Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We've got provisions and lots of beer

I watched Phantasm for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, leaving me with an interest in catching the 3 sequels. So I was excited to find out that the New Beverly Cinema was going to screen Phantasm II, allowing me a chance to watch it on the big screen among other fans and first-timers. One of the stars of the film, Sam Phillips was going to attend and give a Q&A afterwards. I'm familiar with Ms. Phillips because she used to host a radio show with another chick named Sheena Metal on 97.1 FM -- "We're two chicks going at it in the middle of the night!" -- and I used to listen to that show because I used to listen to that station and I used to listen to that station because Satellite Radio didn't exist yet and because Howard Stern used to be my homie, used to be my ace.

Unfortunately, I was a little too stoned upon arrival -- I did not know the shit was going to be that strong -- so my memories of the first 20-30 minutes of this evening are hazy at best. I am basing this on my own fragmented recollections and the kindness of the married couple I invited (I made myself the third wheel, YAY!) clearing me up on some things. Before the film, Mr. Phil Blankenship asked the audience how many people had watched the first Phantasm in preparation for tonight's screening (answer: very few) and then a Hatchet II Blu-ray was given out to someone in the audience who got the question right (What do Phantasm II and Hatchet II have in common? The lead character was recast between films). Ms. Phillips then came up to the stage with the casting director of the film (they became friends during production). It's cool to know that she still does radio and it's cool to see that she still carries with her the upbeat nature of the eternally optimistic.

She admitted to being a chatty person during her lengthy intro, but that was fine with me because she seemed very nice and happy to be there and besides, I prefer a non-stop chatterbox at these events to those....who....talk....with....huge....gaps....between....words because I get nervous/impatient waiting for them to finish their sentences. Also, I'm a non-stop chatterbox as well, so it's not like I could hate on my own kind. As the intro went on, she read an e-mail from writer/director Don Coscarelli and then I remember hearing something about "vagina hair", I think it had something to do with her being nude in the film and I think she wanted the audience to shout the words "vagina hair" at one point in the movie, but I wasn't taking that chance -- maybe I was making that shit up in my head and I certainly don't want to bring attention to myself that way, or any way, for that matter. I'm not gonna yell "vagina hair" in the middle of the New Beverly Cinema audience unless I'm 100-percent sure I was supposed to.

She also brought up how she pretty much thought she was wrong for her role (the script called for someone with blonde hair and big tits, and Ms. Phillips has brown hair and at the time was bosom-ly challenged; she happily admitted getting implants since, grabbing her chest for effect -- well, it certainly worked on me) but the casting director gave her a shot anyway. The only crime Ms. Phillips committed in this courtroom was the crime of giving away part of the ending, but since this movie is the second part of a four-part series, I let that shit slide. But next time I'll find Sam Phillips in contempt if she pulls that again, regardless of whether she discovered Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash back in Memphis, it doesn't give her the right to spoil the movie.

The munchies were kicking my fat ass, so I excused myself during her intro and stumbled up the aisle, where I noticed Phil talking with a couple people sitting near the back (some dude and his chick). I went to the concession stand and waited until I could get my medium popcorn (they've been out of large for a while, it appears) and then I noticed Phil come out of the aisle entrance and walk over to Michael Torgan (he was working behind the counter) and talk with him in a kind-of This Is Important So I Must Lean In manner. Then some other dude came out from the opposite aisle entrance and asked Phil if everything was OK.

Apparently, based on what Phil told this guy and to the best of my AK-47-clouded memory, some guy in the audience (probably the guy I saw Phil talking to a couple minutes earlier) was being an asshole during the intro (which was still going) and unlike your general well-mannered human being with a soul, he would not stop being an asshole even though Phil had given him the Stop Being An Asshole request. I was reminded of the time Phil got punched in the face by another piece-of-shit whose father did not believe in condoms and whose mother did not believe in abortion. That must've really sucked, but at least a bunch of New Bev patrons came out and held the motherfucker at bay until the police showed up and let the guy go, because the pigs have better things to do than take in some violent asshole who's punching people in the face.

The intro/trivia deal went on for a while, giving me time to scarf down my popcorn without disrupting the movie's soundtrack, then Phil came down and politely stopped Ms. Phillips mid-intro. He told her that he was afraid she might spoil a few more things for the audience and besides, she was more than welcome to stick around after the movie and continue. I think. I mean, I could be creating this in my head as I go on, which would be appropriate given the movie I was about to watch.

