Franchises rather notoriously decline in quality as they progress. Actors age, quit, get busy or die. Crew move on and get replaced. Directors, writers, producers mostly leave after the first two or three movies. We can usually pinpoint the moment a franchise goes sour. But what makes a film franchise great? Is it consistency, like with Scream? Or maybe it's the variety of the Night of the Living Dead movies? Then again there's nothing better than watching a franchise spiral into madness, like with Jaws. We couldn't tell you, but maybe Don Coscarelli could: his magnum opus somehow manages to do it all. Yeah girl, get that quadruple-barrel shotgun, a fifth of cheap bourbon and some Rocket Pops, cause it's time to fuckin' watch Phantasm.
*Bonus drinking game: drink whenever Angus Scrimm appears on camera, chug when he says more than one line, and take a shot when he shouts “BOYYYYYY!”.
Phantasm (1979): Warning - this movie makes no sense (at least not until you watch the other four.) It's a little slow and a lot weird, but we found ourselves forgiving it every step of the way. Even if you don't make it through the entire franchise, you gotta see this one. You'll finally have watched that Phantasm movie your hipster friend always talks about. Technically, it's a good-looking, well-made movie. Acting-wise however, maybe... not so much. It's campy, confusing and completely insane, enough to benefit from a few drinks (or, you know, whatever else) but it's not so bad that you'd need them to get through it. Pay attention to this one because you've seen references to it in everything - even that new Star Wars movie. Like its inescapable, shapeshifting villain, Phantasm's influence dominates pop culture from just out of sight.
Best Scene: Well, technically it's probably the stunning moment that the interdimensional portal is finally revealed; but for us, it was definitely that dude getting all his blood sucked out through his face.
Phantasm II (1988): So, fun fact, the second one is both the highest-budgeted Phantasm movie and the only one not to feature the full original cast. You can kinda feel the studio interference pervading this one... It's just not quite as insane as the first. Don't get us wrong, it's rad and it doesn't make much sense—it's still a Phantasm movie, in other words—but it's just not quite the same. Phantasm II is more of an actiony, badass road movie than a horror/thriller. It's got an action-adventure- with-a-side-of-horror thing going on, like if that show Supernatural had been made by crazy people on acid. Then again, it's a Hero's Journey straight into a bizarre, terrifying hell that defies human comprehension, so what do we know? Maybe it is a horror movie.
Best Scene: For all its campy laughs, strange directorial choices, and at-times shockingly inept acting, Phantasm II creates some real otherworldly terror when Reggie gets his glimpse into the Tall Man's home dimension of fire and dirt and zombie dwarves.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994): Depending on who you ask—and which intoxicants you may or may not have pounding through your veins when you watch it—this is either the most or least awesome of the Phantasm movies. If you ask us, this one's straight up out of control. Even if the first two didn't really do it for you, Lord of the Dead is probably worth your while. Tonally, it's completely removed from the surreal horror of the first: this one's almost got an action-comedy thing going on. Every second is badass, goofy weirdness laced with Don Coscarelli's signature lovable, psychotic sincerity. It's the same characters, but instead of a grisly Scooby Doo mystery, they're having nunchuck fights and outrunning explosions. Off the rails and out of control, this one may be our favorite... alongside the other four of course.
Best Scene: Every second that the hard-as-hell side characters are on screen is pure gold. Rocky and Tim (who have nothing really to do with the overall arc of the franchise) are fuckin' amazing. Gotta give “Best Moment” to Tim's brutally violent and absolutely absurd Home Alone shenanigans though.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998): Coscarelli clearly had time to think about the fan response to Lord of the Dead making this one. In Oblivion, we at last return to the stylings of the first movie. This one is a violent, psychedelic glimpse into the pure madness that underlies the plot (such as it is) of the entire series. The obviously-just-mustard blood of the undead is splattered across the set like a fight between hot dog vendors. As a standalone film this is doubtless the worst of the original four movies, but as a companion, it may well do the most good for the series. It's a more than bearable franchise entry that goes a long, long way towards explaining an otherwise totally obscured universe.
Best Scene: There are plenty of great little moments of self-aware comedy and just as many of legit, frightening-ass horror. That said, we're going with the big reveal. Finding out the Tall Man's origin after all this time, insanity, and... just... weird-ass shit is so satisfying it should be against the law. As a bonus, if you're still playing the drinking game, this movie will actually kill you.
Phantasm: Ravager (2016): There's a lot we could say about Ravager, yknow? It's the only Phantasm movie not directed by Don Coscarelli (instead helmed by David Hartman, the entirely unknown creator of such things as the curiously named TV series “Laser Fart.” Plus a few episodes of “Transformers”) and it's thick with cheap CGI that kinda betrays it. Still, with Coscarelli as a writer and the whole team back in the game, it captures the feel of the other films and you can really see how much the ol'e gang loves being onscreen together. It's loaded with callbacks to the old films, and it ends the story well enough. Plus, if you're as into the first four movies as we are, there's nothing in this schlocky, goofy love letter to Phantasm that can't be forgiven.
Best Scene: “Dude... Bad news about your horse,” is perhaps the finest moment of the entire series. The horse actor's performance totally steals the show from almost every other actor in the whole damn thing.
In many ways, Phantasm is the best franchise to sit down and just straight binge-watch the entire thing. Each one picks up the story right after the last, and the cast and crew are mostly identical across all five movies. It has an impressive internal consistency like you'd expect from a high-budget trilogy a la Lord of the Rings, not a bunch of goofy dudes throwing together a Weird Horror series over the course of almost 40 years. You can check out synopses and ratings of any movies from Don Coscarelli's strange and impressive career in our library! Feel free to poke out around and see what other weird stuff you can \find. You'll probably come across like ten or eleven things that directly reference Phantasm.