Phantasm was a movie that came out of nowhere in 1979 and really took people by surprise. Nobody really knew what to do with it. It was full of the kind of surrealism that only Italian filmmakers were doing at the time. This was something completely different from what audiences were used to experiencing. It was like watching a nightmare come to life with all of the dream logic intact, less of a film and more of an experience. It proved to be a surprise hit.
Like most horror movies of the time, being a hit meant that it wouldn’t be long before a sequel was considered. While most fans attribute the brilliance of the Phantasm series to the fact that the entire franchise feels like a single, continuously developing story, it wasn’t originally intended that way. According to writer/director Don Coscarelli, he was under some pressure to put together a sequel in the years following the film’s release and simply couldn’t come up with a story.
It was a help, however, to know that he’d have much more money to work with this time as he’d have studio backing instead of scraping together a shoe-string budget like he did to get the first installment made. It also helped his writing process to be able to start at the moment the last movie ended and simply carry on from there. This model was also adapted for Halloween II, although Phantasm II only follows up the original’s finale for a brief prologue sequence.
Right out of the gate, Phantasm II proved to be an appropriately paradoxical venture. It was the lowest-budget movie Universal had ever made at the time. And yet it is to this day the highest budget Phantasm film.
After an intense opening, the sequel jumps in time several years. Mike is now in his late teens and has spent the years since the events of the original in an institution and Reggie has found himself a family that is immediately blown up by the Tall Man after Mike is released from the hospital. These are interesting arcs for both of our main heroes, even if they don’t ever really get brought up again. However, these are events that define these characters moving forward, whether they’re discussed openly or not.
In general, Phantasm II is a very different movie from the first. But I think it’s ultimately more accessible and something that’s easier for newer or younger viewers to digest. It’s not as stream-of-conscious as the original. The plot might be only slightly more fluid than its predecessor, but it’s got a little more humor and a lot more action. Both of these strategies are among the easiest ways to attract new viewers to virtually any horror production. So, I think it was a smart decision to push Phantasm in this direction if they planned on a franchise.
One of the things I really like about Phantasm II that you rarely get to see in other horror franchises is that in the time that’s passed since the first movie, things have actually gotten worse. The Tall Man has bigger ambitions. He’s been going from small town to small town and sucking them dry. Whole villages have been destroyed at this point. Even though the rest of the world hasn’t really caught on, this manages to give the picture an overall post-apocalyptic feeling.
In general, Phantasm has always felt like a rare story that’s set in the days leading up to an apocalypse, rather than a story set just after it. With each sequel, the Tall Man has come closer to winning, come closer to turning this world into slave labor for his own. And I love that everything sort of hinges on these two aggressively regular guys going up against a seemingly impossible threat.
Phantasm II also sets itself apart from the first by being a road movie, which is a nice departure, and actually something that would make it into both of the sequels that followed.
Many fans cite Phantasm II as their favorite of the franchise, even though the reviews were significantly less favorable than the original. However, I do think the fact that it’s the only one of the bunch with a different actor playing Mike threw some people off. Even still, I absolutely understand why people gravitate toward this one out of the whole franchise.
This is a bigger, more action-heavy horror movie. It manages to be explosive without skimping on the gore. It has virtually everything fans of ‘80s horror love to see: humor, nudity, gore and wild makeup FX. This was an early piece for the guys at KNB and they knocked it out of the park.
Phantasm II is much less surreal than the original and I think that helps to make it easier for audiences to digest. It also allows it to stand on its own, which it has done for almost thirty years. It’s probably not the sequel to Phantasm that anyone was expecting. And that’s exactly why it works.