Roger Corman’s The Phantom Eye (1999)

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| Horror | TV series—feature film (1999)

Directed by Gwenyth Gibby | Edited by Lorne Morris | Written by Benjamin Carr

Starring: David Sean Robinson, Sarah Aldrich and Roger Corman, with Michael J. Anderson & Frank Gorshin.

Originally aired in 35-chapters for AMC’s Monsterfest 99.


The film begins with AMC Horror Department head Dr. Gorman (Corman, wearing a Frankensteinian labcoat) instructing archival interns, Joey (David S. Robinson) and Catherine (Sarah Aldrich) to find a film called ‘The Phantom Eye’ and return with it by midnight. The duo, in their search, moves into ‘dead storage,’ where they split up and find themselves within the vaults’ old films. From the speaker system, Gorman instructs them that they will face death and must utilize their knowledge of cinema to survive and escape.

The meta-satirical idea is a clever one and is executed in highly amusing fashion with the principal leads constantly rushing about the interiors of old films, complete with out-of-sync dubbing, grainy film and acting and tropes to match the period.

In one of my favorite segments in the film, Joey winds up in a old, melodramatic Hammer vampire film and resists the monster’s mesmeric charms by recalling that the bloodsucker speaks with a English, rather than Transylvanian, accent.

Senior vice president of original programming for AMC (the actual AMC, not the fictive one in the movie), Marc Juris said of the idea for the film, “We thought the best way to do this would be to go to one of the people who created these movies, and actually create an entirely new movie that pays tribute to him. It would [also] help educate and recontextualize these movies for a new generation of monster-movie lovers.” That it certainly does, as The Atomic Submarine (1959) and Corman’s own House of Usher (1960) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) all feature prominently in the picture.

My biggest criticism of the film is the bleak, twist-ending, which, though fascinating, is tonally at odds with the charming, tongue-in-cheek character of the rest of the piece. Whatever choice the interns made, they were fated to be actors in a play beyond their control—but then, what else is history; our own ‘phantom eye.’

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