Monsters just want to be appreciated

Day 12: mon­sters with low self-esteem

The fol­low­ing was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on Flick Attack, 21 June 2012.

If there’s one cin­e­mat­ic behe­moth I’ve ever tru­ly felt sor­ry for, it’s The Ancient Ene­my. Most mon­sters don’t get much in the way of inner con­flict or psy­cho­log­i­cal depth. Phan­toms (1998), how­ev­er, pro­vides an in-depth study of the God com­plex, here in the guise of an intel­li­gent oil slick with visions of per­son­al deifi­ca­tion that suf­fers from some seri­ous infe­ri­or­i­ty issues.

It just wants you to remem­ber it. I feel rather bad for the poor ol’ goop.

And it tries so hard to be one of the greats. It repli­cates humans, just like the spores in Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers! It haunts the sew­ers, like The Blob! It man­i­fests itself as the creepi­est dog this side of The Thing.

But wait, there’s more! The Ancient Ene­my employs giant moths to suck out brains in sec­onds! It wipes out entire town­ships in less than an after­noon! It gives birth to a Love­craft­ian hybrid of a land squid and Liev Schreiber! What more do you want in a mon­ster?

But for all its efforts, The Ancient Ene­my just can’t seal the deal. All it takes to defeat this escapee from the Exxon Valdez is a few vials of bio­log­i­cal­ly engi­neered virus, Ben Affleck, and the late, oh-so-great Peter O’Toole (about as far from the award-win­ning likes of Lawrence of Ara­bia as pos­si­ble). His endear­ing per­for­mance as a dis­graced Eng­lish aca­d­e­m­ic work­ing for a week­ly rag is of the sort only old­er Eng­lish actors can pull off: equal parts grav­i­tas and ham, replete with droll line read­ings that com­plete­ly oblit­er­ate every­one else onscreen, includ­ing the capa­ble likes of Joan­na Going (Wyatt Earp) and Rose McGowan (Plan­et Ter­ror).

Phan­toms is hard­ly per­fect, often bare­ly more than good, which is par for the course for any­thing nov­el­ist Dean Koontz has ever touched (the man’s oeu­vre pos­i­tive­ly reeks of ade­qua­cy). But direc­tor Joe Chap­pelle (Hal­loween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers) under­stands how to cre­ate atmos­phere, even if he doesn’t always suc­ceed. He plays with silence and long takes, yet knows when to go for the gus­to, makes the most of a low bud­get, keeps the cheap CGI to a bare min­i­mum, and suc­ceeds with a few of the more chill­ing moments I’ve seen in film. (That dog! Nev­er has a docile gold­en lab seemed so, well, evil.)

All told, Phan­toms is an effec­tive crea­ture fea­ture that has quick­ly become a per­son­al late-night sta­ple, a cin­e­mat­ic snack to gob­ble down with cheap liquor and chips.

Bonus points for the genius sec­ond act; the mil­i­tary and sci­en­tists arrive to sur­vey the situation—a sce­nario which would nor­mal­ly result in an epic end bat­tle of guns, mor­tars and tanks à la Godzilla—and The Ancient Ene­my wipes them out in five min­utes. Five!

For the month of Octo­ber I’ll be post­ing a whole mess of stuff about hor­ror. Most­ly stuff I like, because on the web, I AM GOD.