Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)

Back in 1998, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a thing, the best Nick Fury could rate as a TV movie on the Fox Network. And playing the man who put together the Avengers? Oh, you know. David Hasselhoff.

Written by David S. Goyer, who also worked on the Blade and Dark Knight films, and directed by Rod Hardy (who also remade High Noon), this is a blast from Marvel’s past that they hope you don’t remember.

The film concerns Nick Fury coming out of retirement to battle Hydra and the daughter of Wolfgang Von Strucker (Sandra Hess, Sonya Blade from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation). Lisa Rinna shows up as Val, Fury’s one-time love and our hero also meets back up with old friends Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabriel Jones.

The actual Jim Steranko-written and drawn Nick Fury series takes the Eurospy genre and makes it even more cinematic and exciting on the comic book page. I’ve always had the dream that someday, someone would try and make something of these stories.

This would not be it.

That said, Hasselhoff is actually pretty good in this. The Agents of SHIELD almost had a Cannon film, but have done pretty well with their ABC series that ties into the movies. It just wasn’t the right time back in the mid-90’s.

 

The Night Caller (1998)

Sometimes, those stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame align.

Courtesy of B&S About Movies’ recent obsession with Christmas movies written and directed by David DeCoteau and Fred Olen Ray—some of which starred Eric Roberts—colliding with our recent flurry of reviewing radio broadcasting-set films—one of which starred Eric Roberts (Power 98)—careening off our recent “Ape Week” homage to the Planet of the Apes franchise, it brings us to this moment: a review of the debut screenplay by Mark Bomback, the producer and screenwriter behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes.

Like David Mickey Evans before him: every screenwriter has to start somewhere. Before Evans got to Radio Flyer (1990) and The Sandlot (1993), he had to write, yes, the radio-psycho romp, Open House (1987). For Mark Bomback, his start in the business was writing a direct-to-video damsel-in-distress vanity flick produced by American television actress Shanna Reed (CBS-TV’s Major Dad).

Needless to say, one’s first impression of The Night Caller is that it’s a variant of Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me—only with Tracy Nelson (NBC-TV’s Father Dowling Mysteries, the “female” Jerry Seinfeld in the “The Cartoon” episode) in the role played by Jessica Walter. Only Nelson’s Beth Needham isn’t a spurned one night stand who transforms into a flat-out crazy bitch; the character is a bit more twisted and prone to psycho-visions and voices and suffers with an unhealthy co-dependency on her mother, so she’s more like Norman Bates.

However, as I re-watch The Night Caller all these years later, I can’t help but think that Stephen King’s Misery (1990) served as an influence, with James Cann’s famed novelist Paul Sheldon traded out for Shanna Reed’s Dr. Drew-inspired radio psychologist. Once you hear Nelson’s wholesome rants-mixture of horror and dark comedy with the epithets of “baboon butt, “snoopy poopy,” and “bossy the cow,” and her singing goofy, nonsequential songs about “peanuts up your nose,” you’ll understand the connection.

Do not, however, let the fact that this radio-psycho variant went straight-to-video and aired on Showtime leaving you to think The Night Caller is inferior to the bigger-budgeted, theatrically released Psycho, Play Misty for Me, Misery, or Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Tracy Nelson tears this movie up, giving us an amazing performance that equals and exceeds the psycho interpretations of Another Perkins, Jessica Walter, Kathy Bates, and Rebecca De Mornay. Nelson single-handedly saves what would have otherwise been just another run-of-the-mill Lifetime-inspired damsel-in-distress romp.

Nelson’s Beth Needham is a childish, socially-repressed and friendless, thirty-something convenience store nightshift clerk who spends the days taking care of her bed-ridden, verbally abusive mother (TV actress Eve Sigall in a bravo performance) who blames Beth for her own sexual abuse at the hands of her late father. Beth finds solace in the late night musings of Dr. Lindsay Roland on the air of San Diego’s KBEX radio—her obsession brimming with lesbian tendencies. (If this was produced as an R-rated theatrical, that sexual dynamic may have been more deeply explored; so here, it’s just insinuated.) So deep is Beth’s obsession—in bed she fawns over Dr. Roland’s picture in the newspaper—she’s prone to seeing visions of the radio shrink as a glowing, white-adorned advice-granting angel.

One night, when Beth musters the courage to call into the show to tell of her plight, Beth takes the good doctor’s encouragement to “make changes” and to “plant the seeds” of friendship, literally.

Before you know it, Beth threatens her boss with a knife, quits her job, and murders her mother—and “pickles” her hands in mason jars. But those angelic visions and advice aren’t enough: it’s time to “plant the seeds.” Beth’s stalking leads her to apply for a job with the answering service used by the radio station—and Beth’s kills the woman who got the job. Then Beth’s knocking off babysitters, answering service coworkers, and radio station employees—with it culminating in her kidnapping Dr. Roland and taking her on a motorhome road trip to their “new shiny, start” so they can live like “Thelma and Louise.”

