Film Review: "I See Dead People on Video ..."

by Eleanor M. Farrell

Winter is always conducive to ghost stories, shared during the long nights around a cozy fire. Morph firelight into the blue glow of our television sets, and we can still share the delicious thrills of tales of the supernatural. In support of the theme of our upcoming Mythcon, "Modern Supernatural Fiction," here are some ghostly video suggestions, representing a variety of popular genre approaches, to entertain imaginations until Spring arrives once again.

The Uninvited
Directed by Lewis Allen, 1944
Londoner siblings Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) move into an old abandoned seaside house on the English coast, but their original enchantment diminishes as they hear unsettling stories of the previous owners and experience unexplained sounds during the night. The reasons for the haunting prove to be a complex mystery, as Roderick, falling in love with the daughter of the previous owners, attempts to combat increasingly frightening supernatural activity. The film, based on a popular novel by Dorothy Macardle, was compared at its release with Rebecca and shares some of the du Maurier classicıs atmospheric romance.

Blithe Spirit
Directed by David Lean, 1945
  Adapted from a play by Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit is an entry in the screwball romantic comedy genre popular in the '40s (as were the Topper films or I Married A Witch), but with a darker twist. Writer Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) invites Madame Arcati (hilariously played by Margaret Rutherford), to hold a seance in his house so that he can debunk mediums in his new novel. Instead, the gathering raises the ghost of Charles' first wife, Elvira (Kay Hammond), who revels in making things difficult for her replacement, Ruth (Constance Cummings). Eventually, all three of these self-centered people get exactly what they deserve.

Carnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey, 1962
Forced off a bridge during a drag race, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligos) is thought drowned with her two friends until she emerges from the river, apparently unscathed. She leaves soon after to take a job as a church organist in another town, but is dogged by a mysterious phantom figure. Although she tries, without success, to develop social connections, Mary instead finds herself drawn to an abandoned pavilion outside of town. This creepily effective B-movie has developed somewhat of a cult following. A 1998 remake/sequel by Wes Craven, which includes (as described by the 1962 film's star, Candace Hilligoss) "pink fetuses in bubble gum body suits," should be avoided at all costs.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, 1984
Three unemployed parapsychology professors, played by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Bill Murray, set up shop as a unique ghost removal service in one of the earliest films combining comedy and modern horrific special effects. Newer technologies have perhaps overshadowed the original impact of the film's apparitions as they wreak havoc in New York City, but the concept is still amusing. Aykroyd's and Ramis's scientific enthusiasm is well-balanced by the sarcastic Murray, while Sigourney Weaver, possessed by the demon Zuul who has set up shop in her refrigerator, is both funny and sexy.

Truly, Madly, Deeply
Directed by Anthony Minghella, 1991
Following the unexpected death of her boyfriend, Nina (Juliet Stevenson) remains paralyzed by grief despite her busy job as a translator and the concern of her family and friends. Then Jamie (Alan Rickman) returns, still dead and newly fluent in Spanish, but definitely there; his ghostly presence even scares away the rats who have infested Ninaıs flat. Nina is, naturally, ecstatic -- at least until Jamie invites a crowd of his new (also dead) friends to watch videos in the flat, move furniture around, and crank up the heat to unbearable levels (ghosts are, not surprisingly, cold, but this also seems to make them very uncomfortable). In fact, the purpose of Jamie's return -- to push Nina into embracing life again -- is ultimately successful as she meets goofy but charming Mark (Michael Maloney) and begins a new relationship.

The Sixth Sense
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, 1999
Director Shyamalan's 1999 surprise summer blockbuster is one of the most Williamsesque movies ever made in its treatment of the effects of the supernatural on the lives of ordinary people. The plot is deceptively simple: child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) tries to help troubled boy Cole Sears (Haley Joel Osment) who "sees dead people." As the details of Cole's hauntings slowly unfold and Crowe begins to confront his own demons, the audience is drawn into a complexity of interactions and twists, superbly constructed by the filmmaker. The performances -- by Willis, Osment and Toni Collette as Cole's loving but frantic mother -- are uniformly subtle and terrific.

Reprinted from Mythprint 38:3, March 2001.

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