Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Black Sheep video series looks back at the 1994 release Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead

The Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead episode of The Black Sheep was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Brandon Nally, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

It’s a rare thing to see a horror series with near complete creative control from one person. Currently, Damien Leone seems to be in the drivers seat for the Terrifier series that we are certain to get more entries in and I’ve talked about the Chucky/Child’s Play series that Don Mancini is the driving force for. There’s also another Don that’s in charge of another important horror series. Don Coscarelli gave us one of the most original and successful independent films of all time with 1979’s Phantasm. He wrote, directed, shot, and edited that first movie with his dad helping produce it and his mom doing costumes, production design, and makeup. She also wrote the movie’s novel tie-in. It was shot for 200k and made a whopping 22 million. While it took some time, it got sequels that have run for nearly 40 years. Don directed the first 4 but still wrote and produced the final film in the franchise. Today we are discussing what is easily the Black Sheep of the series. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (watch it HERE).

While 4 is easily the worst, 5 is a flawed but interesting exercise, and 2 is the best of the sequels, 3 is either unfairly forgotten or unjustly unliked. The series itself didn’t always do well as it had a very scattered release schedule. This did build some excitement, but it wasn’t nearly as consistent as series like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street. The first movie in ’79 was followed by sequels in 1988, 1994, 1998, and 2016. Coscarelli isn’t a one series wonder, either. He did cult favorites Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep as well as an episode of Masters of Horror and the not quite cult hit John Dies at the End. Phantasm 2 was released theatrically and had a much higher budget than the first movie, going from 200 thousand to 3 million. It brought in far less with only 7.3. Not terrible by any means but certainly not as astonishing as its grindhouse predecessor.

Phantasm III The Black Sheep

This one was planned to be released theatrically but Universal had a dispute with Coscarelli that led to it only being released in 2 markets: Saint Louis and Baton Rouge. While it only ran for two weeks, it was the highest grossing title in both territories for both weeks and ended up being one of the top 100 direct to video releases of its time. While that may not sound impressive, there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of movies released direct to video from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s. The movie would also bring back two actors from the original film as Bill Thornbury would return as Jody and A. Michael Baldwin would return as Mike after being replaced by James LeGros in part 2. This is also when the series really starts to have Reggie go from fan favorite scene stealer to almost the main character, an arc that would conclude in the fifth installment which I’m guessing, barring a remake with new actors, will be the last. Angus Scrimm has sadly passed, and Reggie Bannister has had increasingly failing health the past few years. It would be hard to have a Phantasm without those two anchors.

The movie opens with a short recap of part 2, including a small reshoot of Michael Baldwin in the back of a hearse to replace James LeGros. Unlike the second movie that makes a massive time jump from the first one, this takes place immediately after part 2 with Reggie being kicked out of the hearse and the car blowing up. This kills part 2’s love interest and sends Michael flying into a coma of sorts. Reggie gets to use the coolest shotgun in the history of media and somehow all four shells blow up the head of the non-copyright infringing Jawas. Here called Lurkers. This is the only movie that gives them this moniker and it’s also the only movie that gives the metal sphere the name of Sentinel. The Tall Man wants to take Mike, but Reggie goes full hardcore and threatens to blow the two of them up. The menacing look and line deliveries by Angus Scrimm are better in this movie than in most of the series and by all counts he was just a sweetheart in real life, making his portrayal even cooler.

Scrim is easily most identified with The Tall Man, but he had a fun career that lasted 45 years. He got into acting late at 45 but made the most of it, even if he was shoehorned into the horror genre. He also appeared in Chopping Mall, Subspecies, the two Munchie movies, and was the narrator in Wishmaster. As an aside, it always makes me nostalgic to say or write The Tall Man as my friend referred to me as that and I’m not even that tall, nor has she ever seen these films! Short friend problems I suppose.