As far as the problems with the technical accuracy of radio stations in film, “KBEX San Diego” gets a pass.

That’s because The Night Caller isn’t about Shanna Reed’s good doctor: it’s all about Tracy Nelson’s tour-de-force and her psyche. As result, there’s no need for any scenes of Dr. Roland’s day-to-day toiling at the radio station or any broadcasting expositional dialog with station managers, etc. And since there’s no “thank you” in the credits to any particular radio station or technical credits, the “radio studio” is a cost-effective build (set design) with a microphone boom screwed into a table top; slap a set of headphones on Shanna Reed and have her punch a couple buttons on a wired-up Telos phone board—and “shoot it tight” and in the shadows—and POOF, you have a radio studio on a budget.

While The Night Caller was released in 1998 on both VHS and DVD in the overseas-international marketplace, it was never released on DVD in the United States. So be wary of those online DVDs and know your regions, and watch out for those grey market DVD-Rs before you buy. None of the online content delivery services, such as TubiTV or Vudu, are streaming The Night Caller. Amazon Prime had it, but lost their rights to it. So you’ll have to settle for a really clean VHS upload on You Tube.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Star Games (1998)

You have to love this description: “A young space prince on the run from an evil space villain, stranded on Earth and waiting for his grandfather the king to rescue him, befriends an Earth child named Brian and together they evade robots, bears, and triangles.”

Let’s get this one going. I mean, you could be like everyone else watching every Star Wars over and over again, complaining about the stuff that hasn’t been fixed since the 1990’s or you could watch a Greydon Clark movie with his two sons in it (he shows up as well). And oh yeah — his wife Jacqueline Cole is in it, too.

This is the last film that Greydon Clark would direct. You can always go back and enjoy The Uninvited — a movie where George Kennedy is killed by a mutated a house cat — as well as Without WarningWacko, Satan’s CheerleadersThe Return, and Joysticks. This is the time in my life where I sit back and say, “I have wasted my life by watching so many of these.”

Somehow, Clark was able to get Tony Curtis in this movie as King Fendel. I can’t even guess as to why or what they did to make this happen. I’m sorry, Mr. Curtis. Is this the worst role of your career? Well, you were in Sexette and The Manitou, after all.

There are no droids. There are no lightsabres (Curtis has what appears to be a crystal envelope opener). There is no Force. But there is a bear. And you know who saves the kids from that bear? Darby Hinton. Yes, the very same Malibu Express star Darby Hinton. The man has gone from making sweet love to Sybil Danning to being in a Greydon Clark children’s film.

Now I’m depressed.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime. Or, and I’d really recommend this, watch it with Rifftrax on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

2019 Psychotronic Scarecrow Challenge: Day 18: Option 2: Outside Ozona (1998)

Day 18 Only on VHS: Watch something on the true psychotronic format

Quentin Tarantino goes off into the dusty, deserted Midwest in this sharply written, existential tale that questions how we deal with regret and loneliness, fate and death at the whims of respected Chicago psychiatrist Alan Defaux, aka The Skokie Ripper (David Paymer; 1981’s This House Possessed, Rob Reiner’s An American President, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell), a multistate serial killer who celebrates his exploits over the air of a “superstation” that covers five states surrounding Oklahoma: WKOK 98.7 FM, with DJ Dix Mayal who, in a beef with station manager Floyd Bibbs (Meatloaf; 1992’s Wayne’s World, 1999’s Fight Club), flips the station from country to rhythm and blues (an Oscar-caliber portrayal by American blues icon Taj Mahal; 1972’s Sounder, 1991’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey).

Writer and director J.D Cardone (Thunder Alley; a new review for the Scarecrow Challenge, see Day 16) brings us exquisite character development within a creepy-quirky, well-written dark comedy thriller threaded with multi-storylines. At its core Outside Ozona is a cop vs. criminal tale that reminds of Joel and Ethan Coen’s better-known Fargo (1996) — courtesy of the only “unknown” in the cast: Lucy Webb (1980’s Not Necessary the News sketch comedy show; wife of film co-star Kevin Pollack of Tom Cruise’s A Few Good Men). Webb shines just-as-bright as Frances McDormand’s put-upon law officer, Marge Gunderson, as the serial killing-tracking F.B.I agent Ellen Deene.

