Quickie Review: Phantoms (dir. by Joe Chappelle)


If there was ever an actor in the last twenty years who has suffered ridicule regarding his body of work it would be Ben Affleck. Nevermind the fact that he has actually done very good work as an actor. People tend to view his acting work through some very bad film projects which the online film bloggers (and trolls) have lambasted year after year. One such film which has gained a cult following for all the reasons is the 1998 horror film Phantoms which was adapted from the Dean Koontz horror novel of the same name. This was a film which came out of nowhere and which no one really saw when it first hit the theaters. There’s a reason for this and the main reason for this being that the film was really awful though not without some entertaining bits.

Phantoms starred Ben Affleck in a role that really seemed more suited for an older actor. His Sheriff Hammond in the novel was much older and fit the backstory told in both novel and film that never truly fit Affleck’s youthful appearance and mannerism. He’s joined in this Joe Chappelle production by classically-trained veteran actor Peter O’Toole (who must’ve really needed the money to sign up for this film) in the role of Dr. Exposition dump aka Timothy Flyte who ends up explaining to the surviving cast of characters the very danger facing them in the abandoned town of Snowfield. Rounding out the cast is  Liev Schrieber as the creepy Deputy Stu Wargle who becomes a sort of plot device as the film moves forward. To add to this mix are Joanna Going and Rose McGowan as sisters who first discover that their town has just gone through a terrible event.

The novel this film was based on was pure scifi-horror pulp which stressed one’s suspension of disbelief, but was quite entertaining from beginning to end. Dean Koontz is like the generic fast-food version of Stephen King. This film adaptation borrows heavily from films such as Carpenter’s The Thing and the remake of The Blob. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing since the film’s story does bring into it an interesting concept of an ancient enemy which might or might not have been responsible for unexplained mass disappearances of people and animals throughout history going back to prehistoric times.

What Phantoms ends up doing which ruins the film as a whole was to rush through the narrative it was adapting it. The film pretty much goings through a checklist of all the major scenes in the novel, takes those scenes and truncates them to fit uncomfortably into a 90+ minute film. Some of these scenes could’ve been extended a few more minutes to add to a sense of grandiose to a film that needed it despite it’s B-movie foundation. One such scenes would be the arrival of a special Army unit designed to combat unexplained events, but the film treats this sequence from their arrival right up to their untimely demise in less than 15 minutes. I think in the hands of a much more capable filmmaker these scenes would’ve made the film much more entertaining.

Phantoms was a horror film that could’ve become a 90’s cult-classic if it had been given the proper time and effort from it’s producers, but seeing that it was the Weinsteins of Miramax and Dimension Films this final product was probably the best Joe Chappelle could’ve come up with. Weinsteins during the 1990’s were more concerned of pushing their Oscar-baiting film productions than actually giving time and effort to all their films. If there was any reason to see Phantoms it would be to see just why it kept being mentioned in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Other than that there’s really no reason to see it unless there’s nothing else on.