January 23, 1998 in Seven

‘Phantoms’ Falls Flat As Low-Budget Horror

William Arnold Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In the last few years, a growing number of powerful best-selling authors have stepped forward to demand a big voice in, and often creative control of, the films made from their novels - a list that includes Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton and John Grisham.

The latest is mega-selling horror-master Dean Koontz, who has dabbled with adaptations of his work in the past, but has now turned up as sole screenwriter and executive producer (the power position) of the film version of his 1983 book, “Phantoms.”

Whether or not Koontz will stay on this list is another matter. The film is a thoroughly routine, low-budget horror programmer that never seems chilling - or campy enough - to connect in a big way with the “Scream” audience, or anyone else for that matter.

The story is about a small Colorado mountain town in the clutches of a malevolent life force that has lived deep in the earth for eons, and occasionally surfaces to feed on humans and eradicate whole civilizations. (They gulped down the Mayans, for instance.)

We experience it through the eyes of the beautiful town doctor (Joanna Going), her sexy younger sister (Rose McGowan), the Harvard-educated local sheriff (Ben Affleck), his geeky deputy (Liev Schreiber), and a scientist turned tabloid writer (Peter O’Toole).

Koontz’s fans particularly love this book, and buried beneath all the B-movie cliches there is actually a fairly intriguing story premise: a primitive species of life that has fed on humans so long that they have ingested our collective consciousness and developed a godlike ego.

But, as presented here, the concept is very poorly developed and never really grabs us. And the chief culprit may be Koontz’s talky and suspenseless script, which has too many cardboard characters and too much dull action.

“Phantoms” is not helped much by its lackluster supporting cast, or by the direction of Joe Chappelle, who just doesn’t seem to have much of a flair for this kind of picture.

The only really noteworthy thing here is the presence of a slumming Peter O’Toole as the renegade ex-scientist. The aging actor’s voice is still pure music, and his gaunt, ravaged features make him by far the scariest-looking thing in the movie. With low-budget horror once again on the rise in Hollywood, he could well have a whole new career as the John Carradine of the late ‘90s.



Location: East Sprague, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas

Credits: Directed by Joe Chappelle, starring Peter O’Toole, Rose McGowan, Joanna Going, Ben Affleck

Running time: 1:31

Rating: R

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email