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Dr. Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) has just retrieved her sister, Lisa (Rose McGowan) from Los Angeles (where Lisa was living with their alcoholic mother) and is returning to her home in Snowfield, Colorado, where Lisa will stay with her. When they arrive, they find everyone in town is either dead or has vanished. And it looks as if the deaths happened very suddenly – as in pots are still simmering on stoves suddenly. And the corpses look all weird and purple-veined. The phones are dead and now Jenny’s jeep won’t start. The two spotted an empty car running when they drove into town but they find it too has gone kaput. Has a disease laid waste to Snowfield? In the police station they find the body of an officer and it appears as if he shot at something – which means it probably isn’t a disease. But there is no blood.
Going into the town bakery the sisters discover what appear to be clear sings of foul play…
Good things the police show up in the form of cowboy hat wearing Sheriff Ben Affleck and Deputy Liev Schreiber. Ben Affleck plays one of those cops who shot a kid by accident and now is all hung up about it and sees the kids everywhere and Liev Schreiber plays one of those cops who sees a melted looking dead female body on a bed and thinks I gotta get me some of that.
McGowan plays the bad girl who is really a nice girl and gets this clunker of a line: “Well, it’s the devil, don’t you think? Come up from hell tonight. I think he wants to dance with us.”
The creature/entity behind the disappearance desires the presence of Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole) a paliobiologist who used to teach at Oxford but now writes for a Weekly World New types rag and published articles about “The Anicent Enemy.”
This is all based on a novel by Dean Koontz – I read the novel before I saw the film and while I like both, they also both have the same essential problem. Koontz (who also wrote the script) came up with such an interesting story, but he also effectively wrote himself into a corner – how do you explain everything that is going on? In the end any rational attempt at an explanation is probably going to be disappointing. So it turns out “The Ancient Enemey” is pretty much a black goo version of the Blob with a larger brain which allows it to have the concept of itself as a Godlike thing. So we get monster show tentacles, a giant face sucking prehistoric moth (especially well done) tons of shape shifting, a sentient dog, flatworm learning, “chaos in the flesh” and a soldier being swept away by something unseen in the sewer.
This movie didn’t get much positive press when it came out – it isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but it is capable and hurdles along at a breakneck pace which it especially benefits from.
Joe Chappelle helmed this film and here he actually seems to understand the conventions of the genre and does decent work much unlike his previous offerings – the absolutely dreadful Alan Smithee “directed” Hellraiser: Bloodline and the franchise derailing Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Though all the shooting in slow motion is quite tacky – is this an action movie or a sci-fi horror?
The film takes major inspiration from Carpenter’s The Thing and I found the “only in me can you achieve immortality” an interesting conceit. The effects are well done and still hold up today. And don’t tell me the ending doesn’t simultaneously recall both The Howling and Twilight Zone: The Movie. B-