Throwback Thursday Review: “The Ghost and the Darkness” (1996)



Title: The Ghost and The Darkness
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Posted July 21, 2016 by

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In 1896, a pair of man-eating, male lions terrorized construction crews, working on an African railroad, in Tsavo. Lt. Col. John Patterson, who was heading the bridge-building project for the railroad company, wrote his account of the nine month period, in which the lions piled up human bodies to the count of 135. Given man’s fascination with any predator greater than himself, and the fact that big budget “Man vs animal” movies were basically a guaranteed hit throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it makes sense that a movie based on the infamous lions would be made. Well sure enough, in 1996, it was indeed made. It was called “The Ghost and the Darkness” (referring to the names of the lions, given to them by the local tribes) two Hollywood “A-listers” in Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. My parents decided that, though the movie was rated “R”, I (at age 15) could see it after they read that the rating was only due to the lions’ graphic killing of the humans. It was immediately one of my favorite films, and one that I forced more than one friend to watch.

the ghost 1Kilmer plays Patterson who, leaving behind his wife and soon to be born son, sets off for Africa to help complete a British railroad and cement his name in history. Unfortunately, shortly after he gets there, one of the men working on the bridge is attacked by a lion. Coolly and confidently, Patterson tells the men not to worry, because he is going to “Sort it out”. Sure enough, he kills a lion and the entire camp celebrates. Once again though, fortune is not Patterson’s friend as more and more men fall prey to not one but two man-eating lions, who seem to possess an almost human level intelligence.

Once it is decided that Mr. Patterson is outmatched, the head of the railroad company (played by Tom Wilkinson) hires legendary hunter Charles Remington (Douglas) to come in and take care of business. John, Charles, and native African Samuel (Kani) join forces to battle with the fierce predators, and hopefully save a lot of lives in the process. They set traps, they track the beasts, they even use themselves as human bait. Anything to stop the man-eaters from taking any more lives. The result is an intense, bloody affair and it is pretty damn entertaining! Think “Jaws”, in Africa, with two lions instead of a great white. Sweet right?! Right!

the ghost 3Okay, okay… there are some things definitely wrong with “The Ghost and the Darkness”. For starters, the studio tool some “Creative liberties” with the story (for example the character of Remington didn’t even exist in real life) and there are more than one eye-roll inducing, cliche moments (I’m looking at you, annoying dream sequence), but overall I still think it is a pretty great movie. It is beautifully filmed, in a gorgeous setting. The score, by none other than Jerry Goldsmith, is incredibly powerful, without drowning out anything that is taking place on screen. Kilmer and Douglas both deliver solid performances, despite Kilmer’s horrible attempt at an Irish accent. All of that plus the fact that the death scenes are insanely intense and the tension is maintained really well, by director Stephen Hopkins, make “The Ghost and the Darkness” a really fun film to re-visit (or just visit if you have never seen it). It’s not a masterpiece by any means but, outside of “Jaws” and a small handful of others, it is one of the best “Animal serial killer” movies ever made.




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