There’s not one bad performance in Outside Ozona, which also stars Robert Forester (another Oscar caliber performance; also of 1979’s The Black Hole, 1980’s Alligator, 1997’s Jackie Brown) as Odell Parks, a kind-hearted widowed trucker who’s admired afar by a truck stop waitress played by Swoosie Kurtz (U.S TV’s Mike and Molly), but adores a motor-stranded Native America woman taking her mother to the ocean off the Texas coast to die (and his rig plays a major part in the film’s climax that converges all of the storyline into a harrowing conclusion). Sherilyn Fenn (1986’s The Wraith, 1990’s Crime Zone, 2012’s Bigfoot) and her sister become Defaux’s victims (he bludgeons them with a toilet tank lid at a remote rest stop; he poses Fenn’s body, holding her heart); Kevin Pollack and Penelope Ann Miller (Al Pacino’s Carlito’s Way) are an unemployed circus clown and his exotic dancer-hooker girlfriend reduced to robbing a convenience store and giving lap dances in a dive bar to survive.

And all of their lives converge — outside of Ozona, Texas.

In the pungent backwash of “Tarantinoesque” films made in the wake of Pulp Fiction (B&S Movies wanted to, but never got around to, formulating a “Tarantino Copycat/Ripoff” list during our Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tribute week to his films, but Indie Wire and Uproxx beat us to it — and they go deep, but fail to mention J.S Cardone’s contribution to the Tarantino cannons), Outside Ozona is the lone, sweet Texas-to-Oklahoma rose. Yeah, I know Oliver Stone brought us the western-noir that was U-Turn (1997) and Stone is god, but it pales in comparison (to my gray matter) to the film-noir leanings from the mind of J.S Cardone. So, if for only to see Taj Mahal in one of his rare acting roles (he dominates the screen as Dix), seek out Outside Ozona as a POV on Vudu and TraktTV. There’s no free VHS rips, sorry. And, while it has never been released on DVD, you can buy the cool road sign-skull poster.

Why Cardone never formulated a neo-noir buddy flick-sequel centered on Meat Loaf’s station manager and Taj’s DJ (their chemistry is magically electric) . . . what organ wouldn’t I sell to see that film?

Outside Ozona received extensive, foreign video and television distribution with the diverse titles of (most of them are great: but keep “Somewhere in America” and “Radio Station”): El crimen no conoce fronteras (Argentina; Crime Knows No Borders), Um Assassinato na Estrada (Brazil; A Murderer on the Road), Synora thanatou (Greek; Border of Death), Valahol Amerikában (Hungary; Somewhere in America), Radio Killer (Italy), Radiostacja (Poland; Radio Station), Смертельный попутчик (Russia; Death Companion), and Camino del infierno (Spain; Hell Road).

While we’re on the subject of Quentin Tarantino and have your attention: In case you missed our Tarantino week, here’s the list of all the remaining films we reviewed, so you can catch up:

Four Rooms (1995)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
My Best Friend’s Birthday (1988)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
True Romance (1993)

And these compilation lists:

Exploring The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures
Exploring: Movies that influenced Quentin Tarantino
Exploring: 37 Movies that make up Kill Bill

About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Knock Off (1998)

For all the amazing Hong Kong movies Tsui Hark made, he only has two Western films to his credit. Both star Jean-Claude Van Damme, but only one co-stars Rob Schneider. This would be that movie. It also features fight choreography and second unit direction from Sammo Hung, but many of his longer battles were cut from the film that was finally released. This movie almost had Jet Li in it, but he decided to make Lethal Weapon 4 instead.

Marcus Ray (Van Damme) and Tommy Hendricks (Rob Schneider) own V Six Jeans and are about to be busted for selling knock offs of their own product by Karen Leigh (Lela Rochon, Waiting to Exhale) who is not only their boss, but also a CIA agent out to ferret out the spy within the company. There’s yet another CIA agent named Harry Johannson (Paul Sorvino!) who is really a double agent for terrorists and the Russian mob. And to top all that off, Tommy is CIA too.

It turns out that the knock off jeans and some baby dolls are laden with nanobombs. Go with me here: they were made by former KGB agents who now work with terrorists who are using the Russian mob to get them on the black market all so that they can extort $100 billion dollars from the world’s governments. Who you gonna call? The copy guy and Van Damme, that’s who.

Knock Off is totally ridiculous, but you kind of know what to expect going into it. Van Damme as a fashion magnate? Sure, why not? At least he doesn’t get crucified on a ship or have an old guy stretch him out in this one.

 

Return to Savage Beach (1998)

Remember Savage Beach? The L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies do. So do the bad guys, led this time by Rodrigo Martinez (the ever-dependable Rodrigo Obregon. There’s gold all over this mythical lost island, so it’s a race to see who can get there first.

This is the last of Andy Sidaris’ films, so I feel some sense of sadness after spending so much time in his world, knowing that this is it.

