Tag Archives: James Cameron

Phantasm 2 #30DaysOfFright

ph4Phantasm 2 has balls, small shiny flying metal ones with drills and lasers.

This belated sequel to the 1979 original was my introduction to the Phantasm series of films when it was released on VHS rental.

I’d loved the idea of it since seeing part of its trailer on Film ’89 (the year it was released in the UK).

I can’t imagine Barry Norman had much time or it…but how could you not love a film with deadly flying metal balls?

p2If it looks like the most expensive looking Phantasm of the all, that’s because it is. The £3 million budget is all there on the screen and there really are some epic and memorable visuals, it may not sound a lot but that is ten times the budget of the 1979 original. It really has never looked more polished and rich.

It’s just a shame that Universal let it flounder in the summer season rather than releasing it closer to Halloween where it really could find its feet. It found its second life on the VHS rental shelves, and rightly so.

p5Returning from the original, promoted in a sense to the leading character role is Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), the former ice-cream salesman. The character of Mike is back, but this time is all grown up and played by James Le Gros, in an alternate universe it would have been Brad Pitt, who also tested for the role.

Story? It’s a revenge movie with two men seeking retribution against the sinister The Tall Man, who dresses like an undertaker and drives a hearse. He collects bodies and turns them into his dwarf-like minions. Think of them as evil Jawas.

Like Sam Raimi – he has a cameo of sorts as a bag of ashes – with the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, George Miller, Mad Max and Mad Max 2 and James Cameron with The Terminator and Terminator 2, returning writer and director, Don Coscarelli, has a bigger toy box to play with.

ph3Like Cameron he gives the sequel more of an action focus. And the explosive beginning certainly makes that very clear, even for those people who haven’t seen the original it intrigues, excites and hooks you.

With Reggie and Mike’s cool black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and creeping into cemeteries on a mission to hunt down The Tall Man, a hulking haunting Angus Scrimm – best name made up or otherwise, ever – who is clearly relishing his role, at times this could almost be an episode of Supernatural featuring Dean and Sam Winchester.

ph5In fact Coscarelli stated that he was partly influenced by the grizzled Ben Mears and Mark Petrie Salem’s Lot characters hunting down vampires at the end of the two-parter. What’s not to love?

Having not seen the original at the time there was a bit of catching up to do, but having seen it since there is still an awful lot that remains unanswered, not that I have an issue with ambiguity. It only adds to its dream like quality, at times entering the same sort of realms as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors meets Evil Dead 2.

p4The quirky character of Reggie takes centre stage this time, the former ice-cream salesman showing he’s a dab hand a four-barreled shotgun of his own creation.

It’s got some great jumps and creep out moments that still stand up really well today and you never needed a big budget for that, you just needed good ideas and Phantasm 2 has plenty of them. Not all hit the mark of course, an unclear telepathic link between two characters, and a couple of unnecessary characters.

p3But when Phantasm flies it soars, like its infamous deadly spheres. They have a tour-de-force scene in a mortuary that oozes cool and plenty of blood. The balls are indiscriminate, so don’t care who they go for. Phantasm 2 taps into our fear of death and dying, and the tools associated with that, making taut use of embalming fluid in one scene.

Phantasm 5, dubbed Phantasm Ravager, has just been released, again with Coscarelli’s involvement and the last appearance of The Tall Man, Scrimm passed away earlier this year shortly after shooting.

p1Toppling The Tall Man is a tall order but it’s a cult tale that still more than holds its own today, from its recap from where the original ended and its explosive start it’s a journey that is never dull and still has the power to surprise.

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Ray Harryhausen’s Monster Mash

The work of Ray Harryhausen, who sadly passed away last week, has influenced generations of filmmakers.

He’s influenced everyone from Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and James Cameron (who even did some early model work on Escape from New York) and special effects gurus such as the late Stan Winston and Dennis Muren.

Famously, when presenting Harryhausen with a special Academy Award in 1992, Tom Hanks told Harryhausen “Lots of people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time… no way, it’s Jason and the Argonauts!”

