Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What Lies Before 05.18.00

The supernatural thriller has come a long way in the past couple of years. Once considered only a niche subgenre of horror, the success of The Sixth Sense has elevated the supernatural thriller from the cult of the occult to mainstream movie material.

In fact, A-list actors who would have shied away from such fol de rol in the past are now clamoring to be cast in the next ghost story. Case in point: Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer have teamed with major-league director Robert Zemeckis for What Lies Behind, based on a story by none other than Steven Spielberg.

The path to mainstream acceptance is littered with the corpses of supernatural thrillers that fought valiantly to welcome luminaries like Pford and Pfeiffer to the pfold. What lies before are ten supernatural thrillers that paved the way for What Lies Beneath.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Bruce Willis is a child psychologist who solves crimes with a very serious-minded nine year-old Haley Joel Osment who sees dead people in M. Night Shyamalan’s Oscar-nominated frightener. This eerie little film has more twists and turns than practicing quatrain 240 of The Kama Sutra with a Cirque de Soleil contortionist. If I give any more details than that, I’d spoil the surprise ending.

Stir of Echoes (1999) Kevin Bacon affects a Chicago accent -- about as overdone as a Maxwell Street polish with grilled onions -- to communicate with the spirits of the dead. To the consternation of his wife and the homeowner’s association, Bacon and his likewise otherworldly-communicable son dig up the truth, literally, in the backyard.

Mardi Gras for the Devil (1993) David A. Prior, the genius responsible for Aerobicide, directs this occult potboiler starring crag-faced pay-cable favorite Robert Davi as a New Orleans cop tracking down demonic serial killer Michael Ironside through the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday. “Show us your cloven hooves!”

Ghost (1990) Jerry Zucker of Airplane!, Naked Gun and Top Secret fame, directs this supernatural love story in which Demi Moore makes out with trans-channeling medium Whoopi Goldberg whose body has been inhabited by the ghost of Patrick Swayze, while the Righteous Brothers sing in the background. Then, all three of them solve the case of Swayze’s on-purpose accidental death.

The Unholy (1988) Ben Cross, best known for not having much success after his impressive debut in Chariots of Fire, stars as a priest assigned to a New Orleans parish where a few years prior two priests were brutally throat-slashed. Father Ben Cross launches an investigation that unveils a satanic conspiracy that may even involve Archbishop Hal Holbrook, best known for his touring one-man show of Mark Twain.

The Dead Zone (1983) Whoever the executive responsible for putting together creepshow triumvirate of David Cronenberg, Christopher Walken and Stephen King should have been named president of the studio. Walken plays a creep that awakens from a five-year coma to discover he has the terrible gift-curse of clairvoyance and, upon shaking the hand of presidential candidate Martin Sheen, has the most horrible vision of nuclear annihilation. I think that’s in next season’s cliffhanger of The West Wing.

The Entity (1982) Barbara Hershey and Ron Silver star in the true story of a woman who was raped by a phantom. What else can be written?

The Medusa Touch (1978) Another psychokenetic coma flick, this vastly underrated thriller stars Lino “The Frenchie” Ventura as a froggy detective on loan to Scotland Yard. Ventura is investigating a string of horrible catastrophes that all seem to be linked to comatose writer Richard Burton, whose bump on the noggin has given him the paranormal ability to cause disasters with his mind.

Magic (1978) Sir Dickie Attenborough directs William Goldman’s adaptation of William Goldman’s novel, a blatant rip-off of the brilliant Cliff Robertson episode of The Twilight Zone. Magic stars Anthony Hopkins before he was knighted, Burgess Meredith after he was The Penguin, Ann-Margret when she was still a sexy redhead (well, I guess that’s eternally) and Fats, a murderous wooden ventriloquist dummy.

The Fury (1978) Director Brian De Palma followed up the paranormal-phenomenally successful Carrie with this freakish effort about psychic warfare waged between bad guy federal agent John Cassavetes and prescient high school student Amy Irving. Irving’s character helps good guy federal agent Kirk Douglas track down his son, kidnapped by baddie Cassavetes, who plans to harness the boy’s psychic energy to rule the world!

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