Dean Koontz’s Phantoms 


Dean Koontz’s Phantoms is one of those that I was really stoked on for years and would recommend at the drop of a hat… until I got around to reading the book. Koontz’s novel is brilliantly paced nocturnal nightmare fuel, detailed, imaginative and specific in it’s thrills and chills. This film is a brisk, truncated version of that story, not only that but it takes severe liberties and deviates quite a bit from the tale, resulting in a film that bears little resemblance to the book. It’s good on it’s own, for sure, atmospheric and freaky on terms that don’t include the big picture, but when seated alongside the novel it pales like the large number of paralyzed corpses that pop up all over an eerie abandoned village somewhere in the Midwest. Two sisters (Joanna Going and Rose McGowan) drive into town expecting to visit kindly relatives, and find only death and desertion instead. They wander about, plagued by visions and radios that play spooky old timey music of their own accord, spine tingling in this context. The only townsfolk they find are starched cadavers, killed by some unseen force that watches, waits and refuses to be defined. It’s in this first act that the film is scariest, achieving impressive levels of dread through isolation and uncertainty. As soon as Sheriff Ben Affleck and his shitkicking deputies shows up, the effect dims a bit and degenerates into schlocky survivalist gimmicks, still entertaining yet not as effective as the opening. Things get downright silly when the FBI delegates a crusty old professor of cryptozoology or some such farfetched endeavour (a peppy Peter O’ Toole) to come on over to town, analyze the mystical menace and.. well that’s about it from him. Clandestine hazmat teams are dispatched, Body Snatchers/The Thing homages ooze all over the place and the film putts along in standard horror gear, never getting near to as good as it was in the first twenty minutes or so, let alone the quality of the book. Liev Schreiber is memorable as one of Affleck’s boys who goes a little nutty, Bo Hopkins and Robert Knepper score points in cameos as cheeky G-Men, and there’s work from Clifton Powell Nicky Katt. For what it is it ain’t bad, just expect to be a little deflated if you watch this first and then go check out the book, because there’s no kind comparison to make. 

-Nate Hill

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