BOYYYYYYY!!!!! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!
Not to beat about the bush here, but this fifth Phantasm movie, the first in nineteen years, is a frankly unworthy note on which to end the series. It's one of those films that very quickly shuffles between any number of alternate realities - dreams, flashbacks, stories, all in someone's mind, all in someone else's mind, some, none or all of the above and possibly two at a time - leaving the audience unsure where we are and what's reality. This has always been a central idea in horror movies, whether just tricksing about with the borders of fantasy and reality or for a cheap it-was-all-a-dream shock moment, and there are movies out there that aren't much interested in an airtight narrative - Videodrome, or even the original Phantasm - but in this instance it reaches the point where it feels like homework and you can't be bothered picking through it all.
In order to fully appreciate Phantasm: Ravager I actually spent the previous day running the first four movies back to back, since I hadn't seen the third and fourth entries since their VHS rental releases. Like a lot of franchises it goes on for at least one film more than necessary: in chronological order they're good, better, better than I remembered and pants respectively, with the second one easily being the most impressive in the series though I have a certain fondness for the cult original's weirdness. The frankly ever-unappealing Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is still wandering the desert, on the trail of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and looking for his friends Mike (A Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury), all returning regulars through the series (though Baldwin was briefly replaced by James Le Gros in Phantasm II). Or is he?
Much of the previous movie took place in the desert where Mike, struck by the franchise's USP flying silver spheres at the end of Part III, was apparently developing Tall Man abilities of his own - but now it appears that the whole saga has been taking place inside Reggie's imagination and he's sitting in a psychiatric hospital being visited by an entirely human Mike. Or is he really in a future hellscape of American cities levelled by giant spheres in the Independence Day manner, and he's fantasising about living in a care home as an escape from the apocalyptic horror?
The Jawa-like slaves in cowls return, the flying spheres return, and the Tall Man himself is an agreeably strange and sinister bogeyman figure. The canvas is much bigger, particularly towards the end, and the music score is much louder (happily using the same theme). But I kind of miss the wonky, shonky charm of the first two films: they'd got the goriest moments and the loopiest, most imaginative ideas, and they didn't have the dreaded CGI blood spurts as they do this time around. They were messy but fun, with a terrific villain, and this is messy and not much fun. Perhaps it's not much of a disappointment after the fourth one, but it's certainly a long fall from the series' early heights, and it's odd to see the regular performers in a franchise still doing it over a third of a century later. The imagery under the end credits suggests what a final Phantasm chapter might have looked like if they'd had the money to do it, but in the event it's sadly underwhelming and uninteresting. A muted final note for what was once one of the more intriguing and off-kilter horror series.