The first film’s survivors hunt the Tall Man in the Pacific Northwest.
Writer-director Don Coscarelli returns with a sequel that tones down the nightmare logic and amps the action. Mike, the kid from the first film now played by James LeGros, reunites with Reggie (still played by Reggie Bannister) and goes on the offensive.
Early on, the pair break into a sporting goods store at night. Cue an A-Team-style montage with Reggie sawing a quad-barrel shotgun and Mike rigging a homemade flame thrower. Because they’re the good guys, they leave a few hundred bucks on their way out.
They load their arsenal into their Hemicuda muscle car and roll out, cruising picturesque highways in search of the Tall Man. Time brings them to a desolate small town with boarded-up houses and shops, overturned cars, and blowing trash. The Tall Man has been here, Mike tells us in voiceover, they’re getting close.
Though Coscarelli transforms his original protagonists into action heroes, he doesn’t ditch the perpetual victim trope. He introduces a new character, Liz, who has a telepathic bond with Mike. She exists to provide motivation for Mike and, as-such, finds herself in constant peril.
Everything culminates with another mortuary showdown that outdoes the first film’s gore-factor (provided you’re watching the unrated director’s cut).
It’s not an awful film. One could argue it demonstrates a terrific pastiche of 80s horror and action. We get explosions galore, the aforementioned montage scene, telepathic teens, and memorable practical effects.
But I missed the first film’s nightmare logic and surreal sense of dread. There are shining moments where Coscarelli benefits from the bigger budget and production design. In one, we see Mike and Reggie march through an immense moonlit graveyard with every plot dug up and emptied. In another, one of the Tall Man’s masked assistants pushes a coffin billowing icy smoke in slow motion through the mortuary halls. These bits reminded me of Lucio Fulci.
But most of the film reminded me of a low-budget Cannon actioner.
And perhaps that’s my biggest complaint. Phantasm defined a genre, while this sequel abandons said genre for a pastiche. It’s a fun pastiche, but why bother? Fulci could have delivered a better movie with half the budget.