SHADOW PLAY - Golden Oldies Finally On DVD
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 15, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This star showcase for Dee Wallace Stone unfortunately falls flat despite her engaged performance but fans will be happy to know that Scorpion Releasing has nonetheless given the film a Blu-ray upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 27, 1986.
Here’s a supernatural thriller that looks like a mediocre made-for-TV movie (except for the R-rated language and a steamy, if brief, sex scene).
“Shadow Play” is more ambitious than it is successful, and that’s too bad for fans of Dee Wallace-Stone or Cloris Leachman.
Wallace-Stone, best known as the mother of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore in “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” has gone on to horror fame in pictures like “The Howling,” “Cujo” and “Critters.” (She is currently starring in a TV sitcom, “Together We Stand.”)
Cloris Leachman, left, Dee Wallace, 'Shadow Play' (1986)
But “Shadow Play,” an attempt to blend Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and Polanski’s “Repulsion,” suffers from one false step after another with a confused script and limp direction by Susan Shadburne, who also co-produced.
An independent, low-budget effort, though it boasts pretty good production values, “Shadow Play” has Wallace-Stone as a major New York playwright who is suffering from writer’s block, as well as nightmares. The nightmares are, of course, the cause of the writer’s block, linked to the death of her fiancé some seven years earlier. He fell to his death from a lighthouse on Orcas Island in Washington State, an assumed suicide. But was it really?
Wallace-Stone accepts the invitation of the late fiancé’s mother, Cloris Leachman, to spend some time back on the island, hoping to purge her demons and get back to writing.
The writing returns but not in the form of the comedy she expected. Rather she finds herself writing a spooky, esoteric (and pretty awful) free-verse play, and then proceeds to have the work-in-progress read by the local theatrical troupe, a diverse bunch of oddballs if ever there was one. Just to round out the island’s disparate personalities there’s also Leachman’s other son, naturally in love with Wallace-Stone, as well as the one-armed psychic who reads Tarot cards and generally butts into everyone’s business.
Wallace-Stone also begins to come apart as she frequently sees a ghostly image of her late fiancé, which, of course, no one else can see.
Shadburne’s poetry and prose in the context of Wallace-Stone’s odd play, freely read by cast-members, are occasionally downright embarrassing. But worse is her penchant for moving the cast members through their roles unemotionally and uninterestingly, along with pacing the film so slowly that it might better be considered as a cure for insomnia.
Wallace-Stone has been most appealing in other projects and this was obviously intended to display her talents in something of a tour de force. But she apparently lacked the directorial guidance to reach those heights. Leachman has often proven herself a fine actress but she too is harpooned by Shadburne’s shoddy craftsmanship.
Rated R for violence and profanity, and a brief sex scene with nudity, though most of this material is somewhat restrained, “Shadow Play” is an odd disappointment as one of New World Pictures’ early attempts at getting away from exploitation trash, which has been the company’s stock-in-trade.
After this and the recent “Not Quite Paradise,” I’m beginning to look forward to New World’s next exploitation picture. It couldn’t be much worse.