1999 / Director. Jeff Burr.
Even before I had kids I always had an affection for family-friendly horror. This brand of horror is always a lot of fun and it taps into a more innocent sense of fear. Spooky storytelling is an important developmental tool in building resilience and strength in young minds. Movies I grew up with include GREMLINS, MR BOOGEDY and THE GATE. The next generation of kids after me were super lucky to have a series like GOOSEBUMPS come along. Despite my maturity I read a lot of them (I still read a lot of children's literature - it's the best kind) and Jeff Burr's 1999 movie PHANTOM TOWN is definitely cut from the same cloth. To my knowledge it remained unreleased for many years and was given it's first DVD release just this year (retitled SPOOKY TOWN). So last night I invited my 10 year old self over and sat down to watch it for the first time... The premise is great. Three kids (eldest 16) go searching for their missing parents along a desert highway. In the middle of nowhere lays a phantom town that can only be entered in a dream-like state of mind... over the years it has ensnared countless drowsy drivers along the highway. The kids discover the entry point and find themselves back in the 1800's, during the wild west. The place is not unlike WestWorld with the townsfolk seemingly programmed to a perpetual state. The kids soon discover the town itself to be alive and the residents are hideous monsters. Jeff Burr is no stranger to horror, it's what we know him for most and it's wonderful to see him stepping into family-friendly waters. He's brought his experience and horror sensibilities to the story, giving it a nicely conceived dreamlike aesthetic. The movie opens with a terrible introduction with a kid acting as an MC - it's unnecessary. Ignoring that and consuming SPOOKY TOWN in a childlike state of mind, I had a fantastic time watching it. I particularly like the use of set design. Obviously shot on a backlot and on soundstages, the artificial atmosphere adds to the fun (I'm a sucker for pseudo settings - ie soundstages). The average adult would scoff at this movie but from a pre- teen's perspective it's a fun treat (perfect for Halloween). As a filmie I also got a kick out of seeing Jeff Burr grace us with his acting skills. hehe. If you've got little'uns who don't mind a spooky bedtime story then this is worth a gander.