A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “I’m Supposed To Dig”. A 20th Anniversary Celebration Of “Stir Of Echoes”, One Of The Best Films You’ve Probably Never Seen & Should. Based On The Novel By Richard Matheson. Kevin Bacon Delivers One Of His Finest Screen Performances In A Gritty, Down & Dirty Supernatural Thriller Overshadowed By “The Sixth Sense”. Director David Koepp’s “Stir Of Echoes” Is A Much Better Film & Is Deserving Of More Recognition.
Hollywood loves when films are paired together with similar themes and subjects. The only problem is that they love to release them within months of each other. One of the biggest examples of that was twenty three years ago when two movies about destructive Volcanos came out a mere months apart from each other, Pierce Brosnan’s “Dante’s Peak” and Tommy Lee Jones “Volcano”.
The most recent of similar films was six years ago with Gerard Butler’s “Olympus Has Fallen” and Channing Tatum’s “White House Down”. The simplest explanation for these similarities, is that scripts make the rounds, studio executives read them, talk and get the word out. The script that impresses the most, out of the similar films gets fast-tracked and the race is on to which one opens first.
It’s interesting how the similar films can effect each other. In most cases that has happened, usually the first film that gets released in theaters wipes out the audiences interest in the second film, making the second film a box office failure. Or in some cases, but it does rarely happen. The first film will create interest in the second and both will come out successful.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for the film were here to celebrate, “Stir Of Echoes”. Released only a month after M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit “The Sixth Sense”, it doesn’t take a sixth sense to see the resemblances between the Bruce Willis sleeper hit and the Kevin Bacon thriller “Stir of Echoes”.
“The Sixth Sense” was a huge deal as it was released in the same year and only a week prior to “Stir Of Echoes”. This caused “The Sixth Sense” to gross $675 million, while “Stir Of Echoes” was unfairly left in the dust earning only $21 million off a budget of $12 million. As mind blowing as the ending was for “The Sixth Sense”, I think Kevin Bacon’s “Stir Of Echoes” is a much better film. It is much more down and dirty, and the thrills are more visceral.
It shows that both films are much different in tone. In the “Sixth Sense” Haley Joel Osment looks at Willis and says, “I see dead people”. While the blue-collar “Stir of Echoes”, the five year old boy looks at the camera with a level gaze and asks, “Does it hurt to be dead?”.
The novel “A Stir Of Echoes” was written by Richard Matheson In 1958, author of “What Dreams May Come” and “I Am Legend” (both of which have also been adapted to films). “Stir Of Echoes” director and screenwriter David Koepp is an avid fan of Richard Matheson and had decided he wanted his next project to be a horror film. Koepp’s love for the screen started with Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film “Duel”, as well as Matheson’s work on “The Twilight Zone”. Both had contributed to his decision to purchase a copy of “A Stir Of Echoes”, which he bought from a used bookstore, loved and then secured the rights to the book.
Koepp had remembered being high-strung when approaching Matheson to ask for his thoughts on his script for “Stir Of Echoes”, terrified that the changes he made in the story may displease the author. Matheson, who expressed admiration for Koepp’s directorial debut “The Trigger Effect” in 1996, responded positively to his draft and gave him his approval: “I’m sure he’s done a good job of it. I do know what he’s done before, and it’s quite good. He has a very good touch”, Matheson said. Among Koepp’s influences for the film were Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion (1965), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone (1983).
The movie was written and directed by David Koepp, who has an impressive resume of screenwriting credits, including: “Jurassic Park” and its sequel, “The Lost World,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Snake Eyes”. Check out his resume on IMDB, he is an impressive screenwriter.
In “Stir Of Echoes” blue collar worker Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is bugged by his wife Maggie Witzky’s noisy new age sister-in-law, Lisa (played irrepressibly by Illeana Douglas) at a party to hypnotize Tom. Lisa baits Tom into letting her put him into a trance, and when he wakes up, all he knows is that he isn’t the same guy before the hypnotize. After the trance, Koepp evokes an artful but terrifying viewpoint of Tom’s visions. He has been left with some sort of post-hypnotic abilities as his mind is a lot more open than other people.
For instance, the baby sitter who arrives one night and sets off a blood-red flash in his imagination. There’s also the long-haired female specter that seems to be living at Tom’s house and speaking with Jake on a much too cozy basis. “Stir of Echoes” watches as Tom obsessively embarks on a mission to find out what the ghost of the young girl is after? Koepp’s transitions from Tom’s fantasies to reality are visually well done.
