PLOT: After many years spent tracking his missing friends Jody and Mike, Reggie must finally confront the Tall Man in a world where the evil villain has been victorious in his quest to destroy everything we know.
REVIEW: The "can do!" spirit that has marked the PHANTASM films since their inception is alive and well in PHANTASM: RAVAGER, the fifth film in the franchise and the first not directed by Don Coscarelli (David Hartman gets the honors here). Serving as something of a capper to the series - while still leaving the door wide open for another sequel - RAVAGER is a very rough item, but one that undeniably has its heart in the right place. Made strictly for the fans of the series, RAVAGER is just energetic and crazy enough to put a smile on your face and keep it there.
To describe the plot is tough, since it's really all over the place. Like the first film, the movie is ensconced in a nightmare world where nothing makes sense yet everything appears to have a morbid explanation. If PHANTASM II and III were lighthearted, action-heavy companions to the surreal first entry, RAVAGER is a gonzo combination of the whole bunch, interspersing heady ideas throughout while bombarding us with gunfire, blood spatter and, of course, more killer spheres than you can count. Because of the limitations of the budget, however, the movie works best when it's being a head trip, zigzagging through different dimensions and making its characters (and hell, even us) question their sanity. The action isn't so hot.
Once again, in the middle of this mess is Reggie (Reggie Bannister) the harried everyman whose responsibility it is to not only save his best friends from the dreaded Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), but the entire world; maybe even other worlds, too. RAVAGER is Reggie's movie through and through; though it contains appearances by series regulars Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury), Hartman's movie is an ode to the wisecracking, lascivious-as-ever Reg as he blunders through a ghoul-filled world in which no breaks are caught. The great thing about Reg is, even though he's been put through this ringer time and time again, he still manages to be shocked, scared and freaked out by the numerous tribulations thrown his way. It's a credit to Bannister that he's still able to sell Reg's constant state of "what the f*ck is going on?" all these years so entertainingly.
The most surprising thing about RAVAGER is perhaps the frequently melancholy tone it embraces, some of which could be attributed to the sad loss of the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, earlier this year. The film was completed before Scrimm's death, but it's clear he wasn't able to participate as much as would have been hoped, and his brief appearances in the movie are actually more somber than scary. So too is the film's finale; while surely predicting another PHANTASM, the movie's final moments (save for some slapsticky shenanigans from new sidekick Chunk) have more than a little sense of mourning in them, as if this truly is a send off for the franchise's characters and cast.
The RAVAGER's rough edges can't be ignored. The budget was tiny and it definitely shows throughout. I wish the film hadn't depended on CGI as much as it does, because overall it's so cheap-looking that it takes you out of the moment. The third act takes place in a world where the Tall Man has been victorious, and it's a cheesy, fire-strewn hellscape with visual effects akin to an early 90s video game more than anything believably apocalyptic. Even the gunshots look silly. We horror fans put up with a lot when it comes to paltry budgets - most of the films we love were made with barely any dough at all - so it might seem low to knock RAVAGER for its financial shortcomings, but there's no getting around the fact that some of the movie is extremely amateurish in execution.
But they still went for it, didn't they? That's the thing about RAVAGER; they knew they didn't have the money to make most of this stuff look good, and they went ahead with it anyway. That plucky sense of "f*ck it, let's go for it" is felt throughout RAVAGER and definitely boosts its likability factor. Quite far from perfect, often very goofy, wants to give you a good time: that's PHANTASM: RAVAGER, falling in line with the rest of the franchise.