The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

ghost and the darkness poster 1996 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Decent effects for the time, core story

So-so storytelling

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Ghost and the Darkness

Studio:  Constellation Entertainment/Douglas/Reuther Productions/Bernina Film

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  October 3, 1996 (Premiere)/October 11, 1996 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

ghost and the darkness val kilmer michael douglas

Wanna kill some lions?

Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) has been tasked to build a railway across Tsavo, Kenya by his employer Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson).  Patterson believed his biggest challenge would be to getting the multicultural workers to work together, but something has begun hunting the workers.  The natives call them the Ghost and the Darkness…man-eating lions.  The lions are intelligent and killing them won’t be easy.  Patterson has been teamed with a hunter named Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), and it will be a battle to the death.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, The Ghost and the Darkness is a historic action-adventure film.  The movie is a fictionalized account of the 1907 account The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson and the real-life lions accused of killing dozens of railway workers in the Tsavo region of Kenya from March 1898 to December 1898.  The film received an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing and had a positive box office return.

ghost and the darkness killer lions attack maneater

Mmmmm…People…my favorite!

I didn’t see The Ghost and the Darkness when it was released but became infatuated with the story of the killer lions after seeing them in the Chicago Field Museum.  I read The Man-Eaters of the Tsavo and a secondary book called Ghosts of Tsavo:  Stalking the Mystery Lions of East Africa by Philip Caputo.  Both were interesting takes…one more of an adventure and one more of a scientific approach, and I knew that neither could really be captured by the movie.

The real story takes place over a much longer time as the workers are picked off and horror isn’t as intense.  The movie (rightfully) sped up the story and made it a battle of wills between Patterson and Remington and the lions.  It goes as you kind of expect and is a fine adventure film kind of along the lines of the classic “White Savior” serials that had the characters swoop in to save everyone…but the movie isn’t really something for historical accuracy.

Val Kilmer always feels like a rather dull lead.  This is more of a personal opinion, but this was in Val Kilmer’s peak and he works in the role in the role…especially since he doesn’t have the juicy role of the Ahab-esque hunter Remington who Michael Douglas plays with full joy.

ghost and the darkness john henry patterson val kilmer

That’s it…I’m done with these f#*!ing lions!

The film largely has real lions doing stunts, but since that is not always safe, the attacks and true viciousness of a lion attack really does not always come through in the movie.  The lions used in the movie resemble the typical lion you see in the zoo, but it is often noted that the lions of the Tsavo (including the man-eaters that the film was based on) actually had shorter manes that some believe evolved due to the terrain and bushes that the lions had to travel through.

The Ghost and the Darkness is one of those faux history movies that gives the viewers enough of the truth that they might think they know the story.  The real story might not be as action based, but it is still fascinating and worth checking out.  With advancements and Hollywood’s habit of dipping into previous produced materials, I wouldn’t be shocked if the lions of the Tsavo don’t roar again…and I wouldn’t be angry about it depending on the approach.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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