Phantom Town (1999)

phantom-townPhantom Town (1999)
AKA Spooky Town

Starring John Patrick White, Taylor Locke, Lauren Summers, Jim Metzler, Belinda Montgomery, Gabriel Spahiu, Jimmy Herman, Jeff Burr, Iuliana Ciugulea, Dan Badarau

Directed by Jeff Burr

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Phantom Town may be a simple retelling of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers story, but it’s overwhelmingly well-made, and will please all the B-Movie fans in your household. One night, a bunch of home alone kids throw a massive party for their friends. When their mother calls to check on them, they freak out! Hey guys, scram! Mom’s coming home! But this freak-out is nothing compared to the fear that sets in when Mom and Dad’s phone call cuts short as they drive into the mysterious town of Long Hand. They never make it home, so the kids go out the next night to look for signs of what might have happened. Instead, they find the Last Chance Trading Post, where an old Native American man tells them that Long Hand has been gone for a hundred years, and the only way there is to dream your way in. Whoa, man, that’s so heavy!

As is tradition in the Moonbeam films, young children who watch the film will get what is perhaps their first tastes of many things. Things like: the dread of waking up and realizing that your parents are probably dead, the concept of taking matters into your own hands by jumping in a car and sneaking out on your current guardians, the idea that you have a soul and that it can be taken, the thin line that defines one’s mortality, the existential question of meaning… y’know, all the common playground topics. I don’t object to any of these as I’m not a parent, but I can imagine parents these days getting twisted about this stuff being in a supposed family film. If anything, I think it would help kids deal with their fears of soul-stealing alien cowboys, but what do I know?

WE00625I also forgot one thing from that list of stuff: gore. Kids movies don’t generally have any sort of graphic violence, but Phantom Town takes a page out of Troll 2‘s book and gives us a fair amount of gore via the use of green blood. They aren’t bleeding, Little Johnny, they’re oozing green stuff! Very different from bleeding! You might be able to quickly explain away green blood to your six-year-old, but try that same line when the evil, body-snatched Daddy gets his arm ripped off in a car door. For the right kids, this is sure to create some true genre fans, and if I had kids this would definitely be something I’d love to show them.

phantomtown_1Visually, Phantom Town looks incredible. Full Moon has never been known for their adherence to visual aesthetic standards or careful filmmaking, but Phantom Town is a gloriously shot film. Well… as long as you enjoy brightly colored key lights that create stark blasts of color across the screen and the actor’s faces. It’s bold, reminding me of similar lighting on Star Trek (Original Series), and it creates stunning images throughout. The whole time I wished I could watch the film projected on a cinema-sized screen; it’s just that nice looking (for a B-Movie).

Phantom Town is aimed at older kids, and it’s chock full of pure B-Movie fun. I had a blast watching this one, and I’d definitely recommend B-Movie fans check it out now at Redbox (where it released last week under the new title: Spooky Town). They even managed to sneak in what I’m pretty sure is a reference to The Big Lebowski, and the whole thing ends with some incredible snap zooms and a killer freeze-frame that cuts to a great hair metal-esque song called No Bed of Roses (complete with a sick, wailing guitar solo) over the credits… How can I not love this movie? Phantom Town is sure to create quite a few horror/monster movie fans among the kids who see this, provided they can get it past their parents!

Next week on Full Moon Tuesday, I’ll be checking out the sure-to-be-strange film from 1985, White Slave, an Italian movie funded by Empire International!

2 comments to Phantom Town (1999)

  • I’m actually impressed that this got a 3/4 on the “regular scale” from you… I’ve kind of gathered that Moonbeam isn’t exactly the height of cinema, and kids’ horror movies are usually pretty poor in general. Then, of course, there’s the title change, which is usually a bad sign.

    But you say it’s pretty fun on the whole. Might be worth checking out if I stumble upon it.

    • I’m sure those that do end up watching this one will disagree with my fairly high assessment on the general scale, but I do have my reasons. Most B-Movies are of a lesser quality than a big-budget release, obviously, but this one successfully creates a lot of atmosphere and tension. It’s really well-shot and the gore and creature FX are well-realized, and it has defined characters that aren’t completely annoying. My girlfriend who generally tunes and couldn’t care less about these B-Movies I watch, also genuinely enjoyed the movie and remarked that it was a good one. Most Full Moon movies show a lot of chinks and take a lot on your part to like them, but this one is different. So while I’m sure many would disagree, I found it very well-made in a lot of aspects unusual for these films.

      The title change is a standard thing for their releases to Redbox. They all get spiffy new covers, a new title screen and sometimes some added digital lens flare here and there to make it look “modern.” On this one I didn’t notice any extra FX, though, as what was there was more than enough. I always review under the original title (that goes for everything), so I guess in a way I’m hurting their plans for the rename.

      I loved it thoroughly, but I’m so far down the Full Moon rabbit hole that sometimes I feel like I’m overselling the ones that are good. But this one was definitely a cut above, and easily the best Moonbeam film I’ve seen yet. But I always cringe a bit and hope for the best when someone is enticed into watching one from my positive review. So should you watch it, I’ll definitely be very interested in your take on it.

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