Release Date(s)1988 (March 26, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A+
Phantasm II is one of those rare occasions where a sequel is considered by many to be equal, if not better, than the original film. It was also made and released ten years after the original film. In the interim, its writer and director, Don Coscarelli, spent time working on non horror-related projects due to his fear of being typecast (which eventually happened).
I’m sure there are many of us whose first exposure to the Phantasm series was Phantasm II, which isn’t hard to understand. It was a VHS staple for a lot of people, and it was also much slicker than the original film with higher production values. It was also a favorite on cable. I have fond memories of it airing during Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision program on TNT in the late nineties. However, it was a stickler for die-hard fans of the series as they did cast a different actor (James Le Gros) in the lead as Michael, a role originally inhabited by Michael A. Baldwin (which he later reprised). It also had a lot of cool macho paraphernalia in it, including a make-shift flamethrower, a sawed-off four barreled shotgun and a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda (which was later infamous for its destruction in the movie by car enthusiasts). And, of course, who could forget Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man (“Boooooooooooyyyyyyy!!!!!”)?
Because of the film’s low budget and the popularity of the previous film (as well as a decent ad and promotional campaign), the film made a nice profit for Universal in 1988. Unfortunately, however, the film has never really been given a fair shake on DVD or Blu-ray before, seemingly because of Universal’s non-interest in it. The other titles (all owned by Anchor Bay, as of this writing) had all gotten the attention they deserve on DVD, but not II. There was even a big boxed set release of all of the films in Region 2 territories, but the international rights to all of the films were held by one company in that case, which allowed it happen elsewhere but not here. Thankfully, that has come to pass now. Scream Factory acquired the rights from Universal after years of waiting and have finally put together what many will now consider to be the definitive release of the film.
For the video presentation, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but let’s not confuse the issue right off the bat here. It’s a dramatic improvement over any previous release, digital or otherwise, but it’s not going to wow you, nor is it likely to impress hardcore videophiles. While it does feature a very clean image, it’s not the sharpest transfer you’re likely to come across. Despite that, there’s still quite a bit of image detail on display. However, it appears a bit too clean to me. There also appears to be an extremely thin line of noise at the top of edge of the frame throughout the duration of the film. I didn’t notice it at first, but once I did, it became a distraction. The frame is also a bit unstable. It’s not noticeable at times but there are plenty of calm moments that made it stick out. Skin tones aren’t perfect either as they look a bit too red. I’m probably picking on this title a little bit too much though. It’s definitely NOT bad by any means. Colors are strong, blacks are deep and contrast is pretty good. If it were just a little less clean-looking to not make me question how much it’s been cleaned up, then I’d have less to complain about. It’s quite acceptable, but maybe could’ve been a little bit better.
As for the audio, it’s much of the same. You get two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. The 5.1 soundtrack sounds pretty thin and unbalanced to me. It seems sourced from the 2.0 track, which is probably the case, so clarity is not the best in the world. The dialogue is mixed too low and the sound effects are mixed too high. The high frequency moments are too bright and the LFE moments too little. There are a few in there, but they didn’t shake things up as much as they could have. Score comes through pretty good as do the sound effects, but it all lacks real punch. The sounds of the silver spheres are probably the most impressive sounds on the soundtrack. However, I found myself adjusting the volume a few times to catch all of the dialogue and then again later when the sound effects took over. In this instance, I’d say just stick with the original 2.0 soundtrack as it’s more true to the intentions of the filmmakers anyway. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As far as the extras go, this is another stellar line-up from Scream Factory. You get an audio commentary with Don Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister; the fantastic The Ball is Back!: The Making of Phantasm II documentary; the vintage The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero featurette; deleted scenes, including some from the famous workprint; TV spots; the vintage Behind the Scenes featurettes Make-up & Effects and On the Set; theatrical trailers for Phantasm, Phantasm II and Phantasm III; Still Galleries (Behind the Scenes, Make-up & Effects and Posters and Stills); and finally, a rare short film featuring Angus Scrimm as Abraham Lincoln. The latter is an odd duck and I would have saved it for a future release of the first film, but who knows if this company will get the rights to the rest of the series or not in the future. I hope they do.
The bottom line here is that Scream Factory’s release of Phantasm II is a long overdue addition to any horror fan’s library. While the video and audio may not be the best that money can buy, the extras more than make up for it, even topping the Region 2 release. It’s a great release, but if they could have just gotten the A/V a bit more in tune, I would have been happier. Most people buying this might not care that much though. Just to have an extras-stuffed release of this film in the first place is reason enough to celebrate. All in all, I heartily recommend it.
- Tim Salmons