Phantasm is easily one of the best horror movies in the genre. With it's tightly constructed plot, the film often moves from accessible to opaque with careless abandon. However there is enough there to really create a film that is inimitable. It's why we still discuss/debate it today. It's also why yours truly recently turned in a podcast to this site in which I broke down the film on a minute by spine tingling minute basis.

As excellent as Phantasm is, like any franchise, it certainly doesn't hit a home run every time out of the park. That said the "Phans" of this film are a rabid lot. I consider myself a part of this group. So no matter how much I might get frustrated by any one film in this franchise, I am always going to come back for more when it is offered.

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For this article my ranking system was fairly basic. Phantasm has always been about how the films make you feel. Taken as a whole the Phantasm canon is brilliant even if the each and every single story in the canon isn't. I don't think that any Phans would argue that the whole in this franchise is greater than the sum of its parts. All the films in the franchise, Phantasm, Phantasm II, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Phantasm IV: Oblivion and {Phantasm: Ravager) have their merits. Truthfully, however, ranking them was a fairly easy process.

Why? Because when Phantasm is good it is really good. When Phantasm misses the mark and things fall a little bit short, that effects the entire franchise as a whole. I feel this way because, for example, the Reggie we see in Phantasm might be wholly different in Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. In a 5 film series there are certain expectations of the characters. When those expectations are tampered with too much, it has a ripple effect across all the films.

What sets Phantasm apart? Why do I hold it to a different standard than A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th? I think because Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli has had control over the franchise the whole time. Sure, there was the casting mishap of Mike (when James LeGros replaced A. Michael Baldwin in Phantasm II), but for the most part this is Coscarelli's deal. So, he isn't as exposed to the kind of meddling that say a Wes Craven or Sean S. Cunningham gets from studio-types. So get ready for the Phantasm films ranked best to worse from a true Phan!



The film that started it all, Phantasm is one of the most original, most bizarre, most layered horror films in the history of movies. What starts off as a fairly straight forward story of two brothers dealing the loss of their family, soon snowballs into something bigger. How big? How big is the fight for civilization? After snooping around a local funeral home Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) spots a "person" called The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and is shocked when he sees The Tall Man lift a casket by himself. Mike can't let this go and soon discovers some very strange things happening at his local funeral home. His brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and family friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) get involved, and suddenly they find themselves in a full scale battle with a being of epic supernatural proportions. This says nothing of the flying spheres and the Jawa-looking dwarves that The Tall Man employs to do his bidding. Aided by the Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester), who is also The Tallman (I told you this movie was layered), we are taken on one of the creepiest, cinematic rides ever. In the end, we are left with more questions, fewer answers, and none of that matters because this movie is so good. It's scary, gross, confusing, and as weird as a movie can be while also being impossibly excellent. Clearly, the best film of the Phantasm films in the franchise, this is the kind of movie that needs to be revisited every 3-5 years just because as we age there's always something to be gleaned from it. The ability of Phantasm to take the subject of death and make it this entertaining and visceral, is something that in its nearly 40 years of release has never wavered.

2Phantasm: Ravager

Phantasm Ravager

There are many Phans that are going to think this choice is blasphemous. They are going to see my listing of Phantasm: Ravager as the second best film in the franchise as some sort of stunt or click-bait. As much as I love this franchise, no other film in the canon made me feel the way the first Phantasm did as much as this one. Who knows maybe it was how Phantasm: Ravager tipped its hat to the nostalgia of the whole series? Perhaps it was the fact that, honestly, until I saw this film I didn't think the other sequels were really that good? Or, it most likely is the fact that Phantasm: Ravager, if it is quite possibly the last film in the franchise, was really that good. It neatly wraps up everything we have seen with a nice little bow tie, however, like all the other films it stays away from any definitive answers. If for no other reason, this movie deserves respect because of that. The story isn't so much an action packed adventure as it is one of reverence and age. Phantasm: Ravager shows us the young kids we fell in love with in the first Phantasm, only now they are older, somewhat wiser, and still battling flying orbs, dwarves, and now multiple versions of The Tall Man. Making this movie even more confusing is the fact that it takes place in multiple universes. However, none of this matters because chances are you are familiar with the Phantasm world. This is just what the movies do. Sure, the first film was semi-grounded in reality, but Phantasm: Ravager will make you call even that viewing experience into question. These movies aren't meant to provide easy answers. Why? Because we don't have answers about the afterlife. In fact, at some point, if it ever was possible, somebody who has died should figure out how to transmit a Phantasm review from the world to come. Then and only then would we know what Don Coscarelli and Co. got right. Hats of to David Hartman for making a movie that has really done this series proud.

