FAST FURIOUS AND FATAL
THE ULTIMATE ROAD KILL
Vivendi Entertainment, who now seem to be the company releasing RHI Entertainment's low budget horror and sci-fi films produced for the SyFy Channel on home video, unleashes Phantom Racer on DVD. As its title and not-so-subtle cover art suggest, this movie is another take on the haunted car subgenre, which has seen a fair - if sporadic - number of entries over the years. My personal favorites include the 1970's James Brolin vehicle (yes, pun intended) The Car and John Carpenter's version of the Stephen King novel Christine.
Phantom Racer doesn't stack up with its predecessors, but then, I didn't expect it to. As a DVD Talk reviewer, I've not got years of experience with SyFy Channel cinema repurposed for home video, and that experience dictates that one goes in with low expectations. However, like a lot of these rather disposable films, Phantom Racer does manage to adequately follow the clichés of its type and at least entertains for its 87 minute runtime.
Phantom Racer opens with a scene vaguely reminiscent of the beginning of last year's The Final Destination. Rival drivers J.J. and Cutter are in a bitter feud that spills out onto the race track. Cutter has secretly had his crew sabotage J.J.'s car, but in the resultant crash, Cutter's red 66 car is the one that suffers the most damage - and he ironically ends up dying in the fiery wreck.
Flash forward 17 years, J.J. (now played by Greg Evigan) is now a truck-drivin' and beer-swillin' dude haunted by the memories of that fateful crash. He returns home after all these years when his truck needs repairs, and discovers that Cutter's 66 has been fully restored. Bad idea. The 66 is now possessed by Cutter's spectre, and he's gunning for revenge. The phantom car starts bumping off secondary characters left and right while J.J. joins forces with Cutter's widow (Nicole Eggert) and her miscreant teenage daughter to stop the infernal menace.
And there you have it, another formulaic killing spree (if the car was some kind of creature, this movie would have been shelved with the long-running Maneater Series) that ends with a final showdown between the car and the film's main protagonists. One thing of note here, however, is that the kills are a bit more grisly than in other SyFy features. This isn't to say Phantom Racer is at the bloodsoaked level of a Saw sequel; however, it does have some gorier deaths than the norm from an RHI Entertainment production. Other than that, the movie delivers some un(?)intentionally humorous scenes, some intentionally humorous scenes that aren't humorous (a riff on the old I Shot the Sheriff song is especially groan-inducing), questionable special effects, and a melodramatically ridiculous love story. On this last point, I was surprised that credited writers Lindsay James and Jason Bourque weren't responsible for the SyFy Channel creature flick Black Swarm, as that had a similarly convoluted love story that also involved the parentage of a daughter.
Ultimately, if you haven't test drove The Car or Christine, check those films out - I'd recommend them. Phantom Racer, on the other hand, reflects the standard cable horror film fare of today. Rent it, only if you're curious.
Vivendi Entertainment gives Phantom Racer an anamorphic widescreen presentation that it claims "preserve[s] the aspect ratio of its original television exhibition." The image seemed fine, with good colors and adequate detail - about what one has come to expect from a contemporary television movie.
The lone audio track is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. The mix isn't particularly dynamic, but dialogue is always clear. Neither language nor subtitle options are made available.
Trailers precede the main menu for The Storm, Backwoods, and Infected. And that's it for extras.
Phantom Racer is a bit grislier than its relative SyFy Channel movie fare; otherwise, it's business as usual. Rent it - but only if you're into this sort of thing. Otherwise, I'd stick with better haunted car fare like The Car or Christine.