SECOND VARIETY was a short story from late science fiction visionary Philip K. Dick (MINORITY REPORT, A SCANNER DARKLY), published in the early 1950’s and is now contained in many collections of the authors’ work. Reading it brings to mind PHANTASM in a large way. Picture this: futuristic weapons in the form of self-guided metallic spheres called “claws” that burrow through the ground and rise in speed to slice apart humans with a system of saws and blades.
The connections deepen when comparing the story themes and plot points with the PHANTASM saga. The spherical weapons evolve into more complex swiss-army style weaponry and even further into human flesh constructs. Characters discover the hard way who is synthetic and who is not – usually with bloody results. This echoes the plight of Reggie, whose woman regularly, more than not, turn out to be shells housing the enemy. This goes back to Lady In Lavender in the original PHANTASM.
In his teens, Don Coscarelli dreamt the concept that would become the silver sphere: “fleeing down endlessly long marble corridors, pursued by a chrome sphere intent on penetrating my skull with a wicked needle. There was a quite futuristic “sphere dispenser” out of which the orbs would emerge and begin chase.”
Could Philip K. Dick’s story have been an unconscious influence on Coscarelli? You’re free to speculate. But we’re certain he at least took a liking to it afterwords – and this connection might blow your mind: in the mid 1980’s Coscarelli was tapped to direct a film version of the story, adapted by ALIEN’s screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, but retitled SCREAMERS. The script was not filmed under his direction, and languished until 1995 when Christian Duguay brought it to life. Staring Peter Weller, it stuck fairly close to the source material. Indeed the claws – now called “Screamers” for the sound they made – bring the silver spheres to mind – flying up & whipping past poor schmucks – lopping off an arm or a leg in the process – ala Father Myer’s ear in PHANTASM II, only far worse. You have to also wonder if the producers saw PHANTASM – a possible case of backward borrowing, to make things a little more complex.
The core theme of SECOND VARIETY and other stories by the author was: “What is human?” Dick’s stories also maintain themes of blurring reality. When you think something is one way, right then he pulls the strings… revealing something entirely different behind the curtain. To me, that nails PHANTASM as well. Give the story a read and ponder the connections yourself.