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The Phantom Empire (1988) - Blu-ray Review

Ever heard of the absolute suck-fest known as The Phantom Menace?  Yeah, well this similarly titled movie is much, much better.  The Phantom Empire, which features two nubile young cave "bunnies" wrestling with each other as its climax, is not unlike reading the opening of a dime novel: fast, fun, and completely in the zone.  That is this movie’s secret weapon. 

Prepare yourself because once The Phantom Empire takes off, there’s no limit to its imagination. For Fred Olen Ray completists only?  I don't fucking think so.  

Nothing about The Phantom Empire, now on blu-ray thanks to Retromedia Entertainment Group, should be taken seriously.  Hell, even the name of the movie is stolen straight from a 1935 American Western serial film starring Gene Autry.  There is no Autry here, though, even if its spirit is the same.  Director Fred Olen Ray, assembling an all star B-movie cast, wants us munching on our popcorn and chuckling to ourselves again and again as an expedition party to search for some rare jewels is assembled in, of all places, Griffith Park. 

"Cave girls!  Underground riches! Mutants!  Robots!  And an alien queen!  What’s not to love about this romp through purple-lighted caverns?!?!"

If the opening attack, in which a cheaply designed carnivorous cave-dwelling creature, wearing a big-ass fancy jewel around his neck, decapitates a dude we are already annoyed by in broad daylight and then holds the head as if it were a prized trophy doesn’t have you popping the tab on a can of beer, then I certainly can’t help you find any appreciation for this budget-challenged flick. 

The Phantom Empire, featuring memorable performances from Sybil Danning (Battle Beyond the Stars), Jeffrey Combs (The Reanimator), Russ Tamblyn (Twin Peaks), Michelle Bauer (as the cave bunny!!!), and Robert Quarry (Count Yorga), is a blast of old school sensibilities.  Cave girls!  Underground riches! Mutants!  Robots!  And an alien queen!  What’s not to love about this romp through purple-lighted caverns?!?! {googleads}

When it comes to getting the tone and the characters right, The Phantom Empire scores BIG POINTS.  This movie, in my opinion, is worthy of a whole 6-pack of cheap beer on a Friday night because – playing out as a huge homage to the film serials of another time period – it absolutely works.  Ambitious, focused, and full of more winks and nudges than you can count, this movie is a thrilling assembly of scenes and props from other properties . . . like Lost in Space and Planet of the Dinosaurs.

That dumbass smile on your face as you watch a salvage company, Ross Hagen as Cort Eastman and Dawn Wildsmith as Eddy Colchilde, “lead” a mineralogist (Quarry), an archeologist intern (Combs), and the daughter of a rich man (Suzy Stokey) down to the earth’s core to find some rare uncut diamonds is absolutely earned, damn it. 

The Phantom Empire (1988) - Blu-ray Review

This romp, full of scantily clad women and tons of awful zingers, is AWESOME.  From the thick coating of melodrama to the sheer ludicrousness of the caricatures involved in the story, the film knows what it is and so, too, do the actors in it.  Everyone is down for a damn good time as, one by one, the members of the expedition are picked off and put on giant spits to be slow-roasted and pulled apart at dinner. 

And, as if that wasn’t enough, they even stumble upon Robby the Robot in the caverns!  Sure, the robot has a different head but there’s no mistaking those arms and legs.  Don’t ask why either.  Because, as they go further and further into the caverns, they will find more surprises . . . like dinosaurs.  Shit, this movie really does have it all. 

Trash with FLASH!  This campy classic is all sorts of cult fun.

5 beers


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The Phantom Empire (1988) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R.
83 mins
: Fred Olen Ray, T.L. Lankford
Fred Olen Ray, T.L. Lankford
Ross Hagen, Jeffrey Combs, Dawn Wildsmith
: Horror

Memorable Movie Quote: "You're still in one piece, I see"
Theatrical Distributor:

Official Site:
Release Date:

DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 25, 2018
Synopsis: When a man-eating cave creature appears with a fortune in uncut diamonds around his neck, Dr. Chambers' daughter Denae hires adventurers C & C Salvage to find the underground source of the gems. Accompanied by archeaological intern Andrew Paris, mineralogist Prof. Strock, and C&C's scruffy owners Cort Eastman and Eddy Colchilde, Denea's hopes of emerging from her famous father's shadow become as remote as getting out of the caves alive!



[tab title="Blu-ray Review"]

The Phantom Empire (1988) - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Retromedia
Available on Blu-ray
- November 25, 2018
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: None
English LPCM 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Newly minted from a NEW HD 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, The Phantom Empire looks damn stunning.  Colors are bright and lines are clean.  The black levels are also consistent.  As we go from Griffith Park to Bronson Canyon and eventually to Vasquez Rocks, it should be noted that there is a lot of the natural word on display here.  Yellows, browns, and greens are dominant.  The female flesh is also supple, complete with pores and western-inspired close-ups.  The effects, ranging from dinosaurs to lasers, are iffy but that is not because of the transfer.  A stereo track for the dialogue and the cheesy music is also attached.



  • Fred Olen Ray’s commentaries never disappoint.  Listen.  Laugh. 

Special Features:

Fans get a hilarious commentary from Fred Olen Ray, a trailer, a making-of featurette, a look at the location, and the original Nite Owl Theatre episode concerning the movie.

  • Making Of Video
  • On-Location Home Movies
  • Original Nite Owl Theatre Episode



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The Phantom Empire (1988) - Blu-ray Review