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.
Who would have thought that a horror flick starring Snoop Dogg would actually be a winner? Bones isn’t a milestone in the genre or anything, but it sure is better than the self promoting vanity piece that I expected going in. Usually when rappers or musicians headline their own films they turn out to be spectacular failures (50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying and Dee Snider’s Strangeland come to mind), but this one comes off as a legitimate, entertaining horror effort. Snoop plays Jimmy Bones, a lucrative 70’s street hustler who is betrayed and slaughtered by his partners in crime, his own sweetheart Pearl (Pam Grier is never not cool) and one sleazebag of a cop (Michael T. Weiss, excellent). Decades later he returns, undead, in the form of a smooth talking supernatural street demon, out to exact bloody ghetto revenge on his old acquaintances and clean up his former inner city neighbourhood, which is actually just Vancouver in disguise, I mean what city in any movie ever isn’t just Vancouver? Loosely threaded with the story of a few kids who plan to turn his old gothic mansion into a silly hip hop nightclub, things rev into full gore gear when he shows up back in town to stir shit around and collect heads, and I mean that literally. Snoop is wicked fun, wisely dropping any rap gags or meta smirk, showing up in full jive talking boogeyman mode, meaning business and bringing along the dark, angry charisma to back it up. Director Ernest Dickinson helmed a few Tales From The Crypt outings and therefore knows his way around this very specific and distilled niche of horror. Shades of the 80’s are prescient with incredibly gooey, gag inducing effects that would make Freddy Krueger jealous, and one gets an almost Crow vibe from the story structure, via the paranormal revenge motif and baroque, Poe-esque fire and brimstone aesthetic. It’s silly for sure, but far far more grounded and committed than you’d expect this type of thing to be on paper. More of a head on its shoulders than Tales From The Hood anyway, and yes that’s a real thing. I must make additional mention of the prosthetic effects though; not since certain Elm Street outings, early Cronenberg or stuff like The Sentinel have I seen the level of deformed, hellish grossology onscreen than is present in some scenes here, they should be really proud of what they’ve done.