Julie Strain is back as Willow Black, bringing Cobra and Tiger (Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks) back with her. For the ladies, J. Tyler Ward (Cristian Letelier) and Doc Austin (Paul Logan) are here to do martial arts, take off their shirts and wear medallions. And Warrior (WCW superstar Marcus Alexander Bagwell) returns, this time on the side of the good guys. Fu and Ava (Gerald Okamura and Ava Cadell) are also on hand, always ready to lend help.

Kabuki ninja fights? Check. Remote controlled cars with bombs? You know it. Waterfall and pool sex? Coming right up. Return to Savage Beach knows exactly what you want and gives you even more, like Carrie Westcott as Sofia (Playboy Playmate of the Month, September 1993), a rollerblading bad girl who serves knockout pizza to an entire L.E.T.H.A.L. safehouse before its revealed that she’s really an INTERPOL agent. And a slow-motion snorkeling scene where Cobra and Tiger go topless because that’s how you really SCUBA if you want to do it right.

My favorite thing about this movie is that it has a flashback to Savage Beach, showing Donna and Taryn flying the plane. Silk (Carolyn Liu) has a cameo as well, bringing more of the shared Sidaris Universe together. And oh man, the flashbacks to Martinez escaping Savage Beach? A priceless Buddha filled with diamonds? Random fantasy scenes? And a reveal where Martinez has on a mask and is really his nephew? Another reveal where he comes back to life? One of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles showing up as Ava’s new tech Harry the Cat? A theme song that asks, “How many endings does this story have?”

Return to Savage Beach is everything you ever dreamed that it would be, a film shot on a beach but mostly in office complexes that somehow finds a way into your heart. In a perfect world, there would be like fifteen more of these movies and that still wouldn’t be enough.

You can get this on the Girls, Guns and G-Strings set from Mill Creek or buy their new blu ray reissue.

Six-String Samurai (1998)

In the heady pre-social media days of 1998, this movie came out of the Slamdance festival with a huge buzz, ready to instantly be crowned with the title of cult classic. It did well enough, but the two intended sequels never materialized, nor did the career of its leading man, Jeffrey Falcon, who had appeared in several Hong Kong martial arts films.

I have no idea why the buzz faded. This movie is completely bonkers.

In 1957, Russia attacked the U.S. with nukes, destroying most of the country, except for the town of Lost Vegas, which is ruled by King Elvis. For decades, the Russians tried to take the city but the King always protected his home. Now, forty years later, the King is dead and a DJ demands that all rock and rollers gather to choose the new King of Rock and Roll.

Buddy, who is a mix of Lone Wolf and Buddy Holly, is making his way to Lost Vegas and is dealing with the Kid, a young child that he’s saved and doesn’t want bothered with. As they make their way through the fallout, they must deal with Death itself, a heavy metal guitar playing monster who looks like Slash, as well as a group of bounty hunting bowlers, a cannibalistic suburban family named for the Leave It to Beaver family, the three archers that follow Death, mutants and what’s left of the Red Army.

My favorite part of this film is when Buddy plays his guitar while bravely walking toward Death and through a sea of arrows. It’s pretty awesome. The end is pretty cool, with the Kid assuming the mantle of Buddy and walking the rest of the journey toward Lost Vegas. I really would’ve liked to have seen where the series would have gone after this.

The closest I’ll get is the comic book that came out after from Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Comics. Check it out!

There are tributes to Shaw Brother films, as well as Lone Wolf and Cub, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens and The Wizard of Oz. Look for the band the Red Elvises, who did the soundtrack, as the band with the nice shoes.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

WATCH THE SERIES: Phantasm

When I was 16 years old, I probably watched Phantasm II every single day. Honestly, I was completely obsessed with the film and its gliding metal spheres that promised destruction every time they whizzed past the screen. At that stage of my life, I hated where I was and couldn’t wait to be where I was going. Its nihilistic tone and brutal violence suited me just fine. In fact, when I finally watched the original film, I found it silly and stupid by comparison.

Now that I’m in my 40’s, I can see how totally stupid sixteen year old me was.

Phantasm (1979)

Directed, written, photographed, and edited by auteur Don Coscarelli, the original Phantasm makes much more sense if viewed less as a linear film and more as a collection of imagery, a “complete movie” to use the words of Fulci.

However, if we were to look at the basics of the story, they’d concern the evil Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), an undertaker who comes from a red dimension where he transforms dead people into dwarf zombies and commands an army of flying metal spheres. He’s obsessed with a young boy named Mike (Michael Baldwin), who is trying to convince his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) that their town is being taken over.

Sure. It’s kind of about that. It’s also a surrealistic rumination on how teenagers see death and the worry that they won’t be there for those they love. Or worse, that those they love won’t be there for them.

