Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'Phantoms' (1998)
Two hams doth not a horror make...
I remember this being a pretty bad movie when I was a teenager growing up. I watched it again to determine if it was a good-bad movie or just another Ben Affleck bomb. I mean, Ben Affleck has a lot of bunker busters under his name, so it was kind of hard to set aside my memory of him and my memory of this movie.
And you know what? If it wasn't for Affleck and Rose McGowan totally hamming their lines, it would’ve been pretty good horror. Just about everything in this movie is done right, so far as horror goes. The practical FX mixed with the CGI are well done, the atmosphere is amazing, the tension is only broken with the hammy acting, and outside of Affleck and McGowan, the acting is actually pretty good. And let’s face it, even with Affleck and McGowan at their worst, they're still doing better than can be expected of the good ol' horror standard.
Outside of all that, I have to say, it's kinda a fun movie. While I do have a FUCK TON of complaints (see spoilers below), I was able to enjoy this megaton bomb... even if I had to riff it a bit to get through some scenes... but hey, that's half the fun, right? So I can recommend this movie for horror heads and I can recommend it for riffers, but if you’re an H.P. Lovecraft fan, you’re going to have a bad time. It didn’t disrespect Lovecraft’s mythos, so much as it pissed all over it and tried to outright replace it. And that brings me to my complaints...
Look, I know Affleck and McGowan were big names at the time, but you had three other VERY good actors besides those two hams, who actually carried their roles well. So, why did you give the lead to the two hams? What the actual fuck, man?
I also get that you couldn't secure the rights to Lovecraft materials, and I know that this was supposed to be an homage to Lovecraft and his creation, The Nyarlathotep... but did you have to give it such contemporary Anglo Christian names as Satan and Beelzebub? I mean really? There is absolutely nothing Satanic about the story here and if "The Ancient Enemy" absorbs the knowledge of everyone it eats, then it would know it has NOTHING to do with that mythology, or it wouldn’t have at least patterned its behaviors that way.
The thing is, this creature is clearly set up as orchestrating its own becoming, so they could have: A) have created its image in a unique way that they wanted, or B) followed a homage to The Nyarlathotep. But for some fucking reason, they threw all of that marvelous mythos out the window. And for what? Some lame petroleum beast that thinks it's Satan?
So, we basically got this thing that was the Blob with absorbed intelligence like John Carpenter's The Thing, but also had a God complex. Trying to smoosh those concepts together and having it call itself Satan just comes off as unimaginative and secondhand.
I mean, “The Ancient Enemy” is pretty fucking cool in the right light, you just needed to really give it the extra effort. The concept of a creature that is responsible for mass extinctions and disappearances is fascinating, even without having to place Lovecraft’s name on it. Frankly, there’s a lot you could do there and it’s perfect for a series, let alone just one movie.
I'm not saying this movie isn't worth watching. At least it's good for riffing. Nothing can be done about the director's choice in lead casting, but it's a fun movie all the same. I give it my recommendation—but just to horror heads and riffers.