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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Phantoms (1998)



I’ve always thought that the ‘90s were a terrible decade for horror. But I’ve decided that I need to dig in and take another look. I’ve already has some luck with the Unnamable II but was I getting greedy in checking out this Ben Affleck flick? We shall see.

The movie opens with a couple of sisters driving to a small mountain town called Snowfield. The older sister, Jennifer, is the town’s doctor and has brought her younger sister to get her away from L.A. But when they get to town it is strangely quiet with no one on the streets. The first person they see is Jennifer’s housekeeper who is dead in the kitchen! The sisters try to leave but the car is dead so they instead head to the police station where they find the deputy also has been killed. With the phones dead, they wander around a bit longer until meeting up with the sheriff and a couple deputies who were responding to a call from the dead officer. The only clue they find is the name of Flyte and the title “The Ancient Enemy”. Finally they are able to get a call out mentioning the name before communications die again.

Speaking of dying they end up losing the deputies to whatever is out there. But the Army, FBI, and Flyte, whom the feds tracked down, arrive in town. Everyone but Flyte and the original survivors are killed off. Quickly it becomes clear that whatever is lurking in the town wanted to lure Flyte there to write its gospel. Is this an animal or something supernatural? Maybe a bit of both. More importantly can Ben Affleck save the world?

To be completely honest this is a decent movie. The action starts slowly but builds to an exciting ending. It is creepy from the start with the characters wandering around dark buildings with strange noises coming from all around them. The sequence in the bakery has a neat payoff and killer jump scare. This is one of those movies that you really need to pay attention to because there are things happening in the background that add to the fun. Even the introduction of the sheriff and deputies provides some scares as they are seen quietly moving in the shadows until announcing themselves to the women.

This movie is very subtle and uses little things to build tension. The communications and lights seem to go off at random. There is also an overwhelming silence that allows them to use jarring sounds effectively creep out the audience. I’ve never thought about Patsy Cline’s song Crazy much until after seeing this one. The alarms that start and suddenly stop after getting everyone’s attention also work well to build atmosphere. Basically, Phantoms is a creepy flick!

Liev Schreiber is awesome!
The cast is more than solid. Ben Affleck does a great job as Sheriff Hammond and is able to carry the movie. There is a bit where he has to retrieve some items from a trailer that brings him face to face with one of the Ancient One’s drones in a scene that he nails. Rose McGowan and Peter O’Toole are very good as well. But the highlight for me is Liev Schreiber and his performance as the unhinged Deputy Stu. I’m not sure if he is scarier dead or alive.

The only complaint that I have about Phantoms is the ending. When we finally see the creature, it is a CGI mess that looks bad, even by the standards of the late ‘90s. The various drones we meet earlier look much better and are mostly practical effects with a CGI assist. That was disappointing and hurts the overall fun. But the rest of the movie is so solid that I’d still recommend it. I wonder if someone can convince Miramax to do a special edition where they fix the awful creature?


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer



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