Let’s get funny.
It has been interesting to rewatch the Phantasm series and discuss the plots individually. The reason this is interesting is that the films are an absolute mess narratively, but somehow manage to be interesting enough to enjoy.
The first film is a surrealistic dream that is ripe for academic discussion, the second is a horror/action hybrid, and the third is a buddy comedy with horror elements. We still have our original actors (with the return of A. Michael Baldwin as Michael) and the Tall Man is still stealing the dead. However, we also have new characters designed more for comic relief, and over the top hoodlum zombies who cross over from comedy into absurdity.
I have never been much of a fan of horror comedies as they always seem to favor comedy more than horror. Phantasm III is no exception. We have more time with Reggie and the new folks than we do Michael and the Tall Man. I think audiences will invariably favor one half of the narrative over the other. Further, I think audiences will see weaknesses in both sides of the narrative as well. Reggie’s story is too ridiculous this time to truly be engaging. Alternatively, as the story goes more into the lore of the Tall Man and his relation to Michael things start making less sense.
The film needed to keep the Tall Man shrouded in mystery OR actually tell us what he is about. As it is, we get more half measures and snippets of information that leave more questions than answers.
The strange narrative and shifting reality in the world of Phantasm offers a lot of fun, but this one doesn’t work with a severe tone shift as well. The campy humor has always been present, but here it is cranked up too far (in what I assume is a reaction to Romero zombie films) and it doesn’t fit the world as well.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the narrative is that this one infects the remaining films in the series with this tonal imbalance. While Rocky and Tim are fitting characters for the diet-Mad Max world this one exists in, they don’t work in Phantasm. Reggie mutates his personality to fit the new characters, and this mutation lingers from here on out. The more affective moments are frequently tainted by bad dialogue and even worse humor.
Despite the obvious and glaring faults of this one, I still enjoy the series overall. This one is probably the worst of the five (for me), but I imagine it is other folks’ favorite entry. Such seems to be the nature with cult horror series (honestly, Hellraiser II is probably my favorite and I imagine that statement alone makes a lot of folks cringe).
The biggest bummer here is that the story doesn’t advance much. We get about fifteen minutes of information about Mike’s link to the Tall Man. Unfortunately, this leaves the series spinning its wheels as of now.