This is the kind of movie that has a villain who can also become a woman, the Lady in Lavender, who transforms back into the Tall Man at the moment the men orgasm. There’s some strange commentary at play here, right? It also has fortune tellers who tell you that fear is the killer, characters dying and coming back and characters that lived actually dying and chopped off fingers filled with yellow blood being transformed into winged monsters that can only be stopped by garbage disposals. And it’s also the kind of film that can completely stop the narrative for everyone to play “Sitting Here at Midnight.”

For all the narrative and psychological questions that Phantasm raises, I often wonder: exactly what kind of ice cream man wears a leather vest over his uniform?

This initial offering also introduces a trope that will endure for the rest of the series: at the end, when it seems like everything is making sense,nothing does and the villains end up exploding out of a mirror or from hiding, dragging our heroes back into the void.

I’ve watched Phantasm at least once a year since my first viewing and each time I watch it, I am struck by its strange power. Unlike so many of today’s independent movies, it looks and feels like a big budget film, except it’s been beamed to Earth from another dimension.

Phantasm is available on Shudder along with commentary by Joe Bob Briggs.

Phantasm II (1988)

Liz Reynolds is a young woman who has a psychic bond with Mike, the hero of the first film, as well as the Tall Man.  She finds them in her nightmares, where she begs for Mike to save her before her grandfather dies and is taken away by the villain.

We then see how Mike escaped the end of the last film — Reggie saved him by blowing up the house, but our hero has been institutionalized from seven years. He then must convince Reggie that the Tall Man really exists. He learns when the Tall Man blows up his entire family (yes, this movie has two exploding houses within minutes of one another).

It’s time for a road trip — not the last they will take — that takes them to Périgord, Oregon. Liz’s grandfather dies and her sister Jeri disappears. The priest who does the funeral knows all about the Tall Man, so he desecrates the body which rises anyway.

On their way to Périgord, Reggie picks up a hitchhiker named Alchemy who looks like a ghost they saw earlier. This is where you learn the lessons that Reggie will never learn for the rest of the series: never pick up hitchhikers, never sleep with strange women and every girl who will actually have sex with you is really the Tall Man.

Regardless, Liz arrives at the mortuary where she learns that her grandmother is now one of the Tall Man’s lurkers (she was taken by her grandfather, who we can also assume is part of the Tall Man’s crew). The priest gets killed by a ball, which is always nice. And then one of the saddest moments in the Phantasm series happens: the Tall Man blows up Reggie’s Hemicuda.

What follows are plenty of guns (a quad-barrelled shotgun!), a chainsaw battle, more spheres, the portal to the Red Dimension and the Tall Man pumped full of embalming fluid, which causes him to melt all over the place.

Alchemy has taken a hearse, but she’s really the Tall Man, killing Reggie (again, but of course, not really) and Mike and Liz convinced they’re trapped in a dream. The Tall Man utters the best line of the movie: “No, it’s not!” before pulling them through the back window.

While the lowest budget Universal film of the 1980’s, they also exerted a lot of control over the film. The, well, phantasmagorical style of the first movie was asked to be toned down with a more linear plotline and character voiceovers. Honestly, any time you hear a voiceover in a film, you should read that as a note from the producers saying, “No one will understand this if we don’t spell it out to them.”

Plus, no dreams were allowed in the final cut and a female romantic lead was created for Mike.  And most distressing, Universal wanted to recast both leads but allowed A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister (neither of them had acted in the nine years in between the films, with Reggie actually working at a funeral home as an embalmer) to audition for the roles they originated. Big of them. Coscarelli was allowed to keep one of them in a Sophie’s Choice and went with Bannister, casting James Le Gros in Baldwin’s place. Seriously, were the Universal executives supervillains? That’s some crazy thinking there.

Actually, the Tall Man has plenty of great lines here, like “You think that when you die you go to Heaven… you come to us!” This movie pretty much dominated my teenage years and nothing that followed it would ever top it. But hey — they took three chances trying.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Universal Studios was going to put this out in theaters before differences with Coscarelli, yet the direct to video release of this film was in the top 100 rentals of that year — ah, the magic days when video rental could help a movie succeed!

Right after the end of the last film, the Tall Man comes back from the Red Dimension just as the hearse with Liz and Mike in it explodes. Reggie finds that Liz is dead and saves Mike from the Tall Man by threatening to set off a grenade. The Tall Man just laughs and says that he will come from Mike when he’s well again. This takes two years of hospital time, as he wakes up after a dream with his brother Jody and the Tall Men in it. The minute he wakes up, his nurse turns into a demon with a ball inside her skull.

Soon enough, the Tall Man is back, transforming Jody into a sphere and taking Mike with him, sending Reggie on a road trip. He ends up in a small town where three gangsters — somehow this movie becomes The People Under the Stairs for a bit — throw him into the trunk of his car but are thwarted by Tim, a young kid who has been fighting the forces of the Tall Man.

