A hypnotic suggestion gone awry, a murder mystery, and Kevin Bacon. All this and more commingled to create the Supernatural Horror offering Stir of Echoes, which arrived to theaters 20 years ago on Friday, September 10, 1999.
It was a big year for ghost stories with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense taking home the honor of being the second highest-grossing film of 1999. In fact, some fans and critics would thumb their noses at Stir of Echoes similarities to the aforementioned flick, where another little boy also sees dead people. However, the truth is that this is a story that far predates the competition.
The premise of Stir of Echoes is fairly simple: working class family man, Tom (Kevin Bacon: Footloose 1984, The Woodsman 2004), lives in Chicago with his pregnant wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe: What About Bob? 1991, Law & Order: Criminal Intent series) and son Jake (Zachary David Cope: The Wedding Singer 1998). One night at a party, skeptic Tom is hypnotized by his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas: To Die For 1995, Ghost World 2001), who decides to toss in a post-hypnotic suggestion to be “more open-minded.” Suddenly, he’s seeing visions involving a teen girl, Samantha (Jennifer Morrison: House series, Once Upon A Time series), who, as it turns out, disappeared from the neighborhood six months earlier. But the more that Tom struggles to understand his visions, the more attention he draws from some community members that would like to see the disappearance forgotten.
Translating well into a modern film, Stir of Echoes is based off the 1958 novel A Stir of Echoes by the late, great Richard Matheson—whose most famous novel was made into a little film called I Am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith. Throughout his lifetime, Matheson was no stranger to blockbuster entertainment, as he drafted the groundbreaking novels behind films such as What Dreams May Come (1998), The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), The Legend of Hell House (1973), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), the aforementioned I Am Legend, as well as crafting screenplays for classic Horror films such as Jaws 3-D (1983) and drafting several classic The Twilight Zone vignettes.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Stir of Echoes’ Director David Koepp (The Trigger Effect 1996, Mortdecai 2015) was a big fan, and reportedly sought the famed writer’s approval of his screenplay. With that approval, Koepp dove head-long into the project, for which his influences Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), along with David Cronenberg’s 1983 film The Dead Zone.
All these thoughts in mind, fans and critics were split on the end result of all of this, though the initial reception to Stir of Echoes paid off at the box office: in its opening weekend it was ranked third, behind Stigmata and The Sixth Sense, and remained in the Top 10 for three weeks. This is particularly impressive for the climate of the time, where blockbuster releases such as Runaway Bride, The Thomas Crown Affair, and even The Blair Witch Project were still occupying the box office.
It is undeniable that much of Stir of Echoes selling factor, at the time, was its top billed actor. Always a favorite among Hollywood, Bacon was applauded for his performance in the film. Sure, he had done Horror before—1980’s Friday the 13th along with 1990’s Tremors and Flatliners—but this was not everyday fare for the talented actor. His performance as Tom allowed Bacon to stretch his wings and explore the idea of a once skeptical man being overcome by visions, showing a transformative and all-encompassing obsession that ultimately leads to redemption.
Whether you loved Stir of Echoes or not, whether you came for the Bacon or the ghosts, or left loving Punk band Gob’s fantastic cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black” explicitly featured in various scenes, the fact remains that this film has lasted the test of time. In fact, nearly a decade after its initial release, Lionsgate teamed with SyFy Channel to deliver a 2007 sequel of sorts, entitled Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming. It didn’t have the resonating power of its predecessor—or the A-list billing—but the revamping of the franchise shows that Stir of Echoes made enough of an impact on moviegoers to merit its resurrection.
With two decades under its belt, Stir of Echoes continues to excite fans and stands as a testament to the fact that there is definitely a link between seeing dead people and achieving success at the box office.