Part of the weirdest genre film series concocted, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead leaps hack into the world of its blue collar, beer-drinking, Plymouth Barracuda-driving heroes as they roll up their sleeves to do battle with mutant dwarf creatures, phantom-driven hearses, zombies, flying silver spheres that drill into the skulls of their victims, and an alien bogeyman known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). After the dreamlike quality of the original film, which felt like an Italian horror film in its taste for surrealism and shock value but told in a grounded world of American teenagers who loved cars, girls, and garage rock, and the fast-paced Universal Pictures studio-made sequel, Phantasm III seems like a less ambitious straight-to-video retread on a modest budget. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) continue to pursue The Tall Man with their four-barreled shotgun, running around various mortuaries and decimated ghost towns as the exposition piles up around them. There’s something about Mike being a chosen one, being groomed to inherit The Tall Man’s role as collector of the dead, and the reappearance of a series character that was previously killed off (Bill Thornbury) feels more like writer-director Don Coscarelli wanted to hang out with his friend some more and wrote him into a story that can go in any direction he pleases, no matter how potentially ludicrous, obscure, or just plain goofy. It makes one long for the all-American simplicity of the first film, which offered just enough clues to bewilder an audience until they agreed with Reggie’s solution: “Let’s get this Tall Man and stomp the shit out of him!” But Reggie Bannister continues to charm as the former ice cream guy turned road warrior, and has a knack for comic timing as he unsuccessfully attempts (twice) to get laid by his female accomplices. There’s also a winning 10-minute subplot about a kid survivalist (Kevin Connors) fighting off enemies with Rube Goldberg contraptions rigged all over his once-suburban household. Don Coscarelli outdoes the humor of John Hughes in what feels like a more honest version of the gleeful sadism in Home Alone.
With a stunning, remastered anamorphic widescreen image quality and a vivid Dolby Digital soundscape, you have to hand it to the technical fanboys at Anchor Bay. Someone decided that Phantasm III deserved a DVD output that is of top quality in terms of color, balance, and texture.
Part of the enduring charm of the Phantasm series is the homegrown way Don Coscarelli made them, and the commentary track is like a reunion between old friends with actors A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm cheerfully reminiscing. Never for a second do they treat the project as beneath them, though Baldwin frequently seems baffled by what's happening onscreen as Scrimm creates lengthy explanations of why the aliens are behaving so erratically from one scene to the next. The deleted scene included here is only 11 seconds long, and something of a misnomer on the box, and the behind-the-scenes footage is some hastily thrown together home movie footage that doesn't shed much light on the production.
For a horror series best known for its cult status, Anchor Bay went all out on making Phantasm III look great, and skimped on the extras (for anybody who cares).