Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1995) — The gothic road trip continues

“It’s time now, boy.”

Justin’s rating: Hands off to ya!

Justin’s review: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead picks right up from the ending of the second film, preserving the bonkers continuity of this trippy series. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (A. Michael Baldwin, returning to the role after a one-film absence) stumble out of a car wreck, but Liz is dead and a resurrected Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is coming for them. Well, coming for Mike, who he wants for some nefarious purpose.

And indeed, the Tall Man kidnaps a weakened Mike shortly after the “boy” has a supernatural encounter with his long-dead brother Jody. Reggie and his loyal ponytail chase them down to an abandoned town where only a murderous gang, a murder-happy child, and a whole lot of deadly flying balls abound. The road trip continues to hop from town to town, encountering more of the Tall Man’s destruction while picking up one or two unlikely allies.

Is there any more in the way of direction or story? Not really. Nobody prepared me for this series by telling me that it’s basically a meandering road trip that seeks out all of the most scenic mausoleums in the country, but I shall do it for you here. We eventually learn that the reason for this is to create an army to conquer “dimensions” with the dwarf-like Lurkers and the brain-encasing death spheres.

We also learn that Reggie is a bit of a creep when it comes to the ladies. It doesn’t help the look of his character to be hitting on the women-folks as hard as he does, especially with his flapping ponytail doing him no favors in the respectable department. But apart from that, he’s adequate as an action hero with his trademark four-barrel shotgun and muscle car.

Again, I am super impressed with the tonal consistency, returning characters, and narrative flow between these films — thanks to director Don Coscarelli — even as I boggle at the parade of non sequitur oddities that this film presents. You kind of have to surrender to the illogic of it all, I think, because nothing about this franchise has a direct comparison with any other series. It’s its own beast, delighted to throw bizarre and funny and gooey sights at us in the name of entertainment and not much else.

And Phantasm III is a much funnier film than the first two, I can attest. There’s a particular bit with a clown-themed booby-trapped home that had me barking out surprised laughter, and that’s not the only time. The “Rule of Cool” prevails over common sense, with impossible kills, martial arts magic, kids driving muscle cars, wall-dissolving lasers, helpful ghosts who live in balls, hand monsters, zombies out for revenge, and more.

It’s a messy, uneven movie — but as I’m finding out with this series, pretty much all of them are. And it ends on a deliciously downer ending that made fans eager to see where Coscarelli would take things in the next installment.

Didja notice?

  • “But somehow, he keeps coming back.” It’s called sequels, Reggie.
  • Sometimes running is an acceptable strategy
  • The four-barrel shotgun is back!
  • The Lurkers dropping out of the trees after the shotgun blasts
  • Guess Liz is out of this sequel, what with losing her head and all
  • The spheres have a small brain inside of them… and eyeballs
  • What kind of medical instrument is that zombie nurse using?
  • Jody’s back from the dead for a bit
  • The Tall Man has telekinetic powers now
  • That’s a very long, purposeless hallway in that house
  • The clown bobblehead on the lawn
  • When an upside-down head starts broadcasting, “You’re in trouble! You’re in trouble!” you probably are.
  • The clown-knife trap is not something you’d see in Home Alone, but should
  • That kid just tomahawk’d a girl without pausing. And then a frisbee with razor blades. I kind of admire his spunk.
  • That’s a pretty huge pit to blindly fall into
  • “They only come out at night” — now where have I heard that before?
  • About time this series had nunchucks and martial arts
  • Reggie’s face as the kid drives his car
  • Reggie is a bit of a creeper with the ladies
  • Haha she handcuffs him to get a night’s sleep
  • That’s a lot of hearses
  • Lasers can do anything!
  • The disembodied hand reminds me of The Thing
  • The gang back as zombies in the pink hearse
  • Lotta cryogenic heads there
  • Those are some small brains

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