aka Phantasm: Lord of the Dead
Director/Screenplay/Producer – Don Coscarelli, Photography – Chris Chomyn, Music – Frederic Myrow & Christopher L. Stone, Digital Effects – The Computer Film Co, Sphere Effects/Hand Creature – D. Kerry Prior, Special Effects Supervisor – Kevin McCarthy, Makeup Effects – Dean Gates & Mark Shostrom, Production Design – Ken Aichele. Production Company – Starway International
Reggie Bannister (Reggie), A. Michael Baldwin (Mike), Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man), Gloria Lynne Henry (Rocky), Keith Connors (Tim), Bill Thornbury (Jody), Cindy Ambuehl (Edna), Brooks Gardner (Rufus), John Chandler (Henry)
Mike is visited by his dead brother Jody whose brain has been placed inside one of the flying silver spheres. The Tall Man then appears and snatches Mike. Guided by the damaged sphere containing Jody’s brain, Reggie sets out to find Mike. Tackling dwarves, spheres, zombies and white trash rednecks, he is joined by Tim, a young kid whose parents and entire town were killed by The Tall Man, and Rocky, a tough Black girl. Jody guides Reggie via his dreams and Reggie is able to snatch Mike back from the Tall Man’s dimension. However, this brings the Tall Man, who has a sinister purpose for Mike, after them again.
This was the third of the films that began with Phantasm/The Never Dead (1979). With its surreal, dream-like atmosphere, Phantasm was a film that developed a modest cult. Director Don Coscarelli was given the opportunity to expand it on a bigger budget with the also impressive Phantasm II (1988). In the 1990s, Coscarelli returned to make two further sequels on relatively more modest budgets, first with this and later with Phantasm IV: OblIVion (1998) and stepped back to merely write-produce Phantasm: Ravager (2016).
In Phantasm III, Don Coscarelli serves up an impressive array of wild ideas. He goes some way towards giving a grand explanation and rationalisation for everything that has happened so far – showing us the origin of the spheres (cultivated from shrunken human brains), the creation of the dwarves, the revelation that the Tall Man is part of an other-dimensional alien invasion and the intriguing explanation of the reasons why the Tall Man so obsessively comes after Mike – that Mike is one of the Tall Man’s kind. There is also the addition of the character of a kid (Keith Connors) who lives in a house that seems a combination of the one in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and the house of pop-up traps in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991) and comes filled with hidey-holes, razor-tipped frisbees and deadly laughing clown dolls.
What Phantasm III lacks however is the same funereal, midnight atmosphere and surrealist wildness of the original or Phantasm II. This film takes place with a good many more daylight scenes and is rooted in more of a realism than the original, which gave the impression of taking place in a separate world of its own. The addition of cackling zombies takes it disappointingly into the realm of 1980s popcorn horror – there is a very silly scene with a zombie giving a blowjob. This film is also clearly much more lower budgeted – the puppet effects with the disembodied hands are very mediocre.
Don Coscarelli also reunites most of the original cast, including Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister who have been the mainstays of the Phantasm series. He also brings back Mike Baldwin who played the teenage Mike in the first film but was replaced in the second by James Le Gros upon studio insistence, as well as Bill Thornbury who played the murdered brother Jody in the original. Reggie Bannister, as always, brings his amiable, working man presence. Alas, the embarrassing comic relief scenes with him trying to get laid by Gloria Lynn Henry stretch his limited acting skills. Despite bringing back Mike Baldwin, Coscarelli disappointingly keeps him off-screen for two-thirds of the running time.