Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

Director: Don Coscarelli
Notable Cast: A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury, Bob Ivy, Heidi Marnhout

“Small man, your end approaches, but it is not yet. Take great care how you play. The final game now begins.”

As the Phantasm series continues, each additional entry receives a more mixed reception from both fans and critics. By the time that Phantasm IV: Oblivion was released in the late 90s, the series had already been kicked from theaters to straight to home video and the budget for the fourth film was slashed to just over $600,000. Normally this means that a franchise is terrible, for one reason or another, but in the case of Phantasm it’s because no one seemed to have faith in the series. Even the third film, for all of its poorly developed quirks, is entertaining as hell and it gets a lot of flame from casual fans and critics. Oblivion falls into the same pattern. It’s a unique entry into the series, far more serious than the last two and much more atmospheric, yet many fans dismiss it as a misfire. I, however, will stand beside it. It may not be nearly as fun as the last two or hit quite the right balance of the first, but Oblivion approaches things in a much more atmospheric and surrealistic manner and it makes it memorable and just as strange as its fellow franchise entries. While it's understandable that the budget hurts the film and it might play things a bit too loose with its vague plotting, Oblivion stands out as perhaps the one sequel that attempts to restore the balance between artfulness and entertainment.

Mike (Baldwin) has fled and Reggie has been left hanging. That isn’t going to stop either of them from catching up with the Tall Man (Scrimm) to uncover what his scheme is. Separated and alone, both of them are going to have to face new fears and new information about the grander scheme of the Tall Man’s game.

Backseat drivers. Ugh.
The approach to Oblivion is perhaps why the film has such a distinctive fan base that doesn’t enjoy it. Unlike the last two entries, this fourth Phantasm film pulls drastically away from the comedic action tone of the last two for a much more serious and atmospheric film. It’s a ballsy move. Sure, Reggie gets in a few nice one liners, there is definitely that off beat charm to the timing of some of its more exciting moments (they still blow up a few things for the sake of blowing things up…once even as a joke), but the tone is not nearly as ‘entertainment first’ as the last couple have been.

Some of the drive for Oblivion to be more minimalistic and atmospheric may have been driven by its low budget, as is indicated by the use of limited sets and fewer special effects. However, the tone shift does allow the film to try and build a better parallel to the balance that the first Phantasm had. It parallels this by using a lot of unused footage from the first film which can occasionally be a crutch, but often works much better than I remember when I first saw the film when it first came out. The big problem that arises is that the film, despite attempts to further explore the themes of creating universes, the Tall Man’s history, and why the villain seems to want Mike alive, it tends to feel like it meanders a lot. Most of Reggie’s plotting, which includes a zombie cop battle and finding another young damsel on the road, seem to be disconnected with most of Mike’s plot. It’s like two movies that really never connect, at least on the same narrative level, as it adds more questions than it answers. This can be inherently frustrating for an audience, one that is already disenfranchised by the low budget that prevents it from going as over the top as the other, then it’s easy to see why some folks have issues with it.

Zombie cop...or perhaps a Maniac Cop?
For me, Phantasm IV: Oblivion is not nearly as bad as other critics and fans make it out to be. It’s different as it tonally shifts to being much more serious and atmospheric, but it does some admirable things with its super low budget along with adding in some interesting twists into the narrative continuation of the franchise. Granted, it’s not going to be the easiest of the sequels to get into, but for those die hard fans it’s a nice addition to the proceedings. Take it with a grain of salt and the right expectations and Oblivion is another solid sequel even with its obvious flaws. 


  • Death is No Escape: The Making of PHANTASM IV featuring interviews with Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, special makeup effects artist Gigi Bannister, stunt coordinator/actor Bob Ivy, director of photography Christopher Chomyn, composer/sound designer Christopher L. Stone, sphere designer/mechanical effects designer Kerry Prior, cameraman Justin Zaharczuk and special makeup effects artist Robert Kurtzman
  • Behind the Scenes Compilation
  • PHANTASM Sequels: Conceptual Art Gallery by Justin Zaharczuk
  • Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Reggie Bannister, and Angus Scrimm
  • Behind-The-Scenes
  • Promo, Trailer, Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • BD-50

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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