Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
The Phantasm franchise may never have the huge fandom that Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street have. It will probably never be a household name, but it’s still one of the all-time greats. This October looks to finally bring a conclusion to a series that has spawned over four decades with Phantasm: Ravager.
But this Fall’s sequel was not always the Phantasm 5 that we were going to get. In the late 1990s, there was a script titled Phantasm’s End (AKA Phantasm 1999AD) written by Roger Avary. This would be the same Roger Avary who co-wrote Pulp Fiction, Silent Hill and Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. It would have been big-budget and high-octane and that’s probably a large reason as to why it never happened.
If this is true, then it wasn’t as successful because while Freddy vs. Jason got made, Phantasm’s End did not. The script itself was something fans had sought after for years. Everyone wanted to know, especially in the years when it looked like we would never see a Phantasm 5 of any kind, how it was all supposed to come to an end. Or, at least how this original draft resolved the series.
And I will say that Avary is a writer who knows what he’s doing. He’s good at his job, so it’s no surprise that the script is well-written. It does, however, contain some other surprises.
The basic plot pushes us into full-on post-apocalyptic territory, which is where the franchise had always been headed, so I enjoy that. There are now only two cities left, New York and Los Angeles. Everything in between is a barren wasteland controlled by the Tall Man. The bulk of the script sees Reggie and his band of survivors—one of whom was to be played by Bruce Campbell—battling hordes of the undead. What’s not to love?
First of all, there’s a big problem presented by Mike. Most fans of the franchise speculate endlessly—myself included—as to what Mike’s role will ultimately be. Is the Tall Man prepping him as a successor? Is he to become something bigger? Something we haven’t seen yet? There are so many possibilities as to what exactly it is that the Tall Man wants with Mike.
And it’s a message from Mike that’s basically the inciting incident of this script, the thing that sets the gears in motion and gets Reggie back on the open road. His goal is to find Mike, rescue him from the clutches of the Tall Man, and end this thing once and for all.
So it’s probably something that would piss off the vast majority of the fan base when Reggie reaches the source of the message only to find Mike dead. Mike is literally killed off screen between sequels like Newt in Alien 3. The difference here is that while Newt was a fan-favorite character, she was not the protagonist, whereas Mike is the character who has driven the narrative of the series forward from beginning to end.
Ending it without him doesn’t even feel like and ending at all. There was already too little of Mike in Phantasm IV. Having none of him in Phantasm’s End only makes it feel more like a spinoff than a true final chapter.
The Tall Man is also characterized differently. Everyone kind of is, but we notice it the most with the iconic antagonist of the franchise because we’re always expecting him to behave a certain way. There are times when he definitely acts like late-sequel Freddy and that probably would have thrown people off. Hearing the Tall Man say “don’t mind me, I’m just trying to get a head in life!” That’s off-putting and weird. It definitely takes you out of the moment.
It’s also the only Phantasm that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. There’s no “maybe we’ll see you next time” moment. This is it. And I stand by that because the script is, after all, titled Phantasm’s End. If fans didn’t expect a sense of finality from it, I don’t know what they were thinking. Truth be told, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the ending. I like that it’s abrupt and closes the book, but it does so in an incredibly nihilistic way. It seems to suggest that the good guys never even stood a chance of winning, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Ultimately, this movie was just too expensive to get made. It was too ambitious and when it didn’t happen, that looked like the end of the road for the Phantasm series. Fans clung to every scrap of hope Coscarelli gave as to whether or not the franchise would continue for over fifteen years after the release of Oblivion. Eventually, they stopped believing it and realized that another Phantasm was a pipe dream. The possibility of it grew more and more unlikely with each passing day until finally the majority of fans just gave up hope.
And that was when Coscarelli revealed that Phantasm: Ravager had been shot in secret and was completed, debuting a trailer as evidence. That was two years ago. It’s been a long road to get this one to the screen, but after so many years, the true final chapter of the Phantasm series hits theaters October 8th.