Buried Treasure: Stir of Echoes is a chilling, thrilling horror movie


When I think about underappreciated horror films, 1999’s Stir of Echoes is always on my list. The only logical reason this dark, frightening movie isn’t remembered as a horror classic is that it was released the same year as The Blair Witch Project, The Mummy and The Sixth Sense (which just overpowered it at the box office).

Richard Matheson wrote the novel that Stir of Echoes was based on, and if his name doesn’t ring a bell with you, allow me to throw out the titles of other movies based on his novels and stories: Dual, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Legend of Hell House, What Dreams May Come and I Am Legend. The man is…well, he is legend.

Kevin Bacon stars as Tom Witzky, an average working-class fellow living in Chicago with pregnant wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and a young son named Jake. Jake sees dead people. No, really, he sees and talks to ghosts, including a teenage girl with whom he regularly has conversations in his own house.

Tom doesn’t believe in such things, and during a party one evening, he and his new-agey sister-in-law Lisa (played by Illeana Douglas) get into a discussion about it. He challenges her to try to hypnotize him, believing that it’s not possible. As it turns out, it IS possible, and while Tom is in a post-hypnotic state, Lisa instructs him to “be more open-minded.”

Almost immediately, Tom starts to have violent visions involving a missing mentally challenged teenage girl named Samantha (thanks a lot, Lisa). The plot thickens when babysitter Debbie hears young Jake talking to Samantha, which causes her to freak out and run out of the house, Jake in tow.

Stir of Echoes – Kevin Bacon – Courtesy Artisan Entertainment

Tom, sensing that something is amiss, tracks Jake and Debbie down at the L station, where the sitter is hysterically conferring with her mother. As it turns out, the missing teen is Debbie’s sister, and now she rightfully wants to know what the hell is going on. Tom assures her that he did not know Samantha, but admits that he has seen visions of her.

As Tom becomes more and more obsessed with finding out what happened to Samantha, Samantha appears to become frustrated with the fact that her fate is still unknown. An attempt to have his sister-in-law correct the damage she has done by re-hypnotizing him results in Samantha telling Tom to “dig.” This is where he really goes off the deep end, begins digging up the back yard, and it only gets crazier from there.

Stir of Echoes is frightening, and kept me guessing until the end. Kevin Bacon gives an outstanding and very believable performance as a man who is losing his grip on reality, the hallucinations he experiences are well-done and intense and the viewer roots for him the whole way. Even when it seems that he has gone stark, raving mad, he manages to evoke sympathy.

Stir of Echoes – Courtesy Artisan Entertainment

To be fair, we know he is justified in his fear and panic, because Samantha’s ghost is seen by us even when Tom is not present. There is a creepy scene set in the basement, where we actually begin fearing for Maggie’s safety.

Speaking of creepy scenes,  Tom is standing in front of the bathroom mirror at one point, and hallucinates pulling a tooth out. In these times of excessive CGI, it is refreshing to know that this effective gross-out scene was filmed using the simplest method. A cap was placed over Kevin’s own blacked-out tooth, he pulled the cap off (accompanied by disgusting crunching sounds), and when the camera dropped down to show the tooth in the sink, someone quickly wiped the fake blood off of Kevin’s face so that when you see him in the mirror again, it is clean.

If you like horror movies involving ghosts, check out Stir of Echoes. There is also a sequel (Stir of Echoes: Homecoming) starring Rob Lowe, but I have not seen that one, so cannot recommend it at this time.

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Tell me what you think about Stir of Echoes, do you agree that it is a “buried treasure” movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.