Apparently this is also the month I review movies based on books by Dean Koontz. The other day with Odd Thomas, now with Phantoms. I might have to check to see how many other stories of his have made it to film and by extension to my collection. I do remember seeing this one when it came out and admit to being intrigued by it and it’s cast. This one falls under the near hundreds of movies Dimension films who provided us much in the way of low budget horror, some was effective, some was not.
Was this effective?
As mentioned before the film is based on a Koontz novel of the same name and is given the screenplay treatment by Koontz himself. Now per usual Jess rules, I have not read the book prior to watching the movie and have not read the book in the years since for no particular reason. So judging purely from a cinematic perspective the story does a good job of creating tension and even better job of atmosphere. I can’t say the third act does the movie any justice but that is the difficulty with page to screen adaptations.
The movie is directed by Joe Chappelle, since then mostly a TV director but with shows I rather enjoyed such as Wolf Lake, Witchblade, and the Wire. He does an interesting thing in the movie to create tension. The usage of an empty town and a lot of well chosen but jarring sounds to disorient the audience and the characters. For the most part these work and most of the jump scares are not eye rollingly bad – that is a compliment by the way. He and Koontz also did a great job with the geography to assist in the feeling isolation.
Due to the nature of the story the cast remains relatively small, but effectual. The late Peter O’Toole (My Favorite Year, Lawrence of Arabia) positively owns his scenes in the film and brings weight where a lesser actor wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful or successful. We also have young, we barely knew you, Ben Affleck. He hadn’t quite learned to reserve himself yet and almost disturbingly blinks too much. Odd quirk to notice, but it’s actually kind of distracting. In another we barely knew who you were we have Liev Schrieber (Wolverine, Scream, Salt) in an oddly quirky performance that is a bit off putting, but having seen his other works tells you how good he did here. Our films heroines come in the shape of an on the rise Joanna Going (Dark Shadows 1991, Wyatt Earp) and another dimension films ingenue Rose McGowan (Scream, Charmed). Both play opposite ends of the sister spectrum pretty well with McGowan as the young city girl and Going as the small town doctor. Everyone performs OK, they do well with the panic, they do well when its time to be quiet. Nothing great, nothing really bad either. Just ok.
From an FX perspective, again minus act three, the film relies pretty strongly on practical effects, sound, and lighting to build suspense. Now given Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger of KNB EFX Group were on the project it explains so much. Now people like me know these names because of the fantastic effects work they have done over the decades and how amazing they are with gore, creatures, and prosthetics. Currently you can find their work on a no name show called The Walking Dead. These guys were incredible now and then and the movie benefits from it. The intelligence of the director to use practical effects here when possible was brilliant as the world was already moving towards not only using but abusing CG. Sadly, what digital effects were used didn’t look good then or now.
Honestly this is a pretty good, if someone dated, suspense film from early Dimensions film works that did better than it’s extraordinarily dated trailer would lead you to believe. The movie does take an odd turn late in the picture which doesn’t quite resonate but also doesn’t destroy the film either. There are some clear edits and scenes missing, but otherwise it works.
If you aren’t a fan of horror or suspense in general – give this one a good pass. They did a good enough job here to wave you off.
If you like 90’s era suspense and horror I think you could enjoy this film.