Let’s think about what it was like back then… back then…
Phantasm IV works as an odd sequel as it is trying to do numerous things at the same time. It almost reboots the surrealistic feel, closes out the series, and sets up for a final confrontation. How does it do all these things? Well, the series doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The cringe-humor of the third entry has been reduced to just having Reggie say tough-guy lines, which is a vast improvement. Mike is on the run (alone) from the Tall Man and is trying to devise a way to stop him once and for all. Having the characters so separate gives the film two distinct feelings. I mentioned this before, but viewers are inevitably going to be more interested in one chunk than the other.
Unfortunately, we would like to get more answers from Mike’s side of the story. He goes back in time and meets the Tall Man before he became the Tall Man and is instead a Civil War era doctor. The doctor’s interest in curing death leads him to experiment with interdimensional polls, which in turn screws up everything. Remember kids, interdimensional experimentation is unwise.
What little new information we are given is obscured with continuity issues and a somewhat boring running time. We spend too much time with Mike tinkering with a trap in the desert for the Tall Man and too little on expanding the lore. Further, it seems that they forgot that the Tall Man can replicate himself (or that there are thousands of them), so killing one is almost pointless. Knowing this, it is odd that the movies decide to end each entry with a “final battle” when we know it is anything but the end.
Apparently, this one was meant to be more of a bridge film to an apocalyptic sequel that never came to fruition. Let this be a lesson to filmmakers: there is not point in planning the next one until you know that the first one is going to be a success. I think this is an example of a cult following getting to the head of the director.
The melancholy shift towards the end of this film is the saving grace. While the campy fun provides decent entertainment, the film actually begins to establish some gravitas. Unfortunately, this only occurs in the last ten minutes.
The oddest part of the movie is how much leftover footage from the first Phantasm they had lying around. There is so much here that the first film could have been completely different. I know that a lot gets left on the editing room floor, but this seemed a bit extreme. I do believe they hadn’t planned the sequels and we are witnessing a lot of stuff getting hammered into place no matter how poorly it fits.
The third film is still my least favorite, and those who have watched the films to this point will probably stick with them long enough to watch the final entry. I guess that’s a recommendation?