The Ghost and the Darkness Review

For those of you old enough to remember, there was a trailer for this movie with the Mission Impossible VHS when it was originally released. Unfortunately, all but a few of my old tapes have since been confined to land fills not realising the pangs of nostalgia I would feel in my early 30’s. The memory of that trailer lingers and I watched the movie some years later. Check out the VHS intro below for some old school (non-skippable) pre-roll goodness;

Based on the true story of Col. John Patterson and the building of the railway bridge at Tsavo, Kenya in 1898, The Ghost and the Darkness (“G&D”) tells of two man eating lions who tormented the build site at the height of the British Empire. I wont be getting into the historical differences between the book and the movie (e,g, the actual Tsavo lions are maneless but obviously maned lions are more movie friendly) however from my reading it would appear to be a fairly on-point recollection. If you do keep this in mind, it makes the horror elements that bit more tense.

In 1996, G&D hit theatres to overall negative reviews, with Roger Ebert giving it half a star out of five, and others panning the performances of the leads Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. If you do watch it now, it actually has not aged that badly save for one or two dodgy CGI lion moments but the cinematography with Africa as the focus cannot really disappoint and Jerry Goldsmith provides an eclectic score of orchestral rousings combined with native African motifs . If anyone else hears traces of Star Trek music cues on viewing please let me know because I am convinced it’s in there!

I have no complaints with the performances of Kilmer or Douglas (maybe the Irish accent but nobody can do that properly!) but they have a good chemistry with Kilmer’s engineer providing the plans and Douglas providing the weapons. The lions themselves are real for the wide shots with some model work and puppetry used for the up-close paw and eye scenes. The natives have their own views on the origin of the lions (e.g. spirits come back to punish the white man for aggressive imperialistic expansion, etc) and name them the titular “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” and the hunt begins to kill these animals before anymore workers are ripped from their beds and their innards strewn all over the surrounding fields.

There is an excellent cast with English, African and Indian lion food filling out the roster. Val Kilmer was coming off his Batman Forever success and this was a good African epic with strong horror elements to prevent any superhero stereo-typing. MD is good in whatever he touches but does feel a little bit rushed in the character development department and his backstory is a piece of brief exposition. It would have been more effective if he came in earlier and we get to know him that little bit better. His character is created solely for the movie but serves to amp up the fear when a hunter of his reputation is tested to the limit.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s available on iTunes and DVD for now (unfortunately no BD release as yet) and the book is widely available online. The usual shopping list is at the bottom of this post.

A good story which requires some suspension of disbelief but a solid movie undeserving of the slack it took on release.

Verdict: Watch it!

Rating: 3 Simbas out of five!!

The Ghost And The Darkness [1996] [DVD] [1997]

The Ghost and the Darkness by Stephen Hopkins

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures


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