Literature: Phantoms

Phantoms is a horror novel by American author Dean Koontz. It takes place in the small Californian mountain town of Snowfield, where doctor Jennifer Paige is taking her younger sister Lisa to live after their mother died of an embolism. It's a picturesque little place, but it doesn't take the sisters long to notice that something's missing—all the people, for starters. They find a few corpses, but most of the town's inhabitants seem to have vanished without a trace. Many of the few bodies they do find obviously died completely terrified, though just how they died isn't immediately evident.

All the phones are down, but eventually they manage to make a call to the Santa Mira sheriff’s office, which sends up a small group of police officers, who in turn summon an army platoon to investigate the possibility of some kind of chemical warfare. What they find is much worse—an ancient creature that can shape shift into whatever it wants, which has come up to the surface of the Earth to feed and which, thanks to its ability to absorb the thoughts of its victims, believes itself to be the devil. If they can’t find a way to kill it, they’re all going to be lunch sooner or later….

It was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole, Rose McGowan, and Ben Affleck. Who was the bomb in this film.


Phantoms contains examples of:

  • Animalistic Abomination: The monster can choose any shape to hunt down it's victims. A giant moth is one of them.
  • Age Lift: Lisa is 14 in the novel. She appears to be at least 17 or 18 in the movie adaptation.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Oh so much, but see Rule of Scary above. It tries to avert this with Biosan (The biological weapon used to kill the monster), which is based on a Real Life organism made by Ananda Chakrabarty to dissolve oil spills.
  • Artistic License – History: Quite a few of the "unsolved mass disappearances" mentioned in the book have concrete or at least widely accepted explanations today, and some actually never even happened. They are all at least real myths, but the author's afterword asserts that all of them actually happened and remain unresolved.
  • Asshole Victim: Stu Wargle.
  • Back from the Dead: Stu Wargle, Copperfield (in the film adaptation), and anybody else The Ancient Enemy wants to use to demoralize or terrorize the protagonists with.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The Ancient Enemy is apparently responsible for all sorts of real-world historical mass disappearances (including the Roanoke Lost Colony and the Mayans), and is the direct cause of many satanic/demonic mythoi, such as the Greek god Proteus.
  • Big Bad: The Ancient Enemy.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: A giant moth flies in through the window, latches onto a guy, siphons out his brain, and eats his face. All in a matter of seconds. So, next time that Lunesta moth taps at your window, don't let it in. For the love of god.
  • Catch Phrase: "Hey, wanna see something?" - Stu Wargle in The Movie.
  • Combat Tentacles: The Ancient Enemy uses one, coated with acid, to decapitate someone.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Pretty much everyone who dies.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Especially those not Genre Savvy enough to realize.
  • Darker and Edgier: The novel is far more gory than the film adaptation.
  • Darkness Equals Death
  • Dawson Casting: Lisa's age is never specified in the movie (she's 14 in the novel) but is implied to be at least 17 or 18 years old. She was played by Rose McGowan who was 25 when the movie was made.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Ancient Enemy, made all the more creepy from the seemingly plausible explanation for its existence and biology.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Literally. Everyone.
  • Evil Phone: The Ancient Enemy likes doing this.
  • Expy: The Ancient Enemy is a shape-shifting, sewer-dwelling, trash-talking Eldritch Abomination, not unlike a certain iconic Stephen King villain.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • For the Evulz: The Ancient Enemy's only reason to do anything.
  • Ghost Town: Snowfield.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Since the Eldritch Abomination has no major organs to disrupt, guns don't do a whole lot of good. Somewhat averted in the movie since instead of sprayers, the protagonists use impact delivery darts to deliver the bacterial agent that kills the Big Bad.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The human-derived "phantoms" are this by default.
  • Hand Signals: The man in the helicopter uses them to ask where the supplies should be dropped, and Lisa Yamaguchi signals to the survivors to form a circle to show him.
  • Hell Hotel: It didn’t start out this way, but the Ancient Enemy turned the Candleglow Inn into one.
  • Heroic BSOD: Gordy Brogan in the novel. Immediately leads to his Curiosity Killed the Cast.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The novel states that The Ancient Enemy predates humans and the concept of the Devil and demons. It goes further to state that the creature fed on humans, gained their memories and intelligence, and became evil because of human nature. Hence, the real devil is us.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The Ancient Enemy uses a child’s voice to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’.
  • It Can Think: There’s a nasty Oh Crap! moment when the characters realize the Ancient Enemy is deliberately toying with them. It is revealed later that the creature absorbed the knowledge of its victims.
  • Macabre Moth Motif
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: Deputy Frank Autry does this when he calls Sheriff Bryce Hammond on the radio after finding a room with bullets on the floor.
  • No Body Left Behind: Most of the victims are never found—those that are have often been left solely to freak out the living protagonists.
  • Orifice Invasion: Lots of it, in the movie.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When appearing to Jeeter and Kale in the cave, several of the monstrous forms that the Ancient Enemy takes have red eyes.
  • Redshirt Army: None of the Army CBW division sent to Snowfield survive in the novel or the film. Most of the sheriff's department is also killed in the novel except Tal and Hammond
  • Rule of Scary: Sure, the Ancient Enemy is a biological impossibility, but it makes for a great story.
  • Shapeshifting: The Ancient Enemy.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: The Ancient Enemy.
  • Smug Snake: The Ancient Enemy, which believes itself to be a godlike (well, actually Satan-like) entity and commands Timothy Flyte (Fletcher Kale and Gene Terr in the novel) to be its "disciple".
    • Fletcher Kale in the novel.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Dr. Flyte and The Ancient Enemy survive in the movie but are killed in the novel.
  • Stress Vomit: As a monster dissolves Gordy Brogan's body, Lisa Yamaguchi vomits into a nearby gutter.
  • Take Our Word for It: Several deaths, particularly of the soldiers, aren't seen — but they're heard, and the agonized terror of the victims is almost more effective than the deaths we see.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Though it views itself as an ultimate evil, the Ancient Enemy tends to stoop to a combination of crass obscenity and brutal violence rather than the sort of grandiose scheming one would expect of an Ultimate Evil.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie was a lackluster trimmed version of the novel.
  • Time Dissonance: The Ancient Enemy perceives time really quickly, after having been around for millions of years, and the lifespan of a human is extremely brief and insignificant to it.
  • Ultimate Evil: The Ancient Enemy. It even thinks it’s Satan.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-universe; some of the shapes the Ancient Enemy creates are considered this by the characters.