A GHOST STORY
YOU WILL BE NEXT
It truly is amazing to consider just how much low budget horror has been produced in the last 30 years. Home video has been a boon for this particular genre, consistently, since the early days of VHS. When I received Haunted Echoes, a newly-released title by E1 Entertainment, I expected it to be another run-of-the-mill entry in this direct-to-video pool of celluloid fright: the type of movie whose best attribute is its cover art.
Haunted Echoes surprised me in several ways, and after its 97 minute run time, I felt both intrigued by and frustrated with what I saw. It's been a while since I've last been so conflicted in response to a film.
Haunted Echoes tells the tale of a couple whose sole daughter is kidnapped, raped, and murdered at a very young age. The marital strain that this devastating event has had on them is evident. Looking for a fresh start, Guy Dykstra, a doctor at an emergency room, convinces his wife, Laura, to move into an old Victorian house. It's a home renovation project, he figures, to keep their minds occupied on other things. Soon after their move, however, Laura is haunted by a ghost with a simple message: MON. Laura believes this ghost is their dead daughter and suspects that the man held in custody (who committed suicide before a murder trial began) for her slaying may have been innocent after all. Guy is doubtful, but when a psychic brought along by Laura's weird sister Claire (Juliet Landau) puts on a show at the house, he starts to come around. What follows is a bit reminiscent of The Lovely Bones and A Stir of Echoes and other mysteries with supernatural ghosts, as Guy and Laura try to piece together who may have really murdered their young daughter.
Rachel Calendar's script is hardly original (and it hinges upon an awfully big coincidence), but it follows genre conventions effectively enough. I was drawn into the mystery of the young ghost and the identity of the pedophile killer. Helping things along was a surprisingly strong - and experienced - cast. Sean Young, of such science fiction classics as Blade Runner and Dune, headlines Haunted Echoes as Laura, and she's solid in the role. Long-time character actor M. Emmet Walsh has a fun turn as one of the Dykstras' weird neighbors. But what most surprised me here was an appearance by Barbara Bain. Yes, this is the Barbara Bain from the cult 1970s television classic Space: 1999. Of all the people to see appear in a contemporary direct-to-video horror film, I never would have guessed her. In any case, Bain, like Walsh, plays a strange character: the previous owner of the home the Dykstras move into. A good cast, in sum, has been assembled together here.
With a solid script and a great cast, it was surprising to see this film go terribly wrong at times. More irksome than the ineffective "special" effects during haunting sequences (after all, shoddy effects work is pretty much to be expected in low budget horror) are the film's production gaffes. The shadow of a camera operator can be seen in at least a dozen scenes, most notably during a dinner party sequence, and the shadow of a boom mike can be seen a number of times as well. I can't think of the last time I've seen so many examples of this in any film, regardless of budget. It's almost like spotting these gaffes could become a drinking game. In any case, this type of thing brings attention to the artificiality of the film, breaking its hold on the audience.
So, ultimately, while I really wanted to like this film, its production values limit its effectiveness. It's worth a look, but given the disc's lack of extras (more on this in a bit), Haunted Echoes is best viewed as a rental.
E1 Entertainment gives Haunted Echoes an anamorphic widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image was serviceable, though a bit soft at times; overall, it wasn't bad considering the budget for a film like this.
The lone audio track, a Dolby Digital Stereo affair, is a bit sketchy. Dialogue is always clear but its volume shifts noticeably between scenes. Some nice cello interludes in the mix, however, come across strong and effectively.
Optional subtitles in English SDH are made available.
Trailers precede the main menu for The Haunted Airman, Elsewhere, and Torso. They're not accessible via the menu system, and these account for the only extras on the disc.
A clichéd but nonetheless effective script - and a surprisingly strong cast - are ultimately done in by a low budget and production gaffes. What a frustrating experience Haunted Echoes is as it certainly has potential in spades. It's still worth a look, but given the DVD's lack of extras, a Rent It recommendation is the best I can suggest.