The Phantasm franchise conjured one of the most provocative and truly original storylines in the horror genre. Going off just first appearances, the movie might seem mediocre. That’s where I come in to explain why Phantasm II is a must see, even after all these years. In order to fully grasp why, let me give you a rundown of who the Tall Man is, a brief synopsis of the first film and how it ties in with the second.
Phantasm introduced viewers to the Tall Man, the main antagonist portrayed by Angus Scrimm throughout the franchise’s history. He is a supernatural undertaker who works at the Morningside cemetery. The Tall Man exhibits telekinetic powers, allowing him to control people and objects with his mind. On top of all this, he has the ability to shape shift, which he uses to his advantage to lure in his victims. His entire body is essentially a weapon – any amputated part will transform into vicious insect creatures to fight off any threats. The Tall Man is well equipped with an artillery of accomplices.
His lurkers are cloaked, monstrous dwarfs that slave away on earth and on a mysterious, high-gravity red planet that is connected to ours by a portal. The lurkers are created by taking corpses and shrinking them in height, making them more suitable for high-gravity labor.
The gravers are cadavers that remain in their human form but wear gas masks to conceal any erosion in the facial features. The gravers are used for kidnapping and killing people, sending their bodies off to be transformed and added to the Tall Man’s army of living dead.
Lastly, are the iconic Phantasm spheres which are generated from the brains from the dead. They are used to protect the Tall Man’s operations and defend him when necessary.
The first film showcased two brothers, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornberry), who are haunted by dreams of the Tall Man. Alongside their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), they try to shine light on the truth behind the Tall Man. In an attempt to expose him, they find themselves up against something more powerful than they imagined. After a whirlwind of despair, fight, and the tragic death of Jody, Reggie vows to take care of Mike like his brother would have. The two set their sights on taking a road trip. As Mike is packing his things, he notices the Tall Man waiting for him. The final scene shows arms crash through the mirror of his closet door and pulling Mike into a dark void.
Phantasm II was written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm 1979, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead 1994), which picks up from the first movie. Reggie, again played by Reggie Bannister (Bonejangles 2017), was able to save Mike (James Le Gros: Zodiac 2007) from the Tall Man and his henchmen. However, years pass and Mike has been placed in a psychiatric ward due to the events from the first film. Phantasm II introduces a new character, Liz Reynolds (Paula Irvine: Doin’ Time on Planet Earth 1988), a young woman who has a psychic link between Mike and the Tall Man. Through her dreams, she begs Mike to find her as she fears the Tall Man will take her grandfather’s body when he dies. Mike corporates and agrees with doctors that everything that happened was just part of his imagination. In doing so, he is released from the institution in hopes to connect with Liz.
Mike and Reggie set off and follow clues from Mike’s apparitions to find Liz. Spoiler warning… Liz’s grandfather ends up dying. Liz and her sister escort their grandmother to the funeral, where they encounter the Tall Man. He uses his same battalion of weaponry against those trying to interfere with his operations. Through their fight and struggles with the Tall Man and his army, Mike discovers a dimensional portal that requires a sphere to open it. After escaping a brutal death from one hostile sphere, Liz and Mike use it to try and access the portal. They attempt to destroy the building and ultimately dismantle the Tall Man and his legion. But, of course, you cannot simply rid the world of the Tall Man… remember, he’s supernatural.
After 30 years, what makes Phantasm II a great movie is the story line, soundtrack, and special effects. It was released during a time where special effects artists were solely relying on tangible materials and creating gags to achieve the right response from the audience. The Phantasm series highlights this tremendously. Collectively, as a fan of the films, the best part of watching them is having to stretch your minds and imaginations to try to make sense of it all, to bend what we have thought was true all this time and pick away at all the elements. And let us not forget about Angus Scrimm’s overall demeanor in the film. Dude was beyond creepy and gave amazing performances that still sends chills up my spine when I reconnect with one of the movie. Just his simple yet iconic appearance triggers some element of fear. It has all the trimmings that make up one bad ass cult classic.