Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1993)
Don Coscarelli has never been the most prolific director, even when it comes to his big franchise. Phantasm was released in 1978 while its sequel, which existed largely because Universal wanted to make some money off of the modern horror craze, made it to the screen 10 years later. Phantasm II, though it successfully continued the story as well as proved what Coscarelli could do when given the right budget, wasn't the hit they were hoping for. Still, Universal did keep the door open, letting Coscarelli know that if he was to ever make another Phantasm film that they would distribute it.
For that matter the first film was never supposed to have a sequel. What happened in it happened, whether audiences (or even the director or actors) understood it or not. It did its job which was to make Don Coscarelli a decent amount of money after two failed comedies and justify him continuing in the movie business. It also paid for The Beastmaster, which he was able to sell the rights to for a goodly sum (and recently bought it back) as well as for the little-seen Survival Quest.
From everything I've read he wasn't keen on rushing another sequel out any time soon, and Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead was far from rushed. It was quickly filmed in released in 1993, with a limited theatrical release before going straight to video, which is where most Phantasm fans discovered it. Largely it was made because of Reggie Bannister, who plays Reggie in all the films, suggesting that the Angeles Abbey mausoleum in Compton would be a good place to make a Phantasm sequel. Just so happened his friend agreed and, this time, there weren't any studio executives in the way of getting the whole gang back together.
Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is in a coma after the events at the end of Phantasm II. Liz (Paula Irvine) is murdered by the Tall Man's (Angus Scrimm) dwarfs, and he intends to take Mike with him. When Reggie threatens to kill all of them the Tall Man relents, but later comes for Mike after he leaves the hospital to lie low at Reggie's cabin.
Years later we rejoin Reggie on the hunt for Michael, again going through devastated towns looking for traces of his friend. In one town he runs into Tim (Kevin Connors), the orphaned son of the town's sheriff, whose father was one of the first to die when the Tall Man arrived. Tim has learned to defend himself and proves a valuable asset, as does Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), a woman who at first assaults Reggie but then joins him after her friend is killed by one of the spheres. Meanwhile, Mike's older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) has also returned to help, but in a different form than before. Together they must rescue Mike and survive the Tall Man's army of dwarfs, gravediggers, spheres and, now added to the list, zombies.
One of the first things one will notice about this film is that James Le Gros, who Universal forced Coscarelli to cast as Mike in the second film instead of reusing A. Michael Baldwin, is nowhere to be seen. The ending scene in the hearse from the last film is redone to show Baldwin and stand-ins replacing Le Gros. Despite Baldwin being back, and despite in his long absence becoming a better actor over the years, he's no longer the star of the show. This time it's all Reggie Bannister, doubting himself while dealing with Tim and, of course, trying hard to get in Rocky's pants.
The advantage is that this saves the series from becoming the same thing over and over again, especially since this third installment, though once again upping the weird, has a lot in common with the second film. It's almost as if it's the second redone without the shackles imposed by Universal, but with everyone involved now having a better grip on the actual story so that everything, except how the four-barrel shotgun got from the floor of the backroom of a funeral home and back into Reggie's hands at the beginning of this movie, makes some sort of sense. In some ways it still makes more sense if considered as Mike's dreams, but more lucid than before.
While humor has always figured into the first two movies it features more heavily for the third time around. Tim's boobytrapped house is a gorier, more effective version of Home Alone, and one of the best scenes are the three crooks finding out not to mess with a little kid that survived when the rest of the town didn't. Also, Jody showing up in Reggie's dreams at the worst possible time and showing no emotion or surprise at what Reggie is dreaming about is one of the more laugh-out-loud moments.
This sequel takes some heat for that irreverence, for adding in things that weren't in the previous films and, like the second, working its way into being a more straightforward sci-fi horror film, but I find it the equal of the first sequel and, if they had kept the original ending, would have made for a great finale. Still, even leaving it open-ended, Coscarelli wasn't exactly planning on any more Phantasm films after this, even going so far as to say if there were it would be just to make money off the series. At least he was honest, since this third part, though it got complaints from some fans, was really where it should have ended.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1993)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Kevin Connors, Gloria Lynne Henry, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury
Director: Don Coscarelli
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