Of note, Tim’s house is the same house from House!

Much like how Princess from The Walking Dead comic has to be directly influenced by  Alma from Warriors of the Wasteland, the way Carl Grimes dresses seems like too much of a coincidence when we see Tim in the film.

Reggie and Tim make their way to a mausoleum where they team up with Rocky, a tough woman who is good with nunchakus. They follow a whole bunch of hearses to the Tall Man’s base, where they rescue Mike and use the portal to cut off the Tall Man’s hands, which of course become monsters.

Mike then talks to his brother who is now a ball and learns that the Tall Man is making an army to conquer every other dimension, using human brains inside his spheres and shrunken down dead people as his slaves. “There are thousands of them!” yells Mike as the Looters wheel in Tim, who is saved at the last minute by Jody, still a metal ball. Whew!

Reggie and Rocky arrive just in time to shoot the Tall Man with a spear and liquid nitrogen just as a gold ball emerges from his head. Reggie destroys that as everyone learns that Mike also has a gold ball inside his head that turns his eyes silver. He warns Reggie to stay away from him and leaves with his brother, still a ball.

Rocky leaves just as Reggie is pinned to the wall by a ton of spheres. Just as Tim tries to save him, the Tall Man comes back to say, “It’s never over!” and pulls Tim through a window.

There was an alternate ending filmed where Reggie and Tim travel to Alaska, where they bury the Tall Man’s gold sphere in the ice and leave a plaque over it that says “Here Lies The Tall Man – R.I.P.” Reggie then exclaims, “Now, all we have to worry about is global warming” as they leave.

As a rule, the less money the Phantasm films have in the budget, the better they generally are. This one is considered the roughest by fans as it deviates so much from the storyline. I’d argue that these films have no real storyline and are all over the place, necessitating the use of stimulants any time you try and watch them.

You can watch this on Shudder with Joe Bob Briggs commentary.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

This one opens right where the last one ended, with Mike leaving town and Reggie trapped. The Tall Man lets him go to play one last game while the ball form of Jody becomes human long enough to tell Reggie that he has to search for Mike.

Reggie saves a woman named Jennifer from some of the Tall Man’s soldiers and just when it seems like our ice cream dude is finally about to get lucky, her breasts rip apart to reveal two silver balls — yes, really this happens — before Reggie uses a sledgehammer and his tuning form to stop her.

Mike has flashbacks to his younger days — using footage shot during the original Phantasm that was never used — to try and determine who the tall man is. He tries to kill himself, only to be stopped by the Tall Man. He escapes through a gateway where he meets a kindly old man named Jebediah Morningside, who looks exactly like the Tall Man (the old lady on the porch is supposed to be the fortune teller from Phantasm).

Then, Mike learns that he can move things with his brain. Jody finds him just in time to escape the Tall Man again.

Reggie arrives in Death Valley, fighting off some dwarves as Mike and Jody reappear, yet Mike tells him not to trust Jody. Mike and Jody then go through another gate back to Jebediah’s house, where they learn how he created the first interdimensional gate and became the Tall Man, who chases them back to another cemetery where Jody turns on his brother. Mike kills his brother with a sphere he built out of car parts and runs from the Tall Man.

If at this point your head is spinning from reading this, imagine watching it. This installment tries hard to keep the crazy narrative shifts from the beginning, constantly shifting the questions when you think you have all the answers.

Mike and Reggie use the car sphere and the hearse’s motor, now an interdimensional bomb, to destroy the Tall Man, who of course emerges seconds later from the gate, unharmed. He reveals that he is one of many as he removes the gold sphere from Mike head and leaves. Reggie arms himself and jumps through the gate, just as Mike has a memory of them riding in his ice cream truck together.

This installment’s budget was minuscule when compared to the last two Phantasm films. In fact, if you look at inflation, it was shot on a lower budget than the original. That’s why so many scenes are set in the desert. And the film wasn’t afraid to call in some favors, like the swarm of spheres, which was created by fans and KNB cutting Coscarelli a break on the cost of their effects.

Sadly, this movie could have been even bigger. Roger Avery, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction as well as Silent Hill, is a super fan of the Phantasm Series and suggested an epic ending called Phantasm 1999 A.D. This post-apocalyptic film would also star Bruce Campbell but cost way too much to get made in the pre-Kickstarter world.

Here’s the synopsis from IMDB, which will make you crestfallen that we never got this sequel: “The year is 2012 and there are only three U.S. states left. Between New York and California is the wasteland known as the Plague Zone. Unfortunately, the evil Tall Man controls that area. Since many people are dead, the Tall Man is able to make thousands of dwarf slaves for his planet daily in the Mormon Mausoleum. Besides him, the other residents are “baggers,” human-like creatures that are infected by the Tall Man’s blood, the dwarves, and, of course, the silver spheres, all trying to break out of the barrier that contains them and into the real world. A group of hi-tech troops are sent in to destroy the red dimension where the Tall Man gets his power. Reggie follows so he can find Mike after a series of nightmares he had. Will they be able to finally destroy the Tall Man for good?”

