johnlink ranks PHANTOMS (1998)

This is a movie which, as much as any, is single-handedly responsible for the number of low grade horror flicks that I watch. The first act of this movie scared the shit out of me as a high school student, and I found the film’s mania to be note perfect up through the 35 minute mark. That the last act unravels a bit into convention drives me to find those rare low budget horror flicks that CAN achieve perfection. This is a haunted town story, much like SILENT HILL, and is in many ways a precursor to that more sophisticated film (did I just call SILENT HILL sophisticated? Shit. I did). Furthermore, PHANTOMS is responsible for one of the best lines in any Kevin Smith movie, ever. Some SPOILERS below…

I watched PHANTOMS (1998) on 11.17.11. It was, roughly, my sixth or seventh viewing of the film. But it was the first time seeing it while NOT drunk in probably a decade.

The first act really does work. It is, perhaps, one step away from being too random, too perfectly constucted. The first view certainly leads to the thought ‘How is this all possibly happening?’ While the explanation which comes to fruition is satisfactory, it doesn’t blow you away the way you might hope. The explanation, basically, is ‘it wants to screw with you’ or ‘it wants to be famous.’ Satisfactory, but not mind boggling. The writing is crafty, we can connect the dots and see why it happens the way it does. We just wish it was cooler.

Rose McGowan was, potentially, the most famous person in this when it came out. But her Lisa is given tragically little to do other than stand in the background and be scared. Joanna Going, as her sister Jennifer, is much more effective and affecting. Ben Affleck is serviceable as the straight man, but this is not one of his great roles. Peter O’Toole chews the scenery here with gusto, and the fact that the film begins to unravel with the introduction of his character is not his fault in any way.

The real genius here is, not surprisingly, Liev Schreiber. While he would certainly go on to do more resume-worthy work, he perhaps has more fun here than he does in any other movie. His character could be creepy and faceless, which is what happens to many of the other people who die and return, but Schreiber does such a fantastic job being quietly villainous while alive, that his transition to one of the dead is frightening (until it degrades into silly).

The direction of Joe Chappelle (who is now an exec producer on FRINGE), is very solid. Long shots establish isolationism in the exteriors, while quick cuts are used only when necessary to add to tension (take notes Michael Bay). The filming establishes the tone of the film very well, in spite of the relatively cheap models of the town, the studio settings not being fully dressed (especially in the scene when O’Toole is introduced), and the exteriors sometimes looking like cardboard stand ups. Chappelle blends these elements well enough to make them less than a nuisance. And along with mostly solid CGI, very useful makeup effects, and dedicated performances from his actors, the director pulls something highly watchable out of a potential mess. This movie could have been beginning to end shit, but everyone here wants to make something good. The effort is there.

I give the last act a knock for its return to conformity in its story telling (both the novel and the screenplay were penned by Dean Koontz). However, it would not be so noticeable had the first half of the film been so solid. Like many movies in this genre, the clunky handling of the military introduction is what derails its course.

This is one of those films which would never be confused with classics of its genre, but which I would play for anyone who had not seen it. It’s certainly a fun flick to discover for the first time.






~ by johnlink00 on November 18, 2011.

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