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Juliet Landau in Haunted Echoes

August 2009 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Haunted Echoes
cast: Sean Young, Barbara Bain, M. Emmett Walsh, Juliet Landau, and David Starzyk

director: Harry Bromley-Davenport

97 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Haunted Echoes falls into seemingly innocuous territory, that of the ghost thriller. The viewer is so familiar with associated devices in this sub-category that even when the spirit is malicious these films are normally tired and ineffectual. Harry Bromley-Davenport's new film seems to come from the no frills end of this particular spook corridor. Shot on digital cameras that meander and waltz, wan in colour and simple in production design... it prattles of 1980s' television movies. Little promise then... Harry Bromley-Davenport has one cult movie to his credit, the wildly imaginative extraterrestrial horror caper Xtro. His next UK appointment was to have been the similarly bizarre 'Near Death Experience' which did not happen. Upon this he stropped off to America where they were still making movies and a couple of unfortunately bland sequels to Xtro followed. Some of that old eccentric magic has been rekindled for Haunted Echoes. It not only calls upon the daffy horror of Xtro but several of the themes from The Haunting Of Julia (aka: Full Circle, 1977) which Bromley-Davenport wrote the screenplay for. The Haunting Of Julia shares with Haunted Echoes an evil ghost girl who is mistaken for a younger dead girl, though as a straight affair the earlier British film, directed by Richard Loncraine, is a more disturbing chiller.

Haunted Echoes opens with a little girl getting out of bed in the night to let in the family dog but while in the garden she is snatched. The film jump-cuts to a single night-shot of silhouettes with flashlights and then quick-steps the next ten days culminating in the discovery of the little girl's corpse. The parents move house, the father having found a seemingly perfect new home but no sooner are they unpacking than mother begins to experience strange activity. The telephone rings and a man complains that they should stop calling him at all hours. The mother is physically contacted by a girl who haunts the bathtub. The next-door neighbour sees a girl in the upstairs window.

A young man had been identified as the killer but had seemingly hanged himself in his cell before the arraignment. The evidence was compelling as one of his hairs was found in the congealed blood of the dead girl. It gets a little surreal at this point in that the dead child molester's name is Denis Law, which might have been forgivable if the director was not British (all the weirder because I am not supposed to know anything about football). "He was barking outside because Denis Law was hanging around the house," argues husband Guy (David Starzyk) at one point inappropriately summoning an image of the veteran footballer in a game of keepy-uppy in the garden at midnight.

Doubts as to the identity of the killer are raised now as the choice of home no longer seems to be a coincidence. They visit the previous owner, Mrs Gitchell (Barbara Bain) in a nursing home and discover that she is the mother of their dead daughter's favourite teacher, Mr Monk (Felix Williamson). Monk can also be seen as the pianist on the video recording of their daughter's last school nativity. Things get uglier. A spiritualist rakes the flesh from his chest during a séance, animal remains turn up under the floorboards and a cat is forced into the microwave. Dead animals indicate the earliest signs of a serial killer though a girl's ghost in the house is immediately assumed to be their dead daughter, but how angry is the little cow, taking it out on pets. The appalling family secrets, however, are not theirs but those of the previous residents and a brutal conclusion is in the offing.

Haunted Echoes is no masterpiece but it is the most interesting film to come from Bromley-Davenport since he jilted our little nation for big fat America. Faults occur, and impinge, but viewer interest is perked by strivings to explore the themes from every angle even when there is not the time or direction to fulfil those investigations. There is a tug-of-war between the informative and the botched. When the little girl's body is found, time has passed since her death but the limbs are flexible and her skin has not rotted. The estate agents' sign misspells (as Goldstien) the name of the agent three times, which must have pissed off the director when the prop arrived on location. Visual effects are simple and jarring, the camerawork is make-do, and the music has too many sudden shifts of tone - at one point bursting into some almost retro organ interpretation of a Bach work. There is a turn of the 1980s feel to the supernatural shenanigans, unstable efforts by Herb Freed (Beyond Evil), and Gus Trikonis (The Evil), or minor spook features like Haunted, The Nesting, The Hearse, Superstition, and A Name For Evil, though for pre-cert ambience it does not make the same achievements that Fingerprints did a while ago. Fortunately, Haunted Echoes takes that nostalgia and makes a bit more effort to improve the content.

The opening set-up of 12 months earlier is swiftly played out over the credits and the ugliness of the crime is encapsulated in a night-time visitation by the 'ghost' of the killer as he informs the mother: "I raped her you know... it felt so good. Do you want me to show you how I did it?" Rachel Calendar's script turns over the premise and a presumption as to the conclusion is answered by the bringing of those revelations forward and something new explored, a discombobulating number of extra investigative sequences which could slow up the movie but instead make it more intriguing.

The seeming inexperience of the writer pays off in her determination to take every potential direction that the story might take and trying to use them all. The tension is removed from the protagonists as they begin to put the pieces of an old mystery together and the mother of the dead girl, Laura (Sean Young) assuredly takes on the new suspect in a school playground. Guy and Laura then cadge their daughter's former school-friend Molly (Meg Raich) and this also adds immeasurably. The little girl's dialogue is provocative and cutting, and the director also knows he is on to a winner with the precocious little actress who is at first adorable and then to be feared for as she becomes a target of the evil spirit. Sudden also is the proposal to take murderous revenge into their own hands if the law is to do nothing, with a vengeful Laura taking the film into another uncomfortable direction.

To its great credit the film is relentless in its attempts to intrigue and entertain and the result is a crazy, old-fashioned exploitation ghost film. Several names are cast with Sean Young looking great, and M. Emmett-Walsh turning in his usual solid character role as the neighbour. Great to find Barbara Bain and daughter Juliet Landau together in featured roles and even one scene, though it is at the same time sad to see Bain looking so old. Characterisation is immediate, to the film's further merit. Meg Raich gives an astonishing little performance and the child's perspective as scripted is particularly intuitive. The film closes with a quote from Milton's Paradise Lost, the one poured over in some detail recently by Armando Iannucci in a BBC documentary, closing "no light, but rather darkness visible, served only to discover sights of woe." More worrying still, is the closing credit caveat of "no animals were intentionally injured" during the production, a statement you don't want to read in a film in which a cat is microwaved. The screener has no extras and the entertainment of the film is marred by Revolver Entertainment and Mainline Releasing's over-the-top message slapping across the image.

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