There’s one awesome scene in this one, where the Tall Man chases Mike down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, which is completely deserted, an effect achieved by shooting it on Thanksgiving morning.

Oh yeah — where is Tim? The kid who ended up being a main character in the last film was to have been eaten by the dwarves in this one, but the budget kept that from being filmed.

You can also watch this one with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder.

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Directed by David Hartman and produced by Coscarelli, this final sequel was done in secret and announced a few months before it was released. It’s the final word — one imagines — in the series, as it ends at least Reggie’s story. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell with Phantasm.

In development since 2004, this one starts with Reggie still hunting the Tall Man. Or perhaps he’s suffering from dementia in an assisted living facility. Or perhaps he’s at a farm where a potential love interest and everyone but him get killed by the Tall Man’s spheres. Or maybe he’s in a hospital in the 1860’s and there to die alongside Jebediah before he became the Tall Man or maybe even in a reality where he never becomes the Tall Man. And oh yeah, the Lady in Lavender shows up again.

The Tall Man then meets Reggie in 1979, where he tells him everything that will happen and offers to save his family if he never gets involved. He replies that he’d rather be loyal to his friends Mike and Jody.

My favorite part of this one is the gigantic spheres that are battling whole cities as Mike leads a hi-tech future squad (shades of the Avery script) against the Tall Man’s forces. Reggie has been in a coma for ten years (shades of Mike in Phantasm II) and now, the Tall Man has taken over the world.

The ending is up for debate: does Reggie die in the real world? Is that a dream? Is the reality where Reggie, Mike and Jody — joined by heroic dwarf Chunk and the surprise return of Rocky from Phantasm III — continue to fight the Tall Man’s gigantic spheres the truth? Are all of them?

As Reggie himself said when he was on with Joe Bob for the Shudder marathon, “Well, it’s Phantasm.” Eventually you have to stop asking questions and just enjoy. I guess it’s just nice to see everyone together again, no matter if the last film doesn’t live up to what it could be.

You can — you guessed it — check this one out on Shudder with Joe Bob Briggs.

In case you didn’t know, the Star Wars character Captain Phasma was named for this movie and Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams is such a big fan of the film he personally oversaw the new cleaned up version of the original film.

So many movies can cite Phantasm as an influence — Poltergeist 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street, One Dark Night and the TV series Supernatural has its protagonists drive around in a black muscle car…kind of just like Phantasm.

Its influence can also be felt in the world of metal, as Tormentor covered the theme, and the line “The funeral is about to begin, sir” has been sampled by the bands Splatterhouse, Marduk and Mortician. You can also hear the band Entombed play the theme at the end of their song “Left Hand Path.”

Someday, someone is going to get the idea to make an entirely new Phantasm. But it won’t be so strange and it won’t be so special. Until that time comes, we’ll always have five movies — one awesome, a few ok and a few stinkers that I still love — to enjoy. And remember: “If this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead!”

MARIO BAVA WEEK: Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs (filmed in 1973, released in 1998)

Lisa and the Devil was shelved after a negative reception at the Cannes Market. Bay of Blood was a box office disappointment. So Mario Bava decided to do something unlike any of his other films — developing a “poliziotteschi” film.

According to Roberto Curti’s Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980, poliziotteschi films “generally featured graphic and brutal violence, organized crime, car chases, vigilantism, heists, gunfights, and corruption up to the highest levels. The protagonists were generally tough working class loners, willing to act outside a corrupt or overly bureaucratic system.”

Bava filmed the entire film in chronological order, but the shoot was filled with issues. Original star Al Lettieri (The Getaway) was replaced after three days, mostly for showing up drunk. The replacement, Riccardo Cucciolla, spoke no English and had to read his lines from a script hidden inside the car (so Wikipedia says, but my copy is in Italian, so I have no idea why this was an issue).

Additionally, Bava’s son Lamberto, who was the assistant director on the film, has claimed that producer Roberto Loyola bounced all of the checks to the crew, who still finished the film within three weeks. All that remained were some cutaways and a pre-credit sequence, but Loyola went bankrupt and the film was lost in the courts.

There are numerous versions of this movie that were released in the mid 1990’s. For the interests of this article, we’ll focus on the Anchor Bay release of Kidnapped that was assembled by Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava.