The movie starts with this chick named Liz looking through her journal and doing a favor for those in the audience who are unfamiliar with the first film, because she's been writing about her last dream/vision/whatever and it involves a recap of part one. Not that it matters; I don't think the movie makes any more/less sense whether you've seen the first one or not. All you need to know is that there's this creepy Tall Man running a funeral home/mausoleum and he's jacking the corpses and turning them into short, squat Jawa-looking motherfuckers. There are also flying killer balls.

Anyway, Liz has been having these visions/dreams/whatever involving the character of Mike from part one, even drawing pictures of him bordered with what I swear were little cutesy hearts. I don't know if there was a part of the journal with I Heart Mike on it, but I wouldn't have been surprised if there was. I thought it was pretty cool how they took the ending of part one and expanded on it during the opening sequence of part two, and I don't know how much of that was shot specifically for this film or if some of it was like, I don't know, outtakes from the original, because it all matches visually. I think there was like a ten-year gap between films, but they look very much like they were shot at the same time with the same film stock or something.

So Mike has since been spending time in a sanitarium, but bullshits his way out by telling the head doctor that he's all right in the head now, and the doc is like Sure Thing and lets him go. I didn't know it was that easy; I've always been under the fearful assumption that those joints are like a roach motel -- you check in but you won't check out, and the only way one can be truly free in a place like that is if they McMurphy your ass and/or you Brazil your mind into a better place (I remember reading how Robert Evans checked himself into one of those places, but then they wouldn't let him leave; he eventually had to escape. Could be typical exaggerated Evans bullshit, though). Anyway, Mike's ice-cream-truck driving friend Reggie picks him up and tells him that all that shit that happened at the end of Phantasm I and the beginning of Phantasm II never happened, it was all a dream. Then a fuckin' house explodes. Again. That's one of the awesome things about these flicks, you have no fucking idea what is real and what isn't, or if any of this shit even happened in the first place or why it's fucking happening.
In the Phantasm series, there are these flying killer balls that go swooping around the area, looking for someone to kill. Once they smack against an unfortunate schmuck, they hook into the schmuck's head and then a drill comes out and bores into the schmuck's skull, draining the schmuck of blood because the schmuck's head is like a milkshake and the ball is the straw that drinks it up -- which I guess would make The Tall Man in this movie Daniel Plainview. Except these balls are bulimic or something, because all the blood they take in, they immediately shoot out the other end. Gotta watch that figure, I guess.

What a fantastic allegory for the inevitability of Death, these Flying Killer Spheres! Try as you might, once that ball sees you and goes after you, that's your ass. As we get older, the flying sphere gets closer and closer; you can slam every door in the world to block it, you can take all the vitamins in the world, eat the healthiest diet around, exercise and deny yourself the pleasures of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, but that flying sphere -- DEATH -- will casually blast through them and it's only a matter of time before that shit catches up with you and leaves you fucked up in the most permanent manner imaginable.

Whether you're an atheist or a believer, there is a common belief that there is some kind of peace after death; either the peace of nothingness or the peace of going to a place filled with beautiful music and a giant bearded man who is happy to see you and there's my dead grandparents and my dog Shadow. Or you're some fuckin' terrorist who thinks you're going to get 70 non-experienced chicks to blow you -- sure, that sounds like fun. The Phantasm movies fuck me up in totally taking that belief, as well as taking the idea of treating the dead with the highest dignity & utmost respect and massively shitting all over it, and Coscarelli is all MWAHAHAHA about it.

"You think when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us" says the Tall Man to some priest who was probably simultaneously pissing himself in fright and kicking himself over choosing a lifestyle that could possibly have been a giant waste of time. I mean, here's this old otherworldly motherfucker with superhuman strength and his Flying Killer Balls basically telling you that the only thing that awaits you in the afterlife is a life of slavery as a Jawa-looking motherfucker.

The idea of that scares me more than the idea of some hockey-masked psycho motherfucker, because at least once Psycho Freaky Jason chops you up, that's it for you -- the nightmare is over -- whereas once you're tits-up in the Phantasm universe, shit man, the party's just begun. Even if you don't get hired on as a Jawa-looking motherfucker and you end up getting cremated, there's just something so fucking unnerving about that fate as well; in one scene, this creepy mortician (I guess these are the Tall Man's henchmen) take out the bones that weren't totally crisped and starts beating the shit out of it with a mallet and all I could think was "Fuck, that used to be a human being."

That's some chilling shit -- even Death won't stop you from getting fucked with. I'm reminded of an old Sam Kinison bit where he talked about necrophilia; he imagined himself on the slab, having faced Death and now ready to move on to the other side, completely at peace -- until -- "Wait a minute, what's that? It feels like a dude's dick! IT NEVER ENDS! IT NEVER ENDS!"

