Over the years, “Phantasm II” has been treated like the illegitimate child of the “Phantasm” franchise. While Anchor Bay was able to secure the rights to the other three films in the series, they could never come to an agreement with Universal Pictures over this one. Eventually “Phantasm,” “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” and “Phantasm IV: Oblivion” got special editions filled with commentaries and special features, and yet “Phantasm II” still hadn’t seen the light of day on DVD when all that happened. When Universal finally relented and released it on DVD, all the fans got aside from the movie was its trailer as a bonus feature. It began to look like we would see a “Phantasm V” long before any sort of special edition to “Phantasm II” became a reality, and the last “Phantasm” movie came out 15 years ago.
Well “Phantasm” fans can now rejoice because the good people at Shout Factory have come through for you with their “Phantasm II” special edition which proves to be well worth the wait. This cult sequel now looks and sounds better than ever, and we also get an audio commentary, various featurettes, a making of documentary, the theatrical trailer and a host of other goodies that fans can take their sweet time watching.
For many people including myself, “Phantasm II” was our introduction to the work of writer/director Don Coscarelli, the Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) and those killer spheres which look like they’re designed to make unwelcome deposits to your local blood bank. Even if you’re not able to understand most of what’s going on in this strange story, it was still loads of fun to take in as “Phantasm II” proved to be far more imaginative than your average slasher movie. Watching it all those years ago made me want to check out the first film, and I became very eager to see the story continue on with a third movie which eventually came out (albeit straight to video) in 1994, six years after this one.
Unsurprisingly, “Phantasm II” looks wonderful in its Blu-ray incarnation. At the same time, I do have to point out that there is a little of white noise at the top of the screen that comes and goes throughout the movie. I didn’t notice it right away, but it does become a bit of annoyance at times. This seems like a very rare error for the folks at Shout Factory to make as their previous special editions have more often than not given us pristine prints of various cult classics, and I wonder if this was something that happened on their end or if Universal Studios did something wrong. Still, despite that minor flaw, the movie looks fantastic.
There is also a commentary track here with Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister who plays Reggie. It’s a terrific track which starts with Scrimm speaking as the Tall Man, wondering why that guy Scrimm keeps impersonating him in the “Phantasm” movies. From that point on, the participants talk non-stop about the making of “Phantasm II” and what they managed to accomplish on a budget of $3 million (the highest of any “Phantasm” movie). There’s also talk of why A. Michael Baldwin, who played Jody in the original, was replaced by James LeGros in this sequel. The reasons why aren’t fully explained here, but everyone says they had a great time working with LeGros who back then was a notable actor in independent movies.
For more information on why LeGros replaced Baldwin, you will want to check out the documentary “The Ball is Back!” which gives you just about all the information you need to know about the production of “Phantasm II.” It turns out that Universal wanted to get rid of both Bannister and Baldwin as they had not acted much since “Phantasm” came out. Coscarelli, however, managed to make a deal with Universal to where he could keep one of the actors, so while Bannister got to stay on, Baldwin had to go as the studio wanted someone who was “hunkier.”
The documentary also features other actors like Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar and Samantha Phillips who played the bald man-loving Alchemy. Phillips is especially fun to listen to as she talks about how she got the role of Alchemy and of how she almost talked Coscarelli out of casting her in the movie. She even talks about the sex scene she did with Bannister and of how his wife was on set that day (as if she didn’t have enough pressure to deal with).
We also get to see why, despite the fact that it did make money, “Phantasm II” was initially considered to be a box office flop. It turns out that Universal Pictures decided to release the sequel during the summer movie season where it faced off against blockbusters like “Die Hard” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As to why Universal thought it was good idea to release during that time, no one seems to have an answer.
There’s also an old featurette called “The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” where he explains how he got involved in the world of makeup for movies. These days, Nicotero is one of the best known people for doing makeup effects in film, and it’s great to see how he got his start. There’s also some vintage behind the scenes footage of the makeup tests the crew performed as well as some on the set footage where they blow up a house. Seeing all the preparation the crew took in making sure the explosion anything but small, and which they filmed with what seemed like a dozen cameras, makes me miss practical special effects which have since been overrun by CGI.
To round things out, there’s movie trailers for the first three “Phantasm” movies, original TV spots, still galleries, additional scenes that were taken from the workprint, deleted scenes that are from Coscarelli’s archive, and a rare short film in which Scrimm plays Abraham Lincoln.
This special edition of “Phantasm II” has been a long time coming, and despite some minor technical flaws, fans of the series should be very pleased with what Shout Factory has come up with. The cult of “Phantasm” remains strong to this day, and they are served well by this release which is evidence of this series’ enduring popularity. If things keep up, maybe we will see a “Phantasm V” in the future. Some say that’s wishful thinking, but anything is possible!