After four crooks rob an armored truck, their getaway car is damaged and one of them is killed. The three that remain — Doc, Blade and Thirty-Two (George Eastman! Do I really need to tell you how much I love every movie this guy is in? Our site is literally his entire IMDB catalog, with movies like Stage FrightBlastfighterHands of Steel1990: The Bronx WarriorsWarriors of the Wasteland and more) — run into an underground garage, kill a woman and kidnap another named Maria (Lea Lander, Blood and Black Lace). They then steal another car driven by Riccardo (Cucciolla), who is trying to get a sickly child to a hospital before it’s too late.

The criminals force the man to drive them to their hideout. The film grows incredibly tense as Maria is on the verge of mania as she’s kept under gunpoint the entire way. Somehow, Ricardo remains calm. The heat is on, meaning that both the cops are on their tail and that the city is in the middle of summer. Doc forces the windows up on the car, keeping the nerves inside high.

Maria tries to escape after asking to be allowed to relieve herself outside, which leads to Blade and Thirty-Two capturing her and forcing her to do the act in front of them. It’s due to dogs, wandering the streets and barking, that she is caught (someday I have to do an IMDB list of movies that have dogs randomly wandering the streets).

These are base, horrible men who only know evil acts. After stopping for food and drink, Thirty-Two becomes drunk and attempts to rape Maria, an action that causes other motorists to notice the car. Doc replies by shooting his partner in the neck. The criminal lives, but now cannot move and is even more trapped than everyone else in the car.

The car stops to refill at a small town gas station, where the owner won’t even wait on them until his lunch is up. Doc tries to threaten him, but the old man has a gun at the ready. Blade finally resolves the situation by showing the sick boy inside the car and the old man decides to get back to work. However, a hitchhiker shows up and asks for a ride. As she gets in the car, the old man sees Thirty-Two’s bloody body, but he simply shrugs. It’s not any of his business.

The hitchhiker will not shut up, annoying everyone. When she removes the blanket and reveals Thirty-Two, Blade killing her feels like a relief. Doc asks Riccardo to pull over and they dump the body. And Blade carries out his friend Thirty-Two’s body and finally puts him out of his misery by shooting him.

Finally, they reach the group’s hideout, where Doc has another car and the papers that will allow he and Blade to leave the country. Then he reveals that he planned to kill Riccardo, the child and Maria. Riccardo begs for the boy to live, but Doc refuses and asks him to get him from the car. As Riccardo holds the boy, he pulls the gun he had inside the blanket all along, killing Doc and Blade, whose machine gun burst kills Maria. He takes Doc’s car and money, then leaves, only to reveal that he had been a kidnapper all along, holding the child for ransom. And the boy? Now he’s inside the trunk.

While this film has none of Bava’s trademark magic camerawork, it’s still taunt and well made. For example, in the scene where Doc shoots Thirty-Two, Bava uses tight close-ups of Doc and Riccardo’s faces, as well as the gun that Doc holds, then cuts to black as the car enters a tunnel. In that moment of no light or color at all on the screen — such a contrast to the dynamic hues we expect from the master — we simply hear the report of the gun being fired, stopping Thirty-Two’s rape of Maria. As we return to reality, Blade deals with his rage against Doc by screaming at his friend, only to discover that he is still alive. The flashbacks are relayed to us via voiceover instead of some dramatic camera move. Again — out of character, but this proves that Bava was not all special effects and tricks. He is filming the story as it should be filmed. The action inside the car is claustrophobic. And it had to have been even more so as it was filmed, as there’s real background zooming past behind the actors, so the camera was inside the car.

Also, this is a movie where you notice the acting so much more than in other Bava work. He takes a backseat to the true sense of dread and terror that his actors tell with their performances. I know that I’m a big Eastman fan, but he’s great in this film, a gigantic man child devoted to the id, barely restrained by the adult in the car, Doc.

Following this film, Bava would only work on one more film, 1977’s Shock. He would also do special effects work and uncredited direction on Dario Argento’s Inferno before his death in 1980.

In his later years, Bava left behind many unfilmed ideas. He was about to start filming a science fiction movie called Star Riders with Luigi Cozzi. That movie may have been the much-talked about sequel to Starcrash, which would have starred Caroline Munro and Klaus Kinski as the evil Baron Waak. Munro said of the film at Cannes, “With (her husband) Judd as my comical robot sidekick, El, we have a new mission. To help Baslim, a faithful officer in a dead king’s army, to unravel a mysterious plot of assassination and deceit-and save the life of a beautiful young princess.”

According to this amazing article, Bava had several science fiction films in mind, including the Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, A Bay of BloodThe House by the Cemetery, as well as just about every amazing Italian horror movie that is near and dear to your heart) scripted Anomalia, a Lovecraftian script about astronauts who find a wall at the end of the universe that separates good from evil. Holy shit, this is a film screaming to be made. There was also a plan to make The Space Wanderer, based on the Philip José Farmer book Venus on the Half-Shell, that sounds even more insane than that!