Phantoms (1998) — Ben Affleck was the bomb, yo

“What kind of threat are we dealing with here: biological, chemical, or other?”

Justin’s rating: The Goat With The Thousand Young ain’t coming to any of MY dinner parties!

Justin’s review: The problem with horror is that most scary movies always think small. They go to Horror Community College (go Mighty Wererats!) and think that a troubled maniac here and a half dozen teenage deaths there comprise true terror. They don’t aspire for more, unlike Stephen King (who slaughtered the whole planet in The Stand) or Dean Koontz, who at least manages to take out an entire city and a military platoon before the end of the scare-fest Phantoms.

Phantoms starts out in the thick of the action — which is to say, dead silence. Two sisters drive into a small Colorado town seeking vacation time, which ends up about the same if they got a rental on the River Styx. The town is quiet… too, too quiet. Slaphappy investigation reveals the reason: dead people. Too, too dead. Heads are baking in the oven, phones ring with garbled voices hissing on the other line, and a bloody message in a mirror points to a connection with a tabloid journalist.

Trapped in the town, the sisters (one of whom is Rose McGowan wearing lipstick three shades too red) team up with a sheriff (Ben Affleck) and his deputies (including one incredibly creepy Liev Schreiber) to get to the bottom of the mystery. Hot on their heels is the military, which is all too happy to provide the Nameless Evil One with a free all-you-can-eat buffet.

It turns out that the big baddie is a a multi-tentacled slime creature that lives underground somewhere and pops up through the drains. Now, I have a rather large list of things that scare me (small demon kids with no eyes are at the number one spot, Carrot Top is at number two), and nowhere on that list exists “underground tentacle thingie.” It’s not a creature to inspire fear in the best of us, unless we’ve perhaps been sitting on the toilet too long while thinking unnerving thoughts.

Despite the end result of all of the evil pranks and bad acting (“We’ve got to get out of here!” on character shouts. “No! Get a hold of yourself” another snaps… yeah, that’s bright thinking), Phantoms delivers the creepy crawlies in spades. Bodies coming back to life, eerie hymns coming out of nowhere, a thing that looks like a cocker spaniel… this town is one nice haunted house. It reminded me of Silent Hill. Perhaps not taken quite as far, or as gory, or as smart as it could’ve been, but at least Phantoms had the aspiration. And some demon children to boot!

Kyle’s rating: One of the scariest books ever is mutilated into one of the crappiest movies ever!

Kyle’s review: Phantoms isn’t that bad, I’m just mad because the original source novel by Dean Koontz is probably the scariest story I’ve ever read. That’s damn scary stuff! A big scary amorphous prehistoric blob thing more intelligent than us? A bunch of people trapped in a consumed and empty town? Someone hold me! Hold me! Help me, blonde girls of the world!

If you rent Phantoms, you’ll be yelling for help as well. But for a different reason, because the movie sucks. Big time. But again, I’m all jaded because I love the novel and the movie (due to its lack of a $200 million budget) couldn’t deliver on the full story.

Oh well. I guess it’s for the best, because otherwise I’d be telling you how that maxim about movies never living up to the source book wasn’t true in this case, and you’d be like “no, how can the movie be better than the book!?!” and I’d be like “listen, punk, you better represent and respect the Kyle!” It’d be too weird for words, so I’m actually overjoyed that everything worked out here. I actually feel closer to you all now! Oh, don’t see Phantoms if you can. Thanks!

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