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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4%
Worth A Look: 12%
Just Average: 22%
Pretty Crappy: 28%

3 reviews, 32 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"Finally, a Decent Koontz Adaptation"
3 stars

While it's no classic, it does entertain and introduces some fascinating story elements.

Considering that Phantoms is an adaptation of the scariest novel ever written, by Dean R. Koontz, who also did the screenplay, it's amazing that it came out as well as it did. Being that many things have been omitted from the source material and the running time is just over ninety minutes, the movie is certainly a shorthand version of it yet grabs the tailends of the most tantalizing aspects and adequately executes them, thus resulting in an overall whole that you can respect in the morning. The story begins as two sisters, Dr. Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) and Lisa Pailey (Rose McGowan), arrive in the small Colorado ski-resort town of Snowfield: one's the local physician and the other's her teenage sister from Los Angeles; big sis has taken her away from an alcoholic mother and big-city crime. (In light of the horrific things about to ensue, the south side of L.A. would have made a far better refuge.) Even before reaching the house, they notice the streets and sidewalks are oddly unoccupied even for a Sunday. Once inside, there are pots boiling on the stove but the housekeeper is nowhere in sight; a couple minutes later, she's found dead on the floor with her eyes wide with horror and a bruised body yet not a trace of blood anywhere. The phone line is dead, and when the sisters make their way to the police station, the town's sole officer is found dead in the same condition; further unnerving are three spent gun shells on the floor nearby and no blood or any signs that the culprit had been hit. And everything else in the town seems dead: the sisters stand in the middle of the nighttime street and nary a sound can be heard, not even from a dog or cricket. Things don't get any better when they see about some friends who own a bakery: severed hands are found on a bread knead and two severed heads in the oven. Three county cops soon arrive, headed by sheriff Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck), and they're just as perplexed; they got an emergency call from the dead officer before the line was cut off and aren't able to offer a hell of a lot of comfort. Then the unseen menace responsible for it all starts toying with them: making garbled voices on the phone, ringing church bells, sounding fire-station sirens, making blood-freezing human screams with a decibel level that could shatter brass. Rather than piling on the sensationalistic excess, the movie smartly keeps the unknown unknowable for a while -- the audience is right there with the characters caught up in their perilous plight and forced to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks to questions they wish didn't have to be asked. For what kind of villain is capable of overpowering an entire town so evilly efficiently?

This is what helped make Koontz's novel so nerve-jangling, and the director, Joe Chappelle, whose previous fare includes both a Halloween and Hellraiser sequel, serves it diligently. None of the camera angles and movements are extraneous or of the showoff variety; there's vitality and validity to each and every one, and with such knowing assuredness that you can feel confident you're in the hands of a director who knows exactly what he's doing. Which is all the more important when the most outlandish aspects of the story are played out in the second half -- it helps give the fantastical and phantasmagoria some semblances of girth, gravitas. When a locked door in a windowless bathroom is kicked in with no corpse inside, written on the mirror in lipstick are the words "The Ancient Enemy" and "Timothy Flyte," which means nothing to the current survivors; Hammond relays the info to his headquarters, and soon the man in question (Peter O'Toole) is found by the FBI, a cynical ex-scholar from Oxford University reduced to writing for a tabloid after being banished from the academic world for his theory on an enemy he describes as "chaos in the flesh" that's responsible for unexplained mass disappearances all over the world since the age of the dinosaurs. He's brought to the town right after a federal biological group arrives with a portable lab, but before anything can be properly analyzed the enemy starts taking them out one by one; and even though the bodies are gruesomely violated, their corpses are soon taken over and controlled zombie-like -- and this goes for animals, too: any creature great and small can be flawlessly duplicated within a matter of seconds. Megalomaniacally impressed with its superpowers, the enemy flaunts its ego and plays up the human perception of it as the devil; and with its ability to absorb the knowledge of its victims, some of its deadly phantoms are in the shape of weird-looking creatures from the movies. (This could've been better developed with a spice of wicked humor, perhaps; something of this variety was also employed in Koontz's fine Night Chills.) So how does one go about battling the ultimate adversary that's all-encompassing, possessive of a quintessential violent nature inherited from the absorption of its human victims, and practically invulnerable to all common methods? But in a way, its sizeable, solipsistic sense of self starts to trip itself up by assuming that the humans, who it refers to as "cattle," have no chance of stopping it.

