The Sixth Sense, Kiki's Delivery Service, Horror of Dracula

Video/DVD Picks
by Steven D. Greydanus | Source:
The Sixth Sense (1999)
A ubiquitous tagline and a mind-bending climactic twist made M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit The Sixth Sense a monster sensation — yet this deliberately paced, psychologically sensitive paranormal thriller is much more than a one-trick puzzle movie, and holds up well to multiple viewings. Redemption, catharsis and coming to terms with life and death are all deftly woven into a moving character study that makes confident use of cinematic conventions even as it turns them upside down.

Despite the creepy ambiance and moments of real shock, The Sixth Sense is fundamentally a story of three relationships. Troubled child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) grapples ineffectually with personal and professional crises, unable to connect with his increasingly distant wife even as he tries to connect with a sensitive, unusual little boy (Haley Joel Osment) whose secretive unhappiness and odd behavior worries his single working mother (Toni Collette).

A few points are too sketchy; fleeting lines (“Even the scary ones”; “They only see what they want to see”) gesture at ground rules that should be clearer. Yet the film’s logic holds and Shyamalan brings satisfying closure to all of his characters and their sorrows, even the one that looks unresolvable seconds before the climactic revelation.

Content advisory: Much creepy menace and fleeting gory images; some objectionable language; a subplot involving a murdered child. Mature viewing.


Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Hayao Miyazaki, “the Walt Disney of Japan,” is one of the world’s most respected animation filmmakers, and is known for his gorgeous painterly style and gentle humanistic stories. Unfortunately, many of his films, from My Neighbor Totoro to Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away, are problematic for Catholic families due to pagan themes reflecting the spiritual influence of Miyazaki’s Japanese heritage. Kiki’s Delivery Service is one Miyazaki that’s essentially free from such entanglements. It’s also one of his gentlest, most heartwarming films, appropriate for all ages.

Harry Potter skeptics may be wary to learn that the titular heroine is a broomstick-flying young witch in training — but Kiki couldn’t be more different from Rowling’s tales. For one thing, the only magic Kiki ever does is fly, so there are no classes in spells or potions. In Rowling’s world, rules exist to be broken, rivals to be humiliated, and work to be blown off (except by Hermione).

By contrast Kiki celebrates such virtues as courtesy, service, hard work, respect for elders, responsibility, maturity and gratitude. The story is full of charming non-magical characters, and there are no villains; Kiki does meet some rude children, but neither she nor the film has any interest in paying them out. A thoroughly delightful film.

Content advisory:Fantasy depiction of good witches.


Horror of Dracula (1958)
The religious themes in the B-movie horror films of Hammer Films director Terence Fisher could fill a book — in fact, there is such a book, written by Presbyterian clergyman Paul Leggett, entitled Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion. Fisher, a high-church Anglican, has called his films “basically morality plays” that reflect his belief in “the ultimate victory of good over evil.” Frequent Fisher star Christopher Lee cites the films’ depiction of the ultimate destruction of evil as the reason “the Church doesn’t object to these films, and why they are so popular in Ireland, Spain and Italy.”

The most explicitly religious of Fisher’s Hammer horrors is probably The Devil Rides Out, with Lee playing a Christian occult expert battling a satanic cult, using crosses, holy water and prayers in Latin, culminating in divine intervention. (It is marred, though, by a key scene involving the summoning of the spirit of a slain character.) Horror of Dracula, one of Fisher’s first Hammer horrors, is his best known film, and is striking for its pioneering use of Christian iconography, especially in depicting the power of the cross in quasi-sacramental terms. Where Bela Lugosi’s Dracula merely shielded his face in horror from the cross, it was far more deadly to Fisher’s vampires, burning them like branding irons.

Content advisory: Much macabre menace and some bloody violence.

Steven D. Greydanus is a film critic for the National Catholic Register

To read more of his movie reviews, please visit his website at DecentFilms.com.

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