’d never thought you’d see again, a sentiment that transcends whatever limitations were imposed on Ravager. Of course it’s bittersweet, but it’s also so very, very Phantasm.

The disc:

Also in true Phantasm fashion, Ravager itself proved to be quite an enigma: announced pretty much out of nowhere after years of rumors and whispers back in 2014, the final entry didn’t arrive until this past fall to VOD platforms and a handful of theaters. About two months later, Well Go released the film to Blu-ray to a decent enough package, though I suspect hardcore fans will be left hoping the studio has much more in store when their box set debuts later this year.

Most disappointing is the brevity of the lone making-of featurette. Clocking in at 5 minutes, it can’t possibly cover the long, winding road to Phantasm: Ravager. Given that Coscarelli kicked around at least three ideas (not counting New Line’s attempt at producing a remake trilogy), you’d think there’d be no shortage of material to discuss. Instead, we’re left with the standard fluff, including a handful of brief interviews with the cast and crew. The sense of camaraderie amongst them is evident, and Coscarelli shares an especially affecting anecdote about Scrimm, who was just as eager as anyone to step back into the Phantasm world. Still, I have to hope that Well Go has produced more than this for a later release—one could easily talk for hours about the various Phantasm projects that weren’t made in addition to Ravager itself (there’s barely even a mention about how the whole thing actually began as a web series).

An audio commentary with Coscarelli and director David Hartman, few deleted scenes, a trailer, and a gag reel finish off the disc’s supplements here. Again, it’s fine, but hopefully something a bit more definitive is on the horizon. Since the franchise itself will never be wrapped up in a nice bow, the next best thing will be an ultimate box set featuring hours of supplements. For now, though, it’s obviously just nice that Ravager exists: having now mulled it over for a few months, I can firmly say that this final entry—warts and all—is a worthy conclusion to one of the genre’s strangest franchises.
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