Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) [31 Days of Gore]

Once again the filmmakers pick up exactly where the previous film left off, concluding the cliffhanger which had Mike and Liz trapped in a runaway hearse. Reggie, who definitely looked like he was dying the last time we saw him, reveals it was little more than a scratch. The other two characters don’t get off so easy as the Tall Man decapitates Liz and kidnaps Mike. It’s a little strange that Mike doesn’t mourn Liz’s death at all, considering he was so in love with her in the previous installment, but it’s nice the series still hits the ground running, eschewing all the boring emotional stuff that most movies like this suck at anyway.

What the movie doesn’t eschew, unfortunately, are some disappointingly routine horror tropes. While searching for Mike in a ghost town, Reggie is taken hostage by three expendable characters who’re scavenging abandoned storefronts and cars. It all feels like a pointless detour until we’re finally introduced to Tim, a kid who’s been living Home Alone ever since the Tall Man killed everyone else in his town.

Tim is supposed to remind us of Mike in the first film, I guess, but he doesn’t because he’s a ruthless killer. At one point he slices a bad guy’s throat with a razor-lined Frisbee, which is suspiciously similar to a death scene in Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Later, the duo will end up in yet another ghost town where they’ll pick up a nunchaku-packing wanderer by the name of Rocky. I appreciate the exploitation value Tim and Rocky bring to the series, but their one-liners are pretty generic and their motivation is murky at best.

The best part of Phantasm III is director Don Coscarelli manages to preserve the mystery surrounding the Tall Man while expanding the mythos. We learn a little more about the spheres’ origin and what’s inside them. We see the Tall Man sitting in a throne, surrounded by candles in a mausoleum, which fits in nicely with the series’ fantasy elements because it makes him look like an evil wizard.

What I could have used a little less of was the palpable cheesy element which was introduced by bringing back Jody as a spirit guide. Now that the original actor who played Mike is back, what we get is a reunion picture. There are few things I loathe more than reunions for the sake of exploiting the audience’s emotions. At any rate, it shows Coscarelli was probably thinking more about his fans than the mainstream audience he seemed to be gunning for in the previous film. I can’t fault him for that, but I still liked the last two movies a little more than this one, even if the special effects are better for the most part. As far as second sequels go, Phantasm III is among the best.

Reggie peaks as the lovable buffoon this time around. There’s a lot more Evil Dead humor, and while it doesn’t detract from the horror, it clashes terribly with the cheesy stuff mentioned above. I’ll say this about Reggie: for a middle-aged ice cream man who’s on his third house and his second Barracuda, he must have some amazing insurance. Once again, he doesn’t waste any time throwing himself back into the dating world after the death of a loved one.

So why does the Tall Man want Mike, anyway? Three films in and I haven’t figured that part out yet. I even watched the movie with subtitles on and still missed that bit of explanatory dialogue. Maybe they’ll explain it in Phantasm IV: Oblivion, which I’ll feature tonight at midnight, Central Time. It will be my first time viewing the fourth one, so I’m psyched.

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