Stephen Hopkin’s The Ghost & The Darkness


Nothing beats the sheer adventurous spirit and eerie primal mythos that fuels Stephen Hopkin’s The Ghost And The Darkness. It’s a go-to comfort movie for me whenever I’m feeling down or stuck inside on a rainy night. It’s like a campfire tale told on a quite windless night on the Serengeti, and like all the best scary stories, this one has roots in fact. In 1898, production of the East Africa Railroad along the Tsavo River was stalled for weeks, the workers suffering repeated attacks from two savage, mysterious lions. Acting against instinct, killing for sport rather than food and disappearing back into the night as quickly as they came, they were so ferocious and relentless that locals gave the eerie nicknames “the ghost and the darkness.” The story has film written all over it, and Hopkins chooses the swashbuckling, Universal style horror route, and an irresistible tone. Val Kilmer, in his heyday, plays Patterson, an engineer sent by the boorish railroad tycoon Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson, chewing scenery like steak) to speed up production and pick up the slack in order to finish ahead of schedule. Not on the lions watch. He’s scarcely arrived when they begins their endless tirade of horrific attacks, forcing him to trust in the skills of leathery game hunter Remington (Michael Douglas), sort of like Van Helsing crossed with Indiana Jones. The film clocks in under two hours but it seems longer somehow, like we’re stuck with them in real time as the hopelessness of the situation sets into our bones, raising the stakes for our hunters and hammering home how terrifying an ordeal like this must be. Casting is on point here, watch for Bernard Hill as the sympathetic camp doctor, the late Om Puri and a brief early career cameo from Emily Mortimer as Patterson’s wife. Occasionally straying into the realm of melodrama is this one’s only fault, for the most part it’s a hair raising, nightmarish account of adventure and terror told with style, packed with atmospheres and primed to get pulses racing. 

-Nate Hill

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