(director: Joe Chappelle; screenwriter: from the novel phantoms by Dean R. Koontz/Dean R. Koontz; cinematographer: Richard Clabaugh; editor: Randolph Bricker; music: David Williams; cast: Peter O’Toole (Dr Timothy Flyte), Ben Affleck (Sheriff Bryce Hammond), Joanna Going (Dr Jenny Pailey), Rose McGowan (Lisa Pailey), Liev Schreiber (Deputy Stu Wargle), Clifton Powell (Colonel Copperfield), Nicky Katt (Deputy Steve Shanning); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Steven Lane/Michael Leahy/Robert Pringle/Joel Soisson; Dimension Films; 1998)

The great thespian Peter O’Toole looks more out of place in this schlock pic than the rest of the cast, even though he’s the best thing about this misfire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Middling filmmaker Joe Chappelle (“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers”/”Thieves Quartet”/”Takedown”) directs this atmospheric sci-fi/horror pic that makes the most of its wintry Rocky Mountain setting and handles the material of popular horror novelist Dean R. Koontz supposedly better than were his other novels transferred to screen. It probably helps that Koontz worked on the script. But that’s not to say that this is a good film, in fact it’s a bad film with hardly any redeeming features. The great thespian Peter O’Toole looks more out of place in this schlock pic than the rest of the cast, even though he’s the best thing about this misfire. It’s a dumb film about a nonsensical other-world supernatural plot line that needs to be explained throughout, tacky frighting special effects that seem throwbacks to those cheapie 1950’s drive-in B-film sci-fi thrillers and a talented cast too wooden to navigate the stupid dialogue as well as the articulate O’Toole.

The town doctor Dr Jenny Pailey (Joanna Going) brings her troubled alcoholic LA residing younger sister Lisa Pailey (Rose McGowan) on a restful ski holiday to her small town of Snowfield, Colorado, and discovers most of the population has been mysteriously killed. The siblings are comforted by the stoic Sheriff Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck); while the viewer gets comforted by much needed comic relief from the obnoxious lecherous characterization of Deputy Stu Wargle (Liev Schreiber), who falls victim to the attack only to return later looking like he once did but acting even creepier as he’s now an evil force who lashes out with slimy tentacles at the humans.

After finding a bakery shop with a bunch of decapitated heads that are not perceived as human, the survivors deduce it’s the work of the Ancient Enemy, something that takes the shape of whatever it attacks and is caused by a mysterious bacteria epidemic. The authority on such strange stories is Dr Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole), a discredited scholarly professor, specializing in epidemics, who now in order to survive in the material world must write about his theories in cheesy supermarket tabloids.

The gist of the film bores the viewer with the proper speaking Flyte, brought by the FBI to Snowfield with an armed military presence, talking down to us with his haughty Brit accent and in pseudo-scientific jargon letting us know at every twist and turn what’s up with these amorphous monsters and their big egos (luring Flyte there to tell the world their story) making them think they can’t be killed as if they were gods. But, by golly, Flyte knows his scientific shit and knows how to deal with slimy hissing black snakes being spewed out of the mouths of those it has already inhabited. Any viewer who considers himself a a germ scientist would, of course, know that Flyte is spot-on when he tells us thathis genetically engineered bacteria will destroy the Ancient Enemy.

Too bad the pic didn’t shoot for camp or comedy, instead of playing such a weak story for real.