Ha ha and sweet goofballs, it’s Burl, here to review a tale of underground gumphries! You might say to yourself “Ha ha, Burl, what the heck are underground gumphries?” No, I don’t know, because whatever the monster is in this picture, it may as well be called an underground gumphry as anything else, because it’s one of the vaguest creatures ever to come down the pike! And the movie in which it is featured is called Phantoms!
The picture is much like Deep Rising, with which it shares an amorphous creature, some dodgy digital effects, some refreshing gloop and gore, an approximate release date (January 1998), and at least one actor, Clifton Collins, who here plays an ill-fated general! The story is laid in a small Colorado mountain town as two bickering sisters, played by Joanna Going from The Tree of Life and Rose McGowan from Scream, drive into town for a visit and wonder at the total lack of human activity on the streets! Ha ha, but when they start discovering things like disembodied hands clutching at a rolling pin, they twig that something terrible has happened to the townsfolk! They run into some equally bewildered cops led by Sheriff Ben Affleck of Dazed and Confused and Gone Girl fame; in his company are a pair of deputies, one played by Nicky Katt from Gremlins, and the other, a giggling snickering jerky-jerk and an obvious madman from the moment he steps on screen called Wargle, is essayed by Liev Schreiber from The Daytrippers!
They find the desiccated corpse of Linnea Quigley in a hotel room, and Wargle, whose complex of pathologies includes being a pervhound, seems to want to have relations with it! Ha ha, and shortly thereafter he goes completely boo at the zoo and has his face eaten off by a giant moth! At this point in the review, if you haven’t seen the movie or even if you have, you’re probably wondering just exactly what it is menacing the town! Is it a giant moth? Is it the revived corpses of some of the victims, including Wargle, who pop up now and again? (These, I take it, are the phantoms of the title!) Or is it something else, aliens perhaps? Well, ha ha, it’s hard to say!
Clarification, or as much as we’ll ever be granted, comes from a character preposterously called Dr. Timothy Flyte, who is played by none other than Peter O’Toole, most famed from his role in Club Paradise! Flyte is napped by a pair of agents played by Bo Hopkins from Tentacles and Rob Knepper from Wild Thing, who deliver him to the beleaguered town, tip their caps, and are never seen again! By this time the army has become involved and there’s a mobile laboratory that I was heartened to see! Flyte, once he’s hooked up with our gang of protagonists, compares the malevolent entity to a petroleum jelly, so I guess that’s how I’ll refer to it to, because, much like most of the film’s characters, I never really had any idea what they were up against!
I did appreciate such
background as is provided: Flyte calls the creature the “Ancient Enemy,” and
spins vaguely Lovecraftian tales of how this ageless jelly occasionally rises
up from the earthen underworld in which it dwells to wipe out entire towns or
civilizations! I like that kind of thing in a movie, but they don’t do a lot
with it here! When it’s not a moth or a zombie, or shaking down The Thing
by incarnating as a dog and then bursting forth from within it, the jelly resembles
a sort of fudge, or a putty of sorts, or maybe just a big shmoo! Its powers are ill-defined, its goals
unclear (it seems to crave publicity, of all things), its weakness implausible and its inspirations obvious! But, ha ha, on the other hand it will occasionally telephone the characters and scream at them through the receiver!
O’Toole and the rest of the cast take all this as seriously as they’re able, and I have to admit they didn’t do a bad job of it! This being a Miramax production and featuring Rose McGowan in a leading role, one gets the creeping willies thinking about that horrible Weinstein brother and his monstrous treatment of McGowan and who knows how many other women – in fact, there’s a moment when Wargle tries out some of his perv-dude talk on Sheriff Affleck and is promptly shut down; one wonders if this was meant as a sort of proxy dramatization of real-life Weinstein-Affleck conversations, with Affleck in the role of the righteous hero and the slobbering madman rapist standing in for Weinstein! Well, who knows!
But it’s a real lombego,
this movie! I saw it in the theatre, so I’m feeling that extra bit of affection
I carry for such pictures, and the simple fact is I do like a monster movie,
and I really like The Thing, which this is trying to be! But ha ha, that
it sure ain’t! The dialogue clangs about like a collapsing church organ and the
goofnugget level is off the charts, but there are a few effective scenes if you
let yourself get into it! It’s dumb and it’s derivative, but the things it’s
imitating are mostly fun and interesting, so it benefits from the echoes! It
reminds me of a bigger-budget version of something like The Kindred, or a lower-budget simulacrum of the 1988 The Blob, and
it receives additional credit for possessing, more or less, that spirit! It’s bad and nothing
can change that, but you might find it entertaining! I give Phantoms one
and a half phone calls!