Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
Devotees of "The Twilight Zone" know that the scripts by Richard Matheson are scary in a different way than the tales by host Rod Serling. Serling, who died too young in 1975, seemed prescient about his early death at fifty. "A Stop at Willoughby" is quintessential Serling: A man looks for peace in the idyllic town of Willoughby and actually finds it in the Willoughby Funeral Home. Serling was a fearful existentialist, Matheson's writing reveals more external fears about time and circumstances: In "The Invaders", a woman is surrounded by tiny aliens with ray guns who turn out to be astronauts. In "Somewhere In Time," a man falls in love with the photograph of a beautiful actress from another era and is determined to meet her. In "A Stir of Echoes," a skeptical man submits to hypnosis and discovers that he is being haunted by the angry ghost of a teenage girl who wants him to DO something, what he doesn't know. It turns out he's been given a post-hypnotic suggestion to be more open to, you know, stuff, but he doesn't want to be open to a dead apparition. Even so, he's obsessed by her and his life is thrown into chaos.
The obsessed guy in the new movie of this 1958 Matheson novel is Kevin Bacon as Tom Witzky, who, frankly, looks even scarier than ANY ghost we can imagine. He lives in a 'nice' neighborhood in Chicago right by an L train with Maggie, (Kathryn Erbe as his skinny, knife-packing pregnant wife) and their little boy Jake (remarkably played by wide-eyed Zachary David Cope). The hypnotist is Lisa, his daffy sister-in-law, played by Illeana Douglas, who looks about a foot taller than Erbe. It's hard to imagine them as siblings, but it's always good to see Douglas in anything. After some irritating wife dialogue at film's start, Erbe does an intriguing job as a woman who's convinced her husband is losing his mind, especially when he starts sleeping on the couch for nightly chats with the ghost and later tearing up the house in search of the dead girl's body. It turns out that Jake can see the ghost, too, but she doesn't scare him, only his parents' frightened reactions to her. Bacon is a bit too hip and Hollywood buff as a blue collar working class guy, but otherwise persuasive at conveying terror.
The apparitions, photographed by Fred Murphy and edited by Jill Savitt, are genuinely creepy, so much so that I had to see two other movies after a midnight screening of "Stir of Echoes." Director David Koepp does an effective job adapting Matheson's novel, although I would have liked to see a bit more detail about Neil the psychic cop and his skittish housemates. I guess the moral is don't play hypnosis with your friends, kids, but then what we do about all the decomposing corpses that are hiding in the cellar?
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 9/15/99
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