With three movies behind it, this series has been defined by twist endings, twist beginnings and altering reality at a whim. It may have created a certain expectation that it's all going to add up to something and I'm not sure this fourth installment is it.
I know, they had limited resources compared to the last couple of movies, with about one-fifth the budget of part 3. This is somewhat made up for by the use of a lot of deleted scenes from the first movie that we've never seen, and also some flashbacks to part 3 which are short. There are also long stretches where either Reggie or Mike are driving around narrating their inner monologue. The rest of the movie when something new is happening maintains the quality level of the last movie, mostly.
The movie picks up from the end of the last one with Reggie swarmed with silver balls. The Tall Man approaches him and lets him go. We might be beyond caring why he does what he does. Mike had left with Jody because he feared the Tall Man has tainted him somehow and is turning him to the dark side, I guess. Mike and Reggie spend most of the movie driving through a desert, seperately. Mike is looking for answers, and Reggie looking for Mike, I think.
Reggie runs into a zombie cop that he has to fight and kill. He finds another young lady in distress and starts putting the moves on her in typical Reggie fashion. He manages to get her shirt off but her breasts have of course been replaced with evil silver balls that launch out and he has to fight off.
Mike wanders the desert having hallucinations and flashbacks. Maybe hallucinations of flashbacks that never happened. He finds a tuning fork in the desert and hops through the portal, coming out of some Tesla-looking steampunk version of the same portal. He's now in the country home of Jebediah Morningside, a Tall Man lookalike. He quickly leaves. Through another portal, or a dream, I can't remember, Mike finds himself in the Civil War and the Tall Man is a field medic about to operate on him before he wakes up.
Out in the desert Mike is also building his own version of the silver ball which fits inside the engine of his car, a hearse he stole from one of the mortuaries. He believes that Jebediah somehow became the Tall Man and maybe it can be prevented if he can travel back there again. He has learned that he can summon the "dimensional fork" which is what they are calling the portals. He tries to go back to Jeb but the Tall Man says "you go where I want" and Mike finds himself in a big city like L.A. that has been abandoned, perhaps the future or an alternate world where the Tall Man has wiped out all life? Jody rescues him from there but Mike says he no longer trusts him.
Reggie finds Mike's car in the desert (how, exactly?) He suits up in his ice-cream vendor suit for some reason and fights off some lurking dwarf zombies.
Mike and Jody end up back in Jebediah's house and Jody says this is the night it all happened. Jeb goes through the portal and comes back a moment later with a silver ball, now the Tall Man. Mike escapes back to his own time and the Tall Man says "so it begins."
Mike ends up at a mortuary where Jody and the Tall Man try to cut his head open. Mike ends up killing Jody (I thought he was already a ghost). Mike goes back to the desert with Reggie. The Tall Man follows and Mike telekinetically summons his custom-built ball to whack him in the head. Then he makes the car blow up, killing the Tall Man. But another Tall Man steps out of the portal, knocking down Mike and pulling the golden ball out of his head before leaving.
Mike says "I'm dying" and Reggie says "I'll be right back" jumping into the portal (to get his golden ball back?) Back in a 1979 flashback, young Mike and Reggie hear those same words. "It's just the wind" says Mike.
The movie has a slow start and somewhat redeems itself in the last half hour. I hate to pick on anyone but Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury are not the strongest of actors. It's probably for the best that Mike has limited dialogue and Jody has limited screen time. Angus Scrimm should probably have more time, especially as Jebediah.
Now we've got alternate dimensions, time travel, and dreams that become reality and vice versa. We still don't know what the Tall Man's motivations are, why is his blood yellow, why he wants to recruit Mike. At one point he offers his hand to Mike, but what is he offering? He never says. Mike is about to take his hand, but doesn't. Doesn't he want some answers?
At this point of diminishing returns, I wonder why they didn't cap the series off for good at this point? I think they were holding out for a bigger budget for a bigger finale, but it doesn't look like it was in the cards. For 18 years this stood as the finale to the series, and it wasn't a very satisfying one.
It's also sort of odd that Reggie never gives any thought to rescuing Tim, the kid from part 3 who was dragged out a window the same way Mike was in parts 1 and 2, when Reggie rescued him both times. I guess they rethought the wisdom of the kid sidekick.
Now I'm off to finally see 2016's Phantasm: Ravager
which is supposed to be the proper ending. I hope it was worth the wait!