Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Clear Case of Mental Stalking

"The girl is certain she is going to die. She's praying. In her mind she's praying."

Cayce (Ally Sheedy)

I remember a time in 1991 when one of the premium movie channels — HBO or Cinemax or Showtime, I don't remember which one — was doing one of its periodic free weekends, when all the subscribers to the cable provider got the service for free for a few days. Presumably, it would show the subscribers what they were missing and convince some of them to add it to their service.

I suppose they still have those free weekends from time to time. I never seem to be aware of one, though, until it is too late.

Expanding my cable package was never an option for me in those days. I was in graduate school at the time and seldom had time to watch much TV when classes were in session. In fact, on that particular weekend, as I recall, I was busy with some sort of school–related project, probably the sort of thing that kept me in the library for hours, and I had to video tape things to watch later. Much later.

One of the things that I taped was a movie called "Fear," which actually made its debut on this day in 1990. Originally, I think the plan was to show it at theaters first, then move on to cable and then video distribution — but I don't think it ever made it to the theaters. For whatever reason, I think it made its debut on one of those premium movie channels and then was sold on video. That was why I had no memory at the time of it being in movie theaters. It never was.

In hindsight, I was glad I taped it — because I have never seen it again. It is possible that it was scheduled for broadcast a time or two in an area where I happened to be living, and I just didn't know it. But my experience has been that it is rarely, if ever, shown so, if you get the chance to see it, don't let it slip through your fingers.

Anyway, on this occasion, the movie wasn't going to be shown while I was in the library; it was going to be shown at a time when I would be in bed. So I set my VCR to record it, and I put the tape aside to watch later. I tried watching it piecemeal — you know, while I was getting ready to go to work in the morning, when I came home for lunch, etc. — but I discovered that did not work.

The movie put me under its spell. I had to watch it from start to finish. No interruptions.

Ally Sheedy was the star of the show. Well, actually, she was at her peak in popularity a few years earlier as a member of Hollywood's heralded "Brat Pack" (Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald). By the time she made "Fear," she was probably on the downside of her career — even though she was only 28.

Sheedy played a psychic whose special skills included mentally seeing images or scenes from a distance and experiencing what another person experienced simply by being wherever whatever it was had happened or seeing photographs of the scene or touching clothing that had been worn by the victim — or touching an object at the scene. She often assisted the police in cracking murder cases — as she had the ability to mentally connect with murderers without their knowledge — and she used that skill to help the police catch them. It was her special advantage — or so she thought.

Sometimes she was able to prevent a terrible crime. Most of the time, she could only help the police find the person who committed a terrible crime — or a series of them.

Anyway, she was helping the police track another serial killer when she discovered that the suspect was a psychic, just like she was — and he was better at it than she was, too. He used that ability to terrorize Sheedy and Lauren Hutton — who, as I recall, played Sheedy's friend and agent.

The Shadow Man, as he was called, wanted to experience the fear of his victims, whatever scared them the most. He fed on it. And he seemed to have an almost orgasmic reaction to the knowledge that he and Sheedy could connect mentally. While it wasn't called this in the movie, I would label it mental stalking.

As I watched it unfold, it struck me that this would be an enormous invasion of privacy. Every thought a person might have would hold the potential to wreak tremendous havoc — for that individual and everyone who was close to him/her. Everything that was secret or personal or confidential would be an open book.

Through Sheedy, the Shadow Man learned that Hutton's character feared suffocation — so that is how he killed her, by holding a plastic bag over her face until she died. As I recall, Sheedy didn't even have the thought. Hutton's character confessed her phobia to Sheedy, and the Shadow Man heard the confession.

Sheedy learned of what was happening to her agent/friend when she was powerless to do anything about it. The movie did a superb job of making the audience feel her helplessness as, in her mind's eye, she could only watch her friend die — and feel the terror that engulfed her.

With the help of a good Samaritan friend (played by Michael O'Keefe — lots of folks remember his performance in "Caddyshack" a decade earlier), Sheedy was able to foil the Shadow Man in a real battle of wills as the hunter became the hunted. It was nicely done.

Oh, I knew I was being manipulated. But it was one of those times when you enjoy being manipulated. The movie experience would be incomplete without it. You know what I mean?

As I say, I suggest you watch it if you can.