While Liz is trying to figure out what's up with seeing Mike in her dreams and trying to make sure her recently-deceased grandfather doesn't end up getting Jawa'd, Mike and Reggie do a kind of miniature version of the Surplus City scene in Commando; they stock up on goods while creating weapons to fuck up the Phantasm-ites with -- Mike makes this pretty cool flamethrower and Reggie puts two double-barreled shotguns together -- and off they go in their badass Hemi Cuda to track down the Tall Man and his traveling circus of grave robbers. Along the way, they pick up this girl on the road named Alchemy, and that's who Sam Phillips plays. Mike and Reggie might be on a life-or-death quest, but a hot chick is a hot chick, and besides, she doesn't get weirded out by the fact that they take pisses together, so that helps.

The first film felt and looked like a bad dream, an atmosphere that is kinda missing in this one (which feels more like a straight horror flick), but in exchange we have bigger set-pieces, gooier special effects, and most importantly, nudity. I don't remember anything particularly new added to this film aside from a new type of Flying Killer Ball and some explosions; it's like Coscarelli was loathe to answer any questions in the first place, if anything, the ratio of Questions Answered to Questions Raised is probably like 1 to 10. He's more interested in adding more to the characters of Mike and Reggie than he is in explaining to you why the Tall Man is doing what he's doing.

But I guess that's part of the fun with this movie; it still manages to entertain you with some pretty awesome shit while remaining coy about What The Fuck Is Going On in this motherfucker. While I missed the nightmare logic of the first film, I still think this sequel is an improvement in overall Good Times. In addition to the creepy and unnerving settings, it's got some cool action moments and it's a genuinely scary film at times. I can see re-watching this one anytime I felt like it, while the first one you gotta be in the proper mood to watch (I watched part one around 4 or 5 in the morning and it felt perfect for that time period).

In the first film, Reggie was just some lame ice-cream-truck driver who liked to sing and play on his guitar; he was in over his head once he got involved with the Tall Man and company -- and in the second film he's still in over his head, but at least this time he's fucking Jawas up with his four-barreled shotgun and slicing Romero-gas-masked motherfuckers up with a chainsaw. That's kind of the best way I can describe the differences between movies, really.

I'm afraid to watch the last two joints; I've been told that Phantasm II is the best of the series, and it's my understanding that the series still isn't complete and probably never will be, so maybe this is a good place to stop. I don't know, I think part III is on Netflix Instant and curiosity will get the best of me, and eventually I'll end up watching part IV and if my worst suspicions are confirmed, I'm gonna feel as assed out as those who watched every episode of Carnivale or Deadwood or ALF.

After the film, Ms. Phillips came up to do a Q&A and give out signed pictures from the film to those who got her trivia questions right AND raised their hand (seriously, people -- raise your fuckin' hand, don't just shout). Phil then asked her about a series of films that she produced called Busty Cops. I don't know what Busty Cops is (probably because I don't have Cinemax anymore) but I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that they're gritty tales about hardened police officers and their day-to-day dangerous attempts to fight crime and the difficulties in working within a system with rules that favor the criminal. It definitely sounds like something I should watch soon; I've yet to see The Lives of Others, but I bet you if that shit was retitled Busty Cops Go To East Berlin, I'd have watched that shit four times by now. Anyway, Phillips talked about how the entire cast & crew worked under pseudonyms for Busty Cops (I think there's 3 of them so far, and parts 4 and 5 are going to be combined into one film) except for her, and then she went on to offer a role to Phil in a future Busty Cops installment.

Hey, if they need someone to play the Chief, I'm game -- Goddammit, Busty Cops! The Mayor is on my ass because of all the damage you created during the last collar! A hundred-thousand dollars in broken K-Y Jelly containers! Next time you pull some shit like that, I'm gonna have your badges, your guns, and your bras on my desk! And then one of the Busty Cops will say something about how that won't happen because they're the best cops on the force, and then the other will say something flirtatious, leaving me powerless at their charms and good looks, leaving me shaking my fist at them as those incorrigible hotties leave my office -- they might make a mess, but goddammit, they get the job done.

A couple things I learned from the trivia questions; first, Phantasm II was shot under the name Morningside (the name of the funeral home) for whatever reason; and second, Brad Pitt was up for the role of Mike, which James LeGros ended up playing (replacing A. Michael Baldwin from the original). That's funny to me because years later, LeGros was in a movie called Living in Oblivion where he played a character that many believed to be based on Brad Pitt. Do you know what the fourth Phantasm film is called? Oblivion. Holy shit, that's some full-circle, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon shit, isn't it? OK, I know it's not, but it'd be pretty fuckin' cool if it was, right? OK, fine, so it wouldn't. Be that way.