Phantasm III Black Sheep

Reggie saves Mike from an attempted kidnapping or killing in the hospital after the nurse wanders in from the Evil Dead franchise. Out of her head pops a sphere and they try to get out of town. Jody comes back for real after being in a coma dream but is somehow trapped in one of the spheres himself. His has some sort of hot poker attachment and the one that went after Mike had a cool eyeball attachment. This is the movie that really goes over the top with the use of these killing orbs. These may be the only thing that is cooler than Reggie’s quad shotgun. They even ended up being a weapon in the second Turok game, but they were called Cerebral Bores. The Tall Man comes for Mike and Reggie is powerless to do anything. He wakes up with Jody now acting like a magic 8-ball and this movie, more than any other movie in the series apart from Ravager, is Reggie’s movie.

Reggie Bannister, because he is so cool that the character was named after him, made a career out of mostly low budget horror. While being most closely related to his formerly ice cream suit wearing character, he also appeared in Wishmaster, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, and the second Mangler sequel. His appearance on The Last Drive-In more or less confirmed how cool he was in his defense and attempted explanation of the movie. Reggie is attacked by three looters who are Home Aloned by a kid who’s parents died and Reggie decides to have tag along. The dynamic between them is fun and as kid actors go, we could have gotten a lot worse. The Tall Man turned his parents into Lurkers so he is more than happy to help and possibly get revenge.

After dumping Tim at a house taking care of other kids, Reggie is captured again. Man, he’s not very good at this, is he? Two scavenger girls named Tanesha and Rocky tie him up before Tanesha gets a sphere to the dome. Rocky and Reggie escape with the help of a returning Tim and form a new team. Reggie tries and fails to get laid, a running theme in these movies, and they end up in the town of Boulton before Reggie goes on a strange trip in his head with Jody. He learns all about the Tall Man and ends up rescuing Mike. There is a fun call back to the first movie and they temporarily stop the Tall Man before we get a line stolen from Lethal Weapon. Ash’s hand from Evil Dead 2 attacks the group and its another fun example of the entertaining practical effects that the movie was made with. Bright yellow blood, the gore effects during death scenes, the orbs, everything is done really well for a low budget, even if the movie doesn’t make a lick of sense half the time. And half the time is being generous.

The crew is chased down by the deadite or zombie versions of the creeps that Tim killed, and they blow them up in their car. They go looking for the Tall Man in the largest mausoleum in the western U.S. according to the movie. Mike goes on his own dream trip and sees the Tall Man’s plans with even more cool effects. The zombies come back again and are able to finally capture our heroes while Mister Big and Creepy realizes he is being watched over by Mike. It’s a really cool scene where Angus Scrim manifests Mike into his plane of existence with nearly 100 spheres at his beck and call. The zombies are dispatched by Rocky, Reggie, and even a little help from Jody in sphere form but Mike is being lobotomized by the Tall Man who is trying to, in his words, set him free.

They spear and attempt to freeze the conquering alien, which is how I interpret him, and as he freezes in the – well, freezer, a mega sphere busts out of his skull, and we find out that Mike has always had a sphere of his own inside of his head. Sure. He runs off with spheres in his eyes as Jody tries to be the dream Native American from Wayne’s World. They froze the Tall sphere and Rocky takes off. Tim and Reggie go back inside to investigate and the movie ends on a cliffhanger that the series is known for. This one ending in a similar fashion to the first one with Tim being pulled through glass like young Mike was all those years ago.

This was the first direct to video entry in the series and could have set up a lot more in quick succession had they capitalized on its success and done more right away, but that’s never been Coscarelli’s speed. The 4th movie is as low budget and experimental as it gets and is honestly pretty boring. The fifth and to date final entry does an admirable job trying to close out this epic story but it loses a lot of the charm that makes part 3 a good cap to an interesting trilogy. This movie has it all, with ’90s horror action, fun bad guys, good gore, and decent special effects. As I said earlier, the story’s reach exceeds its grasp, but as Reggie himself said to Joe Bob Briggs when he was trying to explain the order of events, “It’s Phantasm, man” if you were burned out after the 4th one or thought the series reached its peak with the second entry, give Phantasm III a spin and remember its never over, BOY!

A couple of the previous episodes of The Black Sheep can be seen below. To see more, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.