Phantasm IV has a very similar set up to Phantasm III. Mike is gone, and Reggie takes off down the road on his own. But whereas in the predecessor Reggie was on a mission to save Mike; this time around he is content to leave his surrogate little brother be. Mike, as we discovered in the third movie, is either turning into, or always was, one of the silver spheres (well, gold, actually). Now he looking to solve the riddle of The Tall Man, in hopes of finding a cure.
The movie is almost guilty of what I consider one of the cardinal sins of horror; trying to explain the monster. But in typical Phantasm fashion, the answer we end up with is one of no substance. We see what The Tall Man was before he was The Tall Man; and then we see his current form. There’s no why or how in what happened in between. In fact, depending on how you interpret later events in the film, can we even be sure that the pre-Tall Man was actually The Tall Man we’ve come to know?
All of which is to say; in a film series that strives to confuse and unsettle its audience, one shouldn’t expect a clear answer to any question.
This Phantasm film has a slightly darker tone than the one before it. In the last movie, Reggie drove around collecting oddball allies; in this one, all he encounters are monsters. One of these is a demon cop, who felt like he belonged in a different movie entirely. Were demons ever a part of the Phantasm universe? If you’re going to have a far-out premise, it’s all the more important that establish ground rules and stick to them; if nothing else, they could have revealed the cop monster to be sphere controlled.
I’m not sure if it’s an homage to the last movie, or just a lack of creativity; but once again we have a scene in which Reggie convinces an attractive woman to share a motel room with him, where he attempts and fails to get her to sleep with him. This time the cost of failure is harsher, though.
Mike’s adventure is pretty scattershot. It’s like any random concept that popped into director Don Coscarelli’s head was added to the movie. Dimensional gates in the middle of nowhere? Sure! Time Travel? Okay. Telekinetic Powers? Carrie was popular, so why not! Sudden, unexplained engineering expertise? Yes!
Phantasm IV: Oblivion is just as unpredictable as the previous films; but it somehow seems a little more formulaic this time. Perhaps we’ve simply come to expect the unexpected in the Phantasm series, and so nothing is really surprising anymore. The comedic elements of the last film, as misplaced as some of them were, at least added a new edge to the story. Phantasm 4, by contrast, is feeling a little tired.