Spiritual actors: The Sixth Sense (with Haley Joel Osment) and Hereafter (with Matt Damon).
If you’re a lover of horror movies, like me, then Aug. 6 should be a day of mourning for you. It was that Friday in 1999 when The Sixth Sense was released. And, thanks to the $293,506,292 it grossed in the next few months, ghost movies were never the same. Before Sixth Sense, people ran from ghosts, rather than try to strike up a conversation with them. After that huge hit, ghosts were treated sensitively—they needed mediums (as on Medium, or even The Ghost Whisperer) to bring them peace and gently shuffle them off to the afterlife. What a complete waste of an apparition. You know what? If I wanted peace and understanding, I’d watch a different kind of movie—like a biopic or Eat Pray Love. And now, with Hereafter starring Matt Damon as a psychic cursed by images of what happens after we die—and the movie’s many rapturous reviews—ghosts will never be able to lay a spectral hand on us again. What a terrible shame. Meanwhile, here are my choices for the best “I see dead people” movies.
They’re here! Before ghosts needed shrinks, they were our mortal enemies. If you disturbed their eternal peace by, say, digging up their headstones and building suburban subdivisions on top of their bones, they came out of the walls and the TV, and got back at you. Not only that, dead people weren’t afraid to use the stuff you loved against you: beloved clowns became possessed and tried to strangle you, trees tried to eat you, and steaks grew maggots.
OK, so this movie was more funny than scary, but c’mon. A painting at the Metropolitan Museum comes to life and announces: “I, Vigo, the scourge of Carpathia, the sorrow of Moldova, command you. On a mountain of skulls in a castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood. What was, will be; what is will be no more. Now is the season of evil! Find me a child that I might live again!” That’s the kind of dead people we need in cinema, the kind with revenge on their minds.
What do you get when you combine Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melyvn Douglas, and a pissed-off spectral apparition out for their blood? You get one of the cheesiest, most delicious, scene-chewing ghost tales ever. Yeah, the shivers are manufactured and the special effects are painful, but it’s genuinely creepy rather than gross, and the depths this particular spook goes to in order to get even from beyond the grave make Glenn Close’s machinations in Fatal Attraction look like child’s play.
Let me add it up for you. Stephen King, adapted by Stanley Kubrick, and starring Jack Nicholson as a writer who goes completely and murderously, freaking crazy during a winter in Colorado. The dead people in this movie totally understand that it doesn’t take much to scare the living—just some buckets of blood racing down the hallway and some creepy twins asking our young hero, Danny, if he’d like to play. Seriously, Nicholson looks the picture of crazy and when his wife, played by Shelley Duvall, figures it out, you can literally see the blood draining from her face.
Yes, Kevin Bacon is able to see dead people, but at least he has the good sense to be horrified by them. Which is why Stir of Echoes, to me, is a superior film to The Sixth Sense. Bacon plays an insensitive working-class lout who doesn’t want peace for the specter haunting his apartment and that only he and his son can see. He wants her to go away by any means necessary—which is the way it should be.