Director – Fred Olen Ray (Scalps, Dinosaur Island)
Starring – Ross Hagen (Wonder Women, Action U.S.A.), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners), and Dawn Wildsmith (Surf Nazis Must Die, Jack-O)
Release Date – 1988
Rating – 3/5
Blu Release – 3/5
The Retromedia marathon continues! A few weeks back I purchased a few films from Makeflix when they started carrying the releases of Fred Olen Ray. This started when Makeflix announced the release of Haunted Fear starring Brinke Stevens.
I had never seen this one before and was very curious about it. While I was at it I went ahead and snagged some other Retromedia releases. I’ve been working my way through them the last few days and after watching Dinosaur Island I decided to follow it up with The Phantom Empire.
**Spoiler alert** The film follows a group of treasure hunters who enter a cave when a man eating creature was spotted with a necklace of uncut gems around it’s neck. Inside they find more creatures, dinosaurs, and primitive women and their “queen” who is actually a being from another planet that crashed here sometime ago. **Spoiler Alert**
Everyone has that one movie that they immediately associate with Fred Olen Ray. Some see Scalps and think that’s his definitive film while other would say Evil Spawn or Biohazard is. While I don’t think it’s his best film but I’ve always associated The Phantom Empire with being his more popular flick. I’m sure people watched it from just looking at the artwork and making a Flash Gordon connection like I did when I was younger. Though the film is nothing like Flash Gordon you can look at the artwork for the DVD and VHS release and see it is remarkably similar. I watched this one when I was younger, middle school or high school age, and I’m pretty sure I wanted to spin it because the artwork did put me in the mind of FG. I remember liking it and when the story for Dinosaur Island, another Ray flick, was similar I decided to spin this one again as a fun dinosaur double feature.
The acting in this one is extremely dry and inconsistent. I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Combs after watching Re-Animator for the first time in elementary or middle school and I love his emotionally void and grounded characters. However, here he is tasked with some scenes that are overly-sexual and comical in a way. He drops the ball in these scenes but in the others he does a decent enough job. I’m glad he turned his back on this type of roles because he is a better actor when the roles are serious in tone. The film has Sybil Danning billed as the star of the film but she is not. However, she does have some screen time and attempts that emotionless villain that she had been cast in before but her performance here is extremely underwhelming and flat. The rest of the cast are pretty generic characters but they have their moments but nothing memorable.
The story for this one almost feels like Ray’s sleazy send off to Land of the Lost. We have strange creatures, dinosaurs, primitive women, and a woman from outer space. It does have his trademark horror elements but calling this one a horror movie would be completely false. It’s a sci-fi fantasy adventure film that takes together other stories to make an oddly entertaining melting pot of ideas. It’s fun but not original.
Finally, the film does have a few death scenes. The very first is by far the best with some fun practical effects and looks great while the other death scenes are pretty forgettable. The creatures in the cave have some interesting make-up on that makes them look unique and stand out while the dinosaurs are laughable. Overall, The Phantom Empire is, much like many of the other Fred Olen Ray films, has no right to be as fun as it is. It’s an over the top films that blends so many genres and so many different stories into one odd but fun flick. It’s bad but in a good way. I highly suggest snagging this blu from makeflix.com
Commentary Track with Fred Olen Ray and Gary Graver
Original Wide-screen Trailer
Making Of Video
On Location Home Movies
Original Nite Owl Theater Episode
New 2K HD Transfer from the Original 35mm Camera Negatives