The F*ckin Black Sheep: Phantoms (1998)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Directed by Joe Chappelle

"It's one of the few movies I actually enjoyed more the second time around."

It’s always amusing to look back at a movie that’s packed with future stars, especially if said movie belongs to the horror genre. Why? Well, let’s face it…the actors know what they’re making. It’s not Oscar-material. No, no, they’re making the scary stuff, which I assume is a good gig, but not necessarily career changing. Case in point the late, great Peter O’Toole in 1998’s Phantoms. Dude was as classical actor as someone could be, yet even he had bills to pay. At least he took a role filled with other future Hollywood stars (well, mostly). Phantoms is packed with future headliners in Liev Schreiber, Rose McGowan, Joanna Going, Nicky Katt, and Ben Affleck. Not too shabby. 

Based on the 1983 Dean Koontz novel, Phantoms revolves around a small town in Colorado where everyone has seemingly disappeared. Dr. Jenny Pailey (Going) has brought her sister (McGowan) back to town with her, only to find a lot of people dead. Luckily, the sheriff (Affieck) and two of his deputies (Schreiber and Katt) are still around…but not for long. Something is out there. Their only clue comes from a name to written on a mirror: Dr. Timothy Flyte (O'Toole), who might know a thing or two about what's going on. He eventually shows up with the FBI…only to have even more people get dead.

What I dig about Phantoms comes from its blend of the genre: part haunted house, part creature feature, part supernatural, part plague. That’s a good concoction that keeps the story from feeling overly cliched. Actually, several times it reminded me very much of TV's The Strain. I wonder if Mr. Koontz has noticed, too. 

Even more, Phantoms is a hell of a dark movie, not only in tone but in brightness. I had to adjust my laptop just to see the damn thing. Even then, I struggled to understand the action unfolding. Sometimes I couldn't see a thing beyond a lot of screaming. But the tone is even darker. Everything here plays bleak, almost angry. Sure, some lighter moments pop up here and there, but overall it’s all uncompromising.

For a 15 year-old low-budget flick, the special effects still hold up quite well, which might have been why director Joe Chappelle decided to eliminate as much light as possible. Keep the creature in the shadows and we’ll all have nightmares as we can't nitpick the unrealistic nature of the effects to death.

Perhaps the most impressive element of Phantoms come from the gore, which is quite brutal when the creatures attack, notably when one of the military guys has a worm slither up his leg only to have bad things happen. In another scene, the dog (what a good looking lab too) shoots something out of his back ala The Thing. It's truly horrific looking stuff.

Most of all, I found it amusing to watch Ben Affleck pretend to play his current age today. As Sheriff Bryce Hammond, he’s trying to appear like he’s in his early 40s, a man who could run a small town (when in fact he was only 26 in 1998). He doesn’t receive top billing here, but make no mistake. This IS his movie. He’s the man in charge. He’s the man directing everyone else and they all look to him in chaos. He’s the tough guy who doesn’t give a damn if a demon has invaded his town. Hell, he's even the one who comes up with a possible solution to stop it. It's his problem. Essentially, he's auditioning for Batman before he ever dreamed of the role. 

Likewise, the rest of the cast is game. O'Toole does what he does. McGowan looks very Scream-ish. And Liev Schreiber seems to enjoy himself as one of the first people to die. He, like just about everyone who dies, comes back, but he does it with personality. He (or his corpse) also gets some of the best special effect attention, as he’s shot with a shotgun over and over into smaller pieces. It’s pretty awesome, as is the entire flick. It's one of the few movies I actually enjoyed more the second time around.



Source: Arrow in the Head

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