My Favorite Movies – Phantom Town (1999)

3 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Why am I talking about THIS movie?

Well that’s a stupid question–the answer is “Because it’s awesome!”

Or maybe it’s just nostalgia goggles, since I grew up with these straight-to-video movies that were made with kids in mind. But I watched A LOT of cheesy direct-to-video family fare, and upon rewatching them as an adult for curiosity’s (and nostalgia’s) sake, a lot of them didn’t hold up as well. (Some of them were just straight-up PAINFUL to rewatch!)

So, I don’t have the best explanation as to why I enjoy “Phantom Town” just as much now as I did when I was a little kid…but I don’t care. I just like it. Not too long ago, I even admitted it was one of my top 100 personal faves.

“Phantom Town” is about three kids whose parents disappear one night and they go out to look for them. Their only clue is the name of a desert town (“Long Hand”) they seemingly got lost in, but the town doesn’t seem to appear on any road map. They do find the place, which seems to be in an Old West time warp. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, as it turns out the whole town is taken over by an ancient evil that seeks to consume the souls of anyone who enters its domain.

Oh, and there’s a lot of green slime that the people bleed…I was 8 years old when I first saw this movie over a dozen times, and I was a big “Goosebumps” book fan at the time, so I kept referring to the green slime as “Monster Blood.” (Oh, and the furniture bleed the stuff too, because the whole town is like one giant living creature. It even has a nervous system underneath, like a cavernous maze–and guess what, there’s more green down there too.)

Like I said, I was about 8 years old when I first watched it (my parents rented it for me at the video store countless times). Every time I watched it, I always loved it. (And when I taped it once on TV, I was even more excited when I found three deleted scenes that weren’t on the official VHS release!) Why did I love it so much? In hindsight, I think I have my answer. It wasn’t talking down to me because it knew it was made for kids like me–instead, it wanted TO SCARE ME because that’s why I was seeing a scary movie!

There’s creepy music, with what sounds like moaning over the score, that I’ll never forget. (In fact, every time I rewatched the film and the music started to play over the opening main title, I always got shivers!) There are zombies posing as the kids’ parents, scratching at the car windows while the kid is trapped inside the car. (WTF?!) There’s a scaly gunslinger chasing after the kids. There’s a giant eyeball monster with tentacles that trap them at one point. There’s all kinds of odd folklore (which I’m not sure is accurate to Native American lore, but I’m going to guess it isn’t) that’s set up before the kids set foot into the evil town. The film even ends with the little girl screaming when she realizes that the nightmare isn’t over after we thought our heroes escaped it! This is just before the credits roll–no other movie I was seeing at that age was that gutsy!

I can’t help it. I have a real soft spot for the movie. Granted, the CGI is pretty bad, which makes me appreciate the practical effects even more. Some of the acting is a little wooden, particularly from the middle child, played by Taylor Locke, who was related to one of the film’s producers (but at least he’s better here than he was in “Aliens in the Wild Wild West”–oh yeah, THAT was a thing!). And not everything really adds up when you really think about it. But I can never look at “Phantom Town” as just another one of those cheap monster movies I watched as a kid, because I still love watching it as an adult.

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