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February 22nd, 2017

PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016) **

While it’s good seeing Reggie Bannister battling balls again after an eighteen year absence, the latest (and presumably final) Phantasm movie suffers from a cheap look and irritating structure. Even though Phantasms 3 and 4 were low budget Direct to Video affairs, they at least looked legit. Sure, Ravager looks better than, say a DTV Hellraiser sequel, but it’s sorely lacking the dreamy lyricism that director Don Coscarelli brought to the franchise. (New director David Hartman is no Don Coscarelli.)

The overall structure of the film is the most annoying aspect. You see, Reggie is suffering from dementia and kinda forgets where he is at times. Sometimes he’s on a desert highway running away from psycho spheres. Other times, he’s in a rest home, lost and confused. His buddy Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) comes by for daily visits and Reggie tells him stories about their past exploits to keep his memory fresh. One worrying thing: His bunkmate looks suspiciously like The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Is he really suffering from a debilitating mental illness, or is this just a ploy by The Tall Man to make him let his guard down?

The film goes back and forth between Reggie in the home to flashbacks of him on the road shooting balls. There are also nightmare sequences, flashbacks inside of flashbacks, and dreams inside of flashbacks so you never really know what’s going on. It’s kind of hard to care too. It’s frankly, a goddamn mess in just about every way.

The scenes of Reggie kicking ass, despite the shoddy CGI ball effects and crummy editing, still have a slight kick to them. I’m not going to lie. I cheered when he first appeared on screen. Too bad the movie doesn’t give you more to cheer about.

Same goes for Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man. While it’s great seeing him in the suit for one final time (this was his final film before his passing), he’s not in it enough. When he does appear, he’s not given very much to do, except say repetitive dialogue about how he could kill Reggie right now, but he won’t.

Near the end, there’s a cool tease that suggests the world has ended and everyone lives in sort of a Terminator-inspired post-apocalyptic wasteland. Although it’s undermined by some weak special effects, the idea is intriguing. The stuff with the giant balls leveling cities is awesome, but unfortunately the budget only allowed us to see about five seconds of it, which is bullshit. When we finally find out what the fuck is going on, it’s supposed to be touching I guess, but it feels more like a cop-out than anything.

I thought Part 4 (which utilized deleted scenes from the original as dreams and repressed memories) was a mess. This one is even more of a hodgepodge. Apparently, it started life as mini-web series or something and then the footage was taken and expanded for feature length using elements of Roger Avary’s aborted abandoned big budget remake. Don’t get me wrong. There is some cool stuff here. If you ever wanted to see one of the balls kill a horse, then this is the movie for you. Ultimately, Ravager just jerks the audience around too much to be completely enjoyable.

BLOODRAGE (1980) **

A young man tries to get it on with a hooker. When he accidentally kills her, he takes off for the big city. There, he prowls the streets for more strippers, whores, or anyone he considers to be worthy of killing (or unworthy of living as the case may be). Meanwhile, a concerned cop, who was one of the hooker’s regular clients, searches for the killer.

Bloodrage is barely eighty minutes long. However the pacing is so sluggish that it often feels much longer. Director Joseph Zito (who used the alias “Joe Bigwood”) would go on to bigger and better things (like Friday the 13th Part 4), but if you squint hard enough you can see him developing his style here. The location work is often great and you get a real sense of the scummy New York streets. Zito also gives you a lot of atmosphere as the grimy fleabag apartments and sleazy strip clubs feel pretty spot-on.

The blood and gore is minimal. The opening (mostly) accidental death has the most blood of any of the kills. From then on, the deaths mostly revolve around strangulations, which is a bit disappointing. Another debit is that the killer is totally nonthreatening. He seems like a nerd in an ‘80s teen comedy than a legitimate psycho. Plus, the delivery of his Taxi Driver-esque narration falls a little flat. Still, Zito does manage to work some magic here and there. He also tosses in enough skin to keep you awake throughout the slower passages of the film.

The best part though is the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it is one of the most abrupt, fitting, and hilarious endings of a horror movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s worth sitting through the previous seventy-nine minutes and fifty seconds to get to that ten-second bit, but I sure laughed my ass off.

AKA: Never Pick Up a Stranger. AKA: Psycho-Ripper.

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