For those looking for a slick and swift and scary entertainment, Phantoms, despite its slightness, carries its weight. It's paced like gangbusters and really moves, and for the most part this is a considerable asset -- the first forty-five minutes fly by with the speed and force of a locomotive. Keeping us off-guard in an apprehensively-harried state is essential in a horror film such as this for it treats us like eager participants rather than laid-back onlookers -- there's very little aesthetic artifice distancing us from the action. The sharp editing is cannily ahead of us by a crucial second or two, and Chappelle's nifty camerabatics always seem to be moving in conjunction with our minds when we're ready for a different point of view and need just a smidgen of guidance to the dramatic center of the scenes. Snowfield really does seem like a genuine town, and while the topography isn't always as detailed as we'd like (the sense of isolation could've been better rendered by knowing more about where the crucial points of action are in relation to each other in terms of spatial logistics) this central setting is a nice change from, say, the sole confines of a cliched creepy-looking house. That said, because the villain is so helplessly intriguing, it's sometimes a letdown when we switch to an action sequence right when we want to know more about the fiendish foe. (This also tripped up Peter Hyams's adaptation of the magnificent horror novel The Relic that also contained an extraordinary monster of freaky-deaky origin.) The characters aren't nearly as organic as in the novel; they're no more than two-dimensional, and we don't grow to have any real emotional stake in them. And the acting is mostly so-so: Affleck is miscast and mostly bland as the hero; Going is as wooden as an Indian-built canoe; McGowan is occasionally fetching in her spunkiness; and O'Toole is slightly appealing though not really outgoing in the movie's most crucial role (when Flyte defends his hack job because he needs money, one can't help but smile that O'Toole, who starred in classics like Lawrence of Arabia, was probably thinking the exact same thing with his appearing in a non-A-list production such as this). But audiences coming in with low expectations aren't likely to be peeved at deficiencies like these, and, in light of so many forgettable direct-to-video entries in this genre where a lot of tired familiarities abound by rote by hack moviemakers not even trying, neither should Koontz fans who get not a perfect time out of Phantoms but an acceptable one that more or less sates.

The DVD transfer is OK, with the non-anamorphic video offering some occasional glossy blacks in the many night scenes.

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originally posted: 10/20/10 14:04:20
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User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell decent read the book instead 2 stars
8/15/12 action movie fan good horror film-agreeable mix of terror and gore 4 stars
10/22/10 Ace-of-Stars What a ship-load of CRAP! A total waste of top Hollywood talent! 1 stars
10/20/07 fools♫gold Wasn't this screenplay itself by Dean Koontz? 3 stars
4/24/05 John Bale Alas poor Peter - how you have fallen to this ! 2 stars
3/24/04 Wendy Mead If Joanna Going married Winnie The Pooh, she'd be Joanna Going Pooh! 4 stars
3/22/04 tatum Good first hour negated by unbelievable sci-fi hokiness 3 stars
1/11/04 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. I didn't read the book but I could make a better adaptation than this. Even if I was asleep 1 stars
3/31/03 Jack Sommersby A mediocre adaptation of a brilliant novel. 2 stars
10/22/02 palaboy101 The movie was good, but its not as great as the novel 4 stars
8/01/02 Vitality1 The book is 1,000 times better. But at least Ben is hot! 3 stars
2/23/02 Jenny Tullwartz Vastly underrated Joanna Going almost saves this otherwise lame stuff. 4 stars
1/26/02 Andrew Carden I Thought That The Muppets Christmas Carol was Scarier Then This. 1 stars
6/15/01 ric Found it scary and suspenseful. 5 stars
12/02/00 The Evil Penguin a little scary but that's all 3 stars
2/05/00 Kyle Broflovski Dean Koontz deserves more attention. I'm dying for a film version of "Twilight Eyes." 4 stars
11/21/99 Phreezer I was there to STARE at Ms. McGowan and they delivered that (jk about the rating) 5 stars
11/04/99 Mickey "Father Death" MacJohnstmyster Very disappointing , If you see it once you will never ever want to see it again . 3 stars
10/11/99 Shutterbug at least it was entertaining 4 stars
8/26/99 Azimat The monster is a gay satan wannabe. So it os not scary!!! 2 stars
8/02/99 Duck Best Sound Effects, but apart form that, dull. 2 stars
5/09/99 Beachlovr9 Sorry but it sucked 1 stars
5/01/99 Tristynn Who Cares.. Ben was in it..Even he needs to pay the rent... 2 stars
4/28/99 Garbage The film makers should have sold blow jobs rather than make this flick! 1 stars
3/07/99 CanadianChica i cannot believe i sat through the whole thing....enough said 1 stars
2/28/99 Reyna Not even Ben's godly face could save this flick. Absolute crap!!! Butterfly thing...scary.. 1 stars
1/03/99 Fartass Putrid piece of crap. Dimension Movies should be ashamed. 1 stars
11/12/98 Bad Kosh Sorry, but this movie just ate my balls. By the way, it sucked. 1 stars
11/06/98 Lord Of The Dunce Sorry Mr Affleck, but this stank up the joint. 1 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Not Scary. Well, it is, but not the way it should have been. 1 stars
8/14/98 {{{OZ}}} Imagine. Without GoodWill Hunting, this is where Ben would have stayed 2 stars
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  21-Jan-1998 (R)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2011



Directed by
  Joe Chapelle

Written by
  Dean R. Koontz

  Peter O'Toole
  Rose McGowan
  Joanna Going
  Ben Affleck
  Liev Schreiber
  Clifton Powell

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