Phantasm II, not only in number but in spirit, can most easily be compared to Evil Dead II as the two sequels share a remarkable number of similarities. Evil Dead II transformed the wussy character of the first installment (Ash) into the action hero of the franchise; Phantasm II transformed the wussy character of the first installment (Reggie) into the action hero of the franchise. Evil Dead II introduced the staple weapon of the series (the hand-mounted chainsaw) and so did Phantasm II (the badass quadruple-barrel shotgun). And, like Evil Dead II, many fans consider Phantasm II a superior film to the original.
Phantasm II picks up 7 years after the end of the first movie. Mike has been spending his days locked away in the Morningside Psychiatric Clinic, with the authorities having been convinced that his tale of the events of the first film were nothing but a psychotic delusion. While incarcerated, Mike has shared a psychic bond with a girl named Liz, whose town has slowly been eaten away by the Tallman and his appetite for the dead. Mike eventually convinces the doctors he’s “sane” and leaves the clinic to find the only other survivor of the first film, Reggie. Reggie has no memories of what happened with the Tallman, at least until his house gets blown up with his family inside. Thoroughly convinced, Mike and Reggie hit the road to track down the Tallman and stop him before he can kill-off any more towns. Before they do, however, they gear-up at a local hardware store; stock-piling chainsaws, power-drills and fashioning homemade flame-throwers and, yes, the infamous quadruple-barrel shotgun. Eventually, they make their way to Perigold Cemetery where they hunt down the ever-present, yet strangely absent Tallman.
Phantasm II isn’t quite as trippy or surreal as its predecessor, focusing more prominently on action and gore. However, Don Coscarelli’s directorial style is all-present, as the lighting, flashbacks, dream sequences and haunting theme are all present through-out the film. For this installment, and only this installment, Mike is played by James LeGros instead of A. Michael Baldwin. While the part truly belongs to Baldwin, LeGros never-the-less plays the character exceedingly well and you honestly won’t find yourself pining for the original actor.
You’ll also notice Reggie taking the spotlight as a badass, or at least as much of a badass a middle-aged ex-ice cream-vendor can be. What makes Reggie such an interesting character is that he’s not really the star of the franchise. He fights the battles, takes the hits, but the Tallman is always after Mike; often times viewing Reggie as beneath him. Reggie is both the most important and the least important character in the series.
And one thing you gamers might notice is that this movie (from 1988, no less) plays an awful lot like a survival horror video game. Reggie and Mike, decked out in guns and chainsaws, gradually work their way through maze-like catacombs and dimly-lit mausoleums, battling monsters like zombie dwarves, chainsaw-wielding “gravers” and killer sentinel orbs, all while looking for the right keys to open locked doors so they can fight the “boss”, the Tallman.
I swear, this would be the best video game movie ever made, had it actually been based off a video game (and not predated the genre by seven years).
For those in search of gore, Phantasm II is remarkably brutal. You’ve got power-drills to the armpit, chainsaws to the crotch, people getting cremated alive, embalmed with hydrochloric acid and, of course, the quadruple-barrel shotgun doing a healthy bit of damage.
This movie does have some faults. It blatantly recycles some dialogue and scares from the original, I assume for the sake of nostalgia. These nods don’t make up the whole movie (like Escape from L.A., for example), but if you’re watching the movies back to back you’ll find it annoying. While the effects are drastically improved over the original, there are a few mistakes you’ll notice (like the wire used on Liz when the Tallman hurls her down a hallway). But the faults in this film are few and far-between.
Like the first installment, I give this film an A. Phantasm II is just as good, if not better, than the original.