3Phantasm IV: Oblivion

Phantasm 4

When I first screened Phantasm IV: Oblivion I had such high hopes. I actually saw the Phantasm movies out of order. Sure, I started with Phantasm but I couldn't find a copy of Phantasm II. So rather than wait, I used the trusty DVD service from Netflix (which also delivered the wonderful Kenny & Company to my door) and I screened Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. I'll get to that review later. After that I watched Phantasm IV: Oblivion and I was furious. I would say I was more upset than when I saw the first Phantasm. (I was very young at the time and I was told Phantasm was a good movie for me to watch. Sadly, I wasn't ready for this brand of horror movie.) I found Phantasm IV: Oblivion to be completely incomprehensible. It looked like it was made with left-overs from the first film, and for a little while I wondered if the movie was a "cash grab" from Don Coscarelli and his team. Sure it had orbs and the space gate from the first Phantasm, and yes, it attempted to illuminate more about the characters. This 4th installment really seemed to be long in the tooth. However, I am a Phan. I love these movies and I had to revisit them. I was inspired by the books of Dustin McNeill and it was with renewed vigor that I went back to this movie. Suddenly, it wasn't like everything made sense, but I honestly saw where Phantasm IV: Oblivion stood in the bigger picture of this franchise. That alone made this film better. It was on my second viewing that I realized the concepts and ideas in Phantasm had not only been transcended, but they were still at the forefront of this many years old franchise. There's not many horror films that can boast of still bringing their A-game when they are 4 films deep. Surely, the Phantasm franchise wasn't always bringing it, but in every film there's a bunch of scenes that make us remember why we fell in love with this whole crazy circus in the first place. That alone is enough to redeem Phantasm IV: Oblivion for me.

4Phantasm II

Phantasm 2

Okay, without A. Michael Baldwin as Mike it would seem that Phantasm II would have to be the worst film in the franchise, right? Wrong. Phantasm II starts off quite spectacularly as The Tall Man shows up at Mike's house to basically tie itself into the ending of Phantasm. Then we see Mike get discharged from a mental institution with one goal: end The Tall Man. The biggest problem with Phantasm II is that, coming 9 years after the original, it felt disjointed. Also, director Don Coscarelli has revealed that he was pressured to make this sequel more linear. So basically all the nuance, dreaminess, and subtly of the first film was excised. I've already mentioned that James LeGros played the part that A. Michael Baldwin made famous in Phantasm. It truly seems like Phantasm II was born under a bad sign. Now I know that this film certainly has its supporters. The fact that Don Coscarelli directed it means that at least some of the Phantasm magic had to be maintained. This film just feels like the odd man out. In many ways I wonder if Coscarelli doesn't hope to redux this film digitally and somehow add A. Michael Baldwin in? I am sure that there is enough footage from Phantasm that he's had to at least thought about that. Still, that would be a a massive amount of work and even his Phans at Bad Robot (who made the Phantasm 4K release possible), probably don't want to spend the copious amount of hours that would entail. Still, there is a lot to like about Phantasm II. Viewers get Reggie Bannister, they get some answers to pressing Phantasm questions, and this film is probably the most accessible in the series. It's just so off the mark in so many ways that its relative merits get obscured.

5Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead

Phantasm 3

Alright, of all the Phantasm films this one was the most wanting. There is a lot here that foreshadows the direction of Phantasm IV: Oblivion and Phantasm: Ravager. How? Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is very Reggie-centric. Also, A. Michael Baldwin returns as Mike (in a role he never should've lost), and we once again see him and Reggie going up against The Tall Man. This film also returns a bit to the airy, bizarreness of the original Phantasm so Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead certainly isn't without its merits. There are just some things in the film that I never was able to get on board with. First of all, there's the scene where Reggie wakes up next to a woman and she has orbs where her breasts used to be. That was kind of a deal breaker in regards to me taking this film seriously. Yes, Phantasm has always brought the fun but this scene made me wonder if the production had gone off the rails a little bit. Sort of like a once funny kid still thinking they're funny as an adult. The second problem I had with Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead was when Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) took out one of the silver sphere's with her nun-chucks. In my mind those spheres have a mystical quality. They can't just be destroyed because they are hit hard. I honestly almost felt offended when I saw this! I know I need to lighten up, but the original Phantasm did such an excellent job of mythologizing those orbs. Why take what you've established and throw it all away just for cheap laughs? Overall, the tone of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead never really sat right with me. I felt that the film just never got settled tonally. Considering what had happened with Phantasm II (the studio exerting pressure on Don Coscarelli; A. Michael Baldwin not playing Mike), I would've thought that Coscarelli and Co. would've thrown the kitchen sink of their ideas at Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. Instead, we've gotten a film that is clearly the loss leader in its own series.