The spectre impinging on Tom Witzky is the missing sister of the Witzkys’ hysterical babysitter, and Tom becomes obsessed with the belief she is buried somewhere nearby. During the scene in the Witzky’s backyard where Tom is digging, Kevin Bacon was in a lot of real pain, as he had pulled a muscle in his neck. Several “prop” lightweight picks were tested for the scene to try and ease his suffering, but in the end, it was opted to use the real and heavier pick, as the swings and impacts didn’t look real enough on-screen. As Tom gets into a “Close Encounters” style of self destruction within his garden and his house in search of the corpse, his wife Maggie learns to be afraid not only of the ghosts who appear to her husband and son.
The two main characters of Tom and Maggie are nicely developed. There’s a believability about them that’s often absent from lead characters in these kinds of movies; it’s easy to relate to them and they react in realistic ways. The presence of the ghost frightens and unsettles them, and Koepp’s brilliant script concentrates a great deal of its attention on the pressures that Tom’s vision places upon their formerly rock-solid marriage and the decent it takes.
In a taut, grippingly intense performance, Kevin Bacon captures the frenetic torment of a man driven to extremes. His performance is a delight, it’s a high-energy performance that is effective and affecting. Kevin Bacon is one of those actors who is always undervalued. His performance as Tom is one of the best of his career, he is truly in top form. An A-list player whose style can elevate anything he’s in.
Koepp establishes some neat camera tricks, such as with the spook who moves at a different film speed. But the real skill Koepp shows is that he grounds the scary stuff in a believable reality and delivers a great ghost story.
“Stir of Echoes” is an eerie movie; Koepp gets us into Tom’s unstable mindset through a series of tight closeups and distorted point-of-view shots. As a study of obsession, the film is first rate. Tom’s tunnel vision focuses on the ghost to the virtual exclusion of all else. Maggie desperately wants to support him, but, not being able to share the experience with him, she is unable to understand the forces that are driving him. Were taken step by step and drawn deeper, as were given just enough to keep us in the dark and intrigued for more.
There is a real workmanlike carpentry in Koepp’s script and direction which allows the narrative to reach real tension and not to sag as it did in “The Sixth Sense”.
The film was produced by Artisan Entertainment on a budget of $12 million. Production took place in Chicago and filming lasted 39 days. Director Brian De Palma paid the set a visit and offered Koepp some ideas, one of which is shooting a long take of Kevin Bacon during the first half of a long dialogue scene. Koepp shot the hypnosis scene, where Bacon’s character envisions himself in a theater painted all in black except for the projection screen black. Koepp felt that many hypnosis scenes in films are “most skipped by”, so he came up with the idea of allowing viewers to see through Kevin Bacon’s point-of-view as he undergoes hypnosis to make the concept fresh. In the scene, actual hypnosis techniques were used by professional hypnotists. In order to ensure that the audience hadn’t been put to sleep (and there were reports some people have been), there’s a musical accent at the close of the sequence to wake everyone up.
Another great scene is Kevin Bacon’s tooth extraction, which was inspired by a nightmare Koepp had about dying of age. The extraction was achieved with all practical effects. Koepp once told Entertainment Weekly:“We blacked out Kevin’s tooth and built a cap to go over it, so he’s pulling out a cap that comes off fairly easily, and he gives some grunts and groans and we added grotesque, crunching flesh noises… while he’s pulling out the tooth, he’s also palming a real tooth in his other hand [to drop into the sink]. He drops the real tooth, we tilt down to see it, and then somebody darted in [from off-camera] with a washcloth and wiped the blood off Kevin’s face, so when he looks back up into the mirror, his face and teeth are clean”.
In 2007, “Stir Of Echoes: The Homecoming” starring Rob Lowe, was released as a television movie produced by Lions Gate. The film premiered on the SyFy channel and later released on DVD. It purports to be a sequel to the 1999 feature film, although its only connection to the previous film is the inclusion of Jake Witzky, who was a key role in the original film but is only a secondary character in the sequel.
“Stir Of Echoes” may have been lost to to Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense”, but It has since then gained a cult following on home video. “Stir Of Echoes” is one of the best films you’ve probably never seen and should and after twenty years, it still ranks as one of Kevin Bacon’s most memorable performances and a superior supernatural thriller. If you’ve never seen it, go out and seek it and be hypnotized by it’s sheer power to entertain.