Rachel BarrassHe’s also had quite an effect on the next generation of talent, including up and coming animator, Rachel Barrass, 27, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

Rachel, whose picked and mixed her favourite dynamation creations to create the ultimate Harryhausen monster, said: “Watching Ray Harryhausen’s films at Christmas was almost a religion for me through growing up, and is something I continue to revel in.”

As a child Rachel was fascinated by the creatures and, like many of us, believed them to be real. Now older, and after having studied a degree in BA (Hons) Animation at South Essex College, Essex, she is enthralled by the movies Harryhausen had a hand in but now also appreciates his work from a technical point of view.

Rachel added: “The sheer detail that goes into his puppets, from the armatures to the skin is just so unique and once complete bring his creations vividly to life. His detailed imagination and skills flow through inanimate objects bringing them so vividly and memorably to life.”

For Rachel stop-motion animation is her medium of choice. She continued: “It’s a very personal thing, you create your subject and then you are in close contact with it for a long period of time, it is essentially your actor and you are controlling each and every movement and nuance, bringing your performance to it and for me that is the magic of Harryhausen. It’s almost as if you are god (or perhaps Zeus in Harryhausen’s last hurrah, Clash of the Titans) as you watch the movements made.”

CGI just doesn’t have the same draw for the Essex-based animator as she explained. “For me it just doesn’t have the same connectivity as your involvement as a creator is through machines and software so therefore I feel that you are more disengaged from the piece, or I guess you could see it as not being as involved with the ‘actors’.”

Rachel goes all Victor Frankenstein and creates the ultimate Harryhausen creation, a greatest bits if you will.

harryhausen

‘Hair’ of Medusa – Clash of the Titans

Rachel says: “My all-time favourite character, her eyes are just fantastic, and who wouldn’t want to be able to turn the odd person into stone. Perhaps Harryhausen’s finest hour for a single character and her final showdown is an epic, fitting end to his big screen career.”

Head of skeleton – Jason and the Argonauts

For those who don’t know Ray Harryhausen by name, then they will probably know him as ‘the fighting skeleton guy’, a scene that has been riffed in everything from The Mummy to Army of Darkness. Rachel says: “One of the most memorable fight scenes ever and certainly perhaps the most oft-shown and quoted this side of Kong as a standout in stop-motion.”

Eye of Cyclops – 7th Voyage of Sinbad/Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Rachel says: “The eye has it. The Cyclops feature in several Harryhausen epics and they made great noises.”

Torso of Talos – Jason and the Argonauts

Rachel says: “One of the ‘largest’ of his characters this was the original ‘iron man’. The noises he made as he walked still make me shudder. Great interaction with real actors as well that really made you believe he was that big.”

Arms of statue of Kali – The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Rachel says: “A great battle scene with brilliant timing, echoed in the first Lara Croft movie.”

Tentacle of sea monster – It Came From Beneath the Sea

Rachel says: “People forget Harryhausen wasn’t just a master of the ancient monsters, he also did a good line in sea creatures as well, even though the budget and time constraints did only allow his creature to have six tentacles. When I talk to anyone about old film they always mention this one.”

Leg of dinosaur – Beast from 20,000 Fathoms/ One Million Years BC

Rachel says: “Reptilian beasts made several notable appearances under Harryhausen and he just went to show that he could turn his hand to any monster, mythical or not and still make them fresh, exciting and full of character. Of course it did help that they were often far more animated than some of the actors they appeared alongside.”

Wings of Pegasus – Clash of the Titans

Rachel says: “Most girls I knew wanted a My Little Pony when growing up, I wanted Pegasus. Who wouldn’t want a flying horse? One of the few heroic Harryhausen creations and everyone loves a hero…apart from perhaps that clockwork owl!”

And there we have it, perhaps not the prettiest looking creature around but certainly one of the most formidable. What parts from Harryhausen’s back catalogue would you have chosen? Thigh of Mighty Joe Young anyone?