Phantoms (1998)

DVD Cover (Echo Bridge Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 54%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,725
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Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole
Rose McGowan
Rose McGowan
Joanna Going
Joanna Going
Liev Schreiber
Liev Schreiber
Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck
Review by Chad
Added: December 09, 2011
Phantoms was a great book, and it's one of the few books that I've revisited a couple of times over the years. I'm not a fanatical fan of Dean Koontz by any means, but he does have a few bright spots in his bibliography. This, in my humble opinion, is his masterpiece. So, having read the book for the fifth or sixth time in my life, I decided to go ahead and pay a visit to the movie adaptation, an adaptation that completely slipped under my radar when it came out thirteen years ago. I had low expectations going into it, but surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it.

The story wastes no time in getting down to business, and we kick things off with Dr. Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) and her little sister Lisa (Rose McGowan) heading to the small mountain town of Snowfield, Colorado. This is where Jennifer lives, and she thinks that bringing her sister here from California will do her some good. Unfortunately, the two discover something weird has happened in the town: namely, the entire population is either dead or missing.

Well, not quite: Sheriff Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck) and a couple of his men are still in town, trying to figure out what in the hell has happened here. They soon figure out the obvious, that being that this was not the work of a maniac or a group of terrorists, but what it actually is will remain a mystery until much later in the film. Suffice it to say that it's some sort of all-consuming beast with seemingly-supernatural powers, and that this town may be only its first meal. However, a clue is found that leads the heroes to Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O'Toole), author of a series of tabloid articles about a being known as "The Ancient Enemy." Does he know what is really going on here, and where did that clue come from in the first place?

Phantoms is a sorta-supernatural horror flick that should have done better than it did. It tells a great story, it has some badass special effects (mixed with some lame CGI, but we can overlook that), and long stretches of time where it is just downright creepy. It is just a great horror movie, and making it even better is the fact that it is very faithful to the book. Sure, some characters were dropped while others were changed around a bit (Lisa is twenty-something in the movie, but she was a teenager in the book), and yes, a few of the storyline aspects were altered or removed. It may not be a line-for-line and page-by-page adaptation, but it is as faithful of an adaptation as one could hope for.

What makes the storyline work so well is the fact that we don't know what is going on or what killed these people. We are kept in the dark for a long portion of the movie, and that fear of the unknown is constantly there. There are just enough clues to keep us guessing, and there are tons of little things to heighten the tension: brief noises, shadows, creaking floorboards, that sort of thing. It also avoids all of the cheap Hollywood horror tricks: there are no musical cues to indicate the upcoming scares, and there are no false scares either. It is content to let the actual movie scare you instead of resorting to cheap tricks, and I have to give that a tip of the hat.

As far as the acting goes, I really can't complain about anyone. I'm not a huge fan of Ben Affleck, but I have to admit that he did a fine job here - maybe not perfect, but nothing to bitch about either. Joanna Going and Rose McGowan are both great as the heroines of the film, while Peter O'Toole is perfectly cast as the doctor. I also liked Liev Schreiber as the deputy - he was by no means a "main" character, but he was excellent when he was on screen.

As a book adaptation, I'm giving Phantoms a thumbs up. It is faithful to the source and did a damned fine job of bringing that story to the screen, which means that as a standalone horror movie, I'm also giving Phantoms a thumbs up. It's not quite a perfect movie as I wasn't a big fan of the ending, but then, I wasn't a fan of that same ending when it was done in the book either. Still, it is definitely worth a viewing for fans of effective horror movies. 8/10.
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