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It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

[2.5 turkeys]

Angus Scrimm is looking a little old in this movie. He's not nearly as menacing as a doddering old codger as he was as a merely aging supervillian.

We pick up right where we left off in the third installment of this series, with Reggie pinned to the wall by a bazillion balls and the Tall Man closing in on him. Once again, the Tall Man decides to just let Reg go on his merry way. He calls off the balls, says something cryptic about the final game beginning now, and walks away. Man, I totally don't get this guy. I don't think he kills a single person in the whole series, unless you count the Lavender Lady killings in the first movie. He just has the balls and the evil midgets do his dirty work. Come to think of it, I don't think the stupid midgets actually get to kill anyone either -- they're mostly just used as cannon fodder for Reggie's four-barrel shotgun. For cheesy supernatural horror movies, these things have surprisingly low body counts.

So Reggie walks away unharmed from the Tall Man and his million balls and takes off in his car to search for Mike. Amazingly, the filmmakers actually remember the fact that the Hemi had two flat tires at the end of the last movie, so Reggie has to change them before he can leave. However, they don't remember that Reggie popped the rag top off the car while screaming down the highway, as by the time he gets back to the 'cuda, it has its top back. Tim, the little kid from the last movie, is just gone. No mention of him is ever made again. No great loss.

The bulk of this movie is Mike camping in a hearse in the middle of the desert and Reg driving around aimlessly in the Hemicuda. This movie actually manages to make less sense then any of the preceding Phantasm movies. Not only that, it also manages to contradict a lot of what we learned in the last three movies.

I'm not going to do a point-by-point review of this movie, as that would be too boring. Instead, I'm going to write a dissertation on the Phantasm mythos and how this movie systematically destroys it and replaces it with something much lamer.

The Phantasm mythos, as built up in the first three movies, goes roughly like this: the Tall Man somehow comes to Earth through a portal between his world and ours. He takes on jobs as a mortician to get access to dead bodies. He takes the dead bodies, shrinks them down to half size, reanimates them as mindless killer zombie midgets, and then puts them in little black barrels for shipment back to his planet. The "understood" reason (I'm not sure if it's ever really explained, but it's how I remember it being explained to me) why the Tall Man makes dwarfs out of the people is because his world is much bigger than Earth and therefore has much higher gravity. So he needs strong, stocky slaves. Also there's a lot of heat or something.

The Tall Man is virtually indestructible. We see evidence of this in the first movie, when he blows up in a car wreck and yet is back soon afterwards. He gets destroyed by acid in the second movie, and yet is back very quickly again. In the third movie, we see something quite interesting. In the opening "recap" scenes, we see some stuff we didn't see in the second movie. A "second" Tall Man comes out of the portal in the burning mausoleum, picks up the acid-eaten body of the "first" Tall Man, and throws it back through the portal. Then, he calmly walks out of the burning building, presumably on his way to somehow intercept the hearse driven by Kimmy.

Also in the third movie, we learn several interesting facts about the balls. It turns out that the dwarfs and the balls are intimately related. The Tall Man compacts the bodies of his victims down to pint size and then takes their brains out and puts them inside the balls, one each. So he gets two killing machines for the price of one. Apparently the Tall Man has a ball inside his head, as does Mike for some reason. Presumably they take the place of their brains, since there wouldn't be much room for a brain with a big ol' silver sphere in there, and also since the balls come with their own brains anyway.

That's the basics of the Phantasm mythos. Here's how this movie goes through and kills it all.

First of all, the Tall Man apparently isn't from another planet. He was a doctor during the Civil War or something. He used to be nice (and let me tell you, watching Angus Scrimm smile and talk in a decidedly unmenacing way completely destroys the Tall Man character for me). He invented the portal thing by looking at a tuning fork one day. The first time he walked through, he came back through with a sphere, a suit, and a scowl. He's been the evil Tall Man ever since, no longer to be nice Dr. Fuddy Duddy.

There may be another planet, but the Tall Man didn't come from there. He may send evil midgets there to work as slaves, but the people's brains stay behind in the spheres. But the spheres aren't just flying killing machines, they're also apparently batteries or something, as they can power electrical portal-opening devices.

The Tall Man may be indestructible, but it makes no sense why he's indestructible now. I mean, at least the "he came from another planet" excuse was at least acceptable in that weird, "Eh, it's a cheesy horror movie, what did you expect?" kind of way. But he didn't come from another planet. He's apparently human, except for the stupid ball in his head. What gives?

About the only thing that this movie kind of explains is what the Tall Man wants with Mike. It apparently looks like he wants Mike to become like him and either take his place or maybe go work a different beat on another planet.

That's pretty much the gist of this movie. Mike spends the entire movie camped in the desert slowly learning about the Tall Man. Meanwhile, Reg drives around picking up demon chicks. In the end, after Reg catches up to Mike, the Tall Man suddenly decides he's had enough playing around, rips the ball out of Mike's head, and disappears through a portal. Mike "dies" (I have no doubt that, although it may not get made, a fifth movie was planned, so I have my doubts about Mike's death) and Reg jumps through the portal chasing the Tall Man with his four-barrel shotgun and wearing his ice cream man suit for no good reason. THE END. Yes indeed, THE TALL MAN REMAINS UNDEFEATED! Tall Man 4, Reg and Mike, BIG FAT ZERO!

This movie could have been so much better. It also could have been so much WORSE, hence making it better. Instead, it was just dumb. It wrecked a lot of what was cool about the Phantasm series, and it neglected a lot of what was stupid-funny about the third movie. I hope they do make a fifth movie. But I hope it doesn't take any cues from THIS installment.

Scene to watch for: Reg dons the ice cream suit.

Best line: "I thought cars only blew up like that in the movies."

Things that make you go "Huh?": He's human? BAH!

View this movie's entry at the Internet Movie Database.

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