Whispers (1990)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-16 07:31

Written by: Dean R. Koontz (novel), Anita Doohan (screenplay)
Directed by: Douglas Jackson
Starring: Victoria Tennant, Jean LeClerc and Chris Sarandon

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Fear shouts. Terror whispers.

Iíll confess to not being overly familiar with Dean Koontz outside of his works that have been adapted into films (namely Watchers, Phantoms, and Intensity). As reductive (and likely unfair) as this may sound, heís always just been a B-side to Stephen King for me, a conception that was likely perpetuated by that old Family Guy gag that features Koontz being run over by a car. At any rate, if Whispers is any indication, it might be worth going back and checking out some of the ones Iíve overlooked. Not that Whispers is particularly good or anything--no, itís far from that, but it is kind of delightfully nuts once it gets going.

Youíd never guess it at first, though, since it begins as a cut-rate woman-in-peril slasher-of-the-week deal. Hilary (Victoria Tennant) is a writer who finds herself being stalked by psychopath (Jean LeClerc), though thereís initially no evidence of this, leaving the two detectives (Chris Sarandon and Peter MacNeill) with little to go on; in fact, the accused guy has a pretty good alibi when heís confirmed to be at his home thatís several miles away. This leaves Hilary questioning her sanity until Bruno shows up again in the hopes of strangling the life out of her. Bruno is actually comically persistent; when heís initially thwarted, he doesnít even bother to really lick his wounds. Instead, he chills in the elevator shaft and sleeps outside of Hilaryís room overnight, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Itís all for naught, however, as she stabs him to death--presumably. Somehow, he just keeps going back, and Whispers doesnít really set off onto any interesting path until Tennant and Sarandon head off to unravel the mystery of his bizarre resurrection. Before that point, almost everything about it is terribly stiff: the police procedural, the acting, the dialogue. Even Sarandon, who had proven to be remarkably charismatic in films like Fright Night and Childís Play, seems to be forced at gunpoint into spouting this ridiculous dialogue. Chemistry between he and Tennant is almost non-existent, with their Skinemax-style lovemaking scene being especially awkward. Besides Brunoís somewhat humorous doggedness, the only real spark comes from MacNeillís wildly misogynist detective, who somehow seems to be the only person who knows the type of junk heís starring in.

To be fair to everyone else, the truly junky section of the film doesnít show up until about an hour in. Though there are some subtle hints at weirdness, such as Brunoís occult interests and his fatherís weird funeral instructions, Whispers eventually spirals into one weird territory after another. Sarandon and Tennant are still about as fascinating watching paint dry, but nearly everyone they encounter seems to have eaten paint chips. Thereís the coroner who may or may not love his corpses a little too much, the weird bookstore owner who casually reveals his belief in Satanism, and (my personal favorite) the old whorehouse owner who finally reveals all of the big secrets. Say what you want about Whispers, but I have a certain amount of respect for any film that features exposition dump via an aged harem keeper. And this isnít even to speak of Brunoís family, the Clavels, who are the strangest of all, having dabbled in all sorts of dark arts and whatnot.

Sadly, the eventual explanation kind of undercuts and deflates a lot of the more outrageous possibilities; still, itís no less trashy, and Jean LeClerc gets plenty of discomforting and (unintentionally) hilarious moments of self-love. Really, the last thirty minutes of Whispers are at odds with the rigid, grim-faced seriousness of the opening premise; somehow we go from a woman being stalked in her apartment to something altogether different and supernaturally-tinged. The problem is that Douglas Jackson directs it with the pace and look of something thatís more befitting of a sitcom, which I guess makes sense since heís predominantly churned out TV movies (though he was also responsible for the abhorrent Paper Boy in 1994). Something like Whispers deserves a cast and crew thatís aware of how insane its plot is; the one here just sleepwalks through everything, as if no one really cared to adapt this pulpy junk into anything particularly worthwhile.

Make no mistake: as itís presented here, Whispers is delightfully convoluted and trashy supermarket novel fare. Itís probably a film that should be remade, even though itís not likely to happen given how obscure it is; plus, Koontzís name hasnít exactly been a huge draw in years, so weíre stuck with this sloppily delivered and dutifully acted version, complete with a swanky soundtrack (courtesy of Fred Mollin, who subbed in for Harry Manfrendini on a couple of Friday the 13th sequels). Whispers is partly Canadian, which must explain why Scorpion has released it to DVD alongside the likes of Thrillkill and Mark of Cain in an attempt to fill out the ďCanadian cable-movieĒ niche. Their release of Whispers fares a bit better than those two, at least in terms of presentation; though the full frame aspect ratio is incorrect, itís still decent looking for the most part, and not particularly washed out. Whispers probably hasnít looked this good since people flipped past it on Showtime 20 years ago. Thatís probably still an ideal option for most, but those with a soft spot for this kind of crap will stop and take a peek. Rent it!

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