Unlike most films I watched in the 80s, I have a clear memory of the first time I saw Phantasm II. I was 13 or 14, and I was allowed to stay home for the first time while my parents went out of town, with the stipulation being that a slightly older and much more responsible friend of mine would spend the night with me. It was super late at night when we started watching one of the pay channels, either HBO or Cinemax, and we caught a double feature of American Gothic and Phantasm II. This was my first encounter with the silver ball and the Tall Man. I’ll never forget the chilling sound of his voice at the the very end of the film when he says “No. It’s not.”
But it was what happened next that fixes that night in my mind. We turned off the TV and it was pitch black dark, since you have to watch horror movies in the dark when you are young and impressionable. Suddenly, from outside the window, there was a sound like a moaning, wailing banshee. It wasn’t a cat, I am sure of this, because I have always had cats and I know how they sound. If it wasn’t another friend who knew we were alone, and I don’t know if it was because we were too scared to look outside (and nobody would admit to having done it), then I will never know the source of that unearthly noise. But I do know we were so scared that we went to sleep together in one of the single beds in my room, and had no trouble sleeping that way despite the discomfort! I wish I was still capable of being scared beyond rational behavior by a movie.
You would think, after all that, that Phantasm II would be my favorite one of the Phantasm series, and I wish that it was, because it is the best acted and shot film in the franchise. It’s just that Phantasm holds that place in my heart, at least for now, as you can read in this love letter I wrote to that one three years ago. I think Phantasm, from the dreamlike quality down to the music, is about the closest that an American filmmaker got to the Euro horror je ne sais quoi, at least in the 70s. The thing that makes it uniquely American is that beast of a car.
But we’re talking about the 80s here. Phantasm II, to its credit, has the distinction of being the only 80s entry in the series, and, to its great credit, at least it makes some sense. The line between dreams and reality is much more defined here, and that was the big thing that was confusing about Phantasm: I never could find the clue that was supposed to tell us it was all a dream.
After a prologue that picks up right at the end of the first film, including some new scenes where “Mike” is a young female whose face is not shown due to the fact that the original Mike grew up, we see that Mike has been in a mental hospital all these years, named Morningside after the cemetery in the first film. Reggie thought he was delusional, even though we see “1979 Reggie” burn down his own house to kill some of the dwarf creatures. As it turns out, Mike is also psychic, so I assume that explains how the original was all just a dream vision, and what we saw Reggie doing in the prologue was just one of Mike’s visions. But 1988 Reggie is soon on board after the Tall Man kills his family too, and he and Mike hit the road in the Cuda to hunt down that alien bastard.
Along with Mike’s discovery of his psychic powers, he finds that the girl he’s been envisioning all the time he was in Morningside is a real girl who also is in touch with him psychically; unfortunately their psychic friends network is a party line, and the Tall Man is calling collect. Along with another chick they pick up, who may or may not be a suitable love interest for Reggie, they weave in and out of Mike’s dreams at a pace of about 90 mph, with a good mix of action and gore. You want the ride to go on forever when you’re riding four-barreled shotgun with a guy in a “Boogie Down” hat. Honestly, I like this one almost as much as the first one; it’s just as much fun, but unlike the first one, which touches my heart, this one only gets into my head.
I just have one question: how come everyone in the 80s knew how to build weapons as long as they had a montage?