Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (US - DVD R1)
Our Gabe knows that 1 is the loneliest number, but is 3 is the loneliest since...
The trials and tribulations of Mike and Reggie the ice cream man continue as they're still hunting down the evil Tall Man (that last murder didn't take). The pair is separated when the Tall Man kidnaps Mike, but Reggie is not alone. This time he has Rocky the Amazon, Tim the Kid, and Jody, Mike's dead brother, his soul trapped in one of the Tall Man's sinister silver balls. But what does the Tall Man want with Mike? And how can our heroes fend off an entire army of his brain-sucking little monsters?
The general consensus, a consensus I subscribe to, is that Phantasm II is the best of the Phantasm series. Phantasm III has always paled in the shadow of what is arguably director Don Coscarelli's finest moment. Because part two had such a comparably larger budget, and a longer time to stew in Coscarelli's mind, comparing the two flicks is a little unfair. Phantasm III is most likely the weakest film in the series, but it isn't all bad.
Phantasm III is an in-between film, and suffers for not having a beginning or end. It cannot be watched alone, and unfortunately for the folks stuck in region one without multi-region DVD players, it cannot be watched without seeing part two. It actually all works pretty well when you watch the three sequels back to back to back.
The new story elements added in the film, most of which revolve around the brothers from the first film, Michael and Jody, are very cool. I like the bizarre, answerless questions that arise with Jody’s return from the netherworld, the little brains found in the flying balls, and the Tall Man's new obsession with Michael. These, coupled with an ending cliff-hanger so tasty it hurts, all but require an immediate viewing of the forth film Phantasm: Oblivion.
The film's major problems all come with fan favourite Reggie Banister's side story. The characters introduced on Reggie's leg of the journey, a street tough Amazon and a street smart kid, are so broadly drawn, from character to dialogue, that they stick out in the otherwise compacting and intriguing universe. These scenes aren't poorly directed—to the contrary some of the action is great—but awkwardly written, and try way too hard to be funny. The humour falls flat the majority of the time.
Enough of the bad now. The performances are uniformly good, even the annoying kid and tough-girl characters are played by real professionals. Only Bill Thornbury as Jody is particularly weak, which is weird considering his solid performance in the original film. Coscarelli's energetic scenes are a joy, his ball attacks more kinetic than ever, and his abstract images do a nice job of hiding the film's small budget (though I'd argue he did an even better job in the forth film, which had an even lower budget). This is a lesser entree, but if you dig the original you'll probably have a good time.
Again, I'm comparing this release (the first ever R1 DVD release) to the R2 release found in the awesome 'ball' collection. The differences are very similar to those of the two releases of the first film. First up is the framing, and again I've left the mat in my screen caps to illustrate this. The R1 transfer is cropped a little wider, but unlike the original film releases it appears that the R2 disc has more information on the tops and bottoms. We end up with a choice of more up top or more on the sides.
The R1 transfer, like that of the original film, is warmer than the R2 transfer. The colours are also all around brighter. Noise is omni-present on both transfers, but much less staggering on this new one. Black levels are a toss up, but I'm actually leaning a bit more to the R2 release, mostly because it seems to have a hair less low level noise. The deal breaker here is the sharpness, and this R1 disc definitely wins the contest. Though still somewhat pixellated (check out the jagged edges of the opening titles if you get the chance), details are easily differentiated on this transfer.
Though the video award goes to the new R1 edition, with honours, the older R2 edition wins the audio contest. I'm not the type of person that automatically assumes that a DTS track is going to be better than a Dolby Digital one, but here there isn't much of a comparison. The R2's DTS is far louder, punchier, and has much more in the way of spatial representation than this new edition's Dolby Digital track.
The track isn't that bad, but it really lacks overall volume, and when it comes to surround effects is pretty weak. This is basically a slightly upscaled version of the original Surround track, also included, except that the surround track actually has more bass.
I understand Anchor Bay's decision to not include the entire Phantasmagoria documentary on their Phantasm part one release. The Phantasm II rights are caught in enough of a quagmire to more than forgive them. What I don't understand is why they didn't edit together the scenes pertaining to part three for inclusion here. Phantasmagoria is a really fun documentary, and between the simultaneous R1 releases of Phantasm and Phantasm III fans without multi-region players could've had at least half the story. Instead we get a brief mash up of home video footage. We're talking really dry behind the scenes stuff that only the most eager fan will really enjoy. It's like watching someone else's vacation video.
The only really worthwhile extra, a holdover from the R2 release, is the audio commentary. Unfortunately this commentary is bereft of both writer/director Don Coscarelli (who's pretty deadpan, but at least informative) and actor Reggie Bannister. We only get actors A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm. There isn't anything wrong with these two, but I found it hard to get too excited about them as my sole commentators. Bladwin is a little whiney about the whole 'not being in Phantasm II' thing, but entertaining enough. Scrimm is better, and remembers pretty much everything about the production, which is impressive considering he was about 68 when they filmed it (and about 81 now).
The rest of the disc is made up of trailers for other Anchor Bay releases of Coscarelli films. I should have my Survival Quest review up shortly.
Phantasm III is for fans only. It's very unfortunate that Anchor Bay couldn't secure the rights to part two, because there is an MGM release of part four available in R1. These films work best when watched in one sitting, but unless you've got yourself a region free player that just isn't going to happen. This is the weakest entree in the franchise, but still a damn site better than most early '90s horror output.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 10th April 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English
Extras: Actor Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm
Length: 91 minutes
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