Kevin Bacon Blames The Sixth Sense For Tanking Stir Of Echoes' Release

Based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, David Koepp's 1999 film "Stir of Echoes" is one of the richer, more notably creepy ghost stories of its time. Set in a relatively cloistered, working-class suburb of Chicago, "Stir of Echoes" is about how years-old crimes can leave a mark on the entire community. 

Kevin Bacon played a telephone lineman named Tom who, by the accounts of his wife (Kathryn Erbe) and wife' sister (Illeana Douglas), is pretty narrow-minded guy. At a neighborhood gathering, his wife's sister, as a party trick, decides to hypnotize Tom and subtly suggest that he should be "more open-minded." This suggestion seems to go awry, as when Tom awakens, he begins having ghostly visions of a teenage girl he doesn't recognize. Over the next few weeks, Tom receives further unusual impulses, most notably to dig, forcing him to tear up his own floorboards looking for ... something. Koepp infuses "Stir of Echoes" with a lot of local color, visual texture, and no small amount of legitimate tragedy. Although scary, "Stir of Echoes" is infused with a tone of distant lamentation, condemning a long-held system that protects local criminals. It's a darn good movie. 

"Stir of Echoes" was released in September of 1999, and it was not a great success; it made only $23 million on a $12 million budget. Pundits might immediately point out that "Stir of Echoes" was released after a long year that included enormous horror hits like "The Blair Witch Project," and — more notably — M. Night Shyamalan's ghost story/box office juggernaut "The Sixth Sense," which opened only four weeks before. 

In a 2017 retrospective with Entertainment Weekly, both Koepp and Bacon openly declared that "The Sixth Sense" directly harmed their film's potential success.

'It completely screwed us'

Koepp was already an industry veteran in 1999, having co-written notable thrillers like "Apartment Zero" and "Death Becomes Her," not to mention blockbusters like "Jurassic Park" and "Mission: Impossible." "Stir of Echoes" was only his second directorial feature, but he knew enough about studio politics to recognize a problem when he saw one. Shooting had already concluded on "Echoes" when Koepp read Shyamalan's script. It should be noted that both films feature a young man (a boy in the case of "Sixth Sense") who can see ghosts — an uncanny coincidence. 

With the release dates were already set, Koepp pleaded with producer/distributor Artisan to shift the schedule. They felt that Shyamalan's film was nothing to worry about. But as Koepp recalled

"['The Sixth Sense'] completely screwed us ... We finished shooting, we got ahold of [its] script. We went to the studio and said, 'Hey, there's this movie that's similar to ours with a psychic kid, we should probably get out ahead of that. We could come out in April,' because 'The Sixth Sense' was due to come out in August and we were set for September. [Artisan] said, 'No, we read that. It's soft, and no one's going to go to that.' Well, don't you want to be the first psychic movie rather than the second? They said no."

It wasn't so "soft." Shyamalan's film would make $672 million. In its wake, audiences barely even noticed "Stir of Echoes." Koepp remembered the wave of resentment he felt reading a review that "started with the sentence: 'It's amazing how quick Hollywood is to emulate success.' Come on! They came out in August, we were in September! [But] I'm happy with the movie in the long run. We're still here talking about it, 20 years later."

'Every step of the way we were compared to them'

Kevin Bacon agreed that "The Sixth Sense" stole all of his film's thunder, although he was a lot more diplomatic, stating that Shyamalan's film would have been a hit regardless of its release date. Comparatively, "Echoes" — downbeat and R-rated, possessed of sexual content — was perhaps less "showy." Bacon seems to feel, anyway, that it was not the type of movie to make half a billion dollars. It could have, however, done a lot better had the truly haunting "Sixth Sense" stayed out of its way. As Bacon said:

"Overshadowed is 100% an understatement. Listen, 'The Sixth Sense' would have been a hit regardless of when 'Stir of Echoes' came out. 'The Sixth Sense' is a fantastic movie, there's nothing that could've happened that would've gotten in its way. We weren't 'The Sixth Sense,' and there was the option to come out before; 'Stir of Echoes' was well received and testing very high, and well reviewed, as far as I remember. 'The Sixth Sense' was a phenomenon, so every step of the way we were compared to them, and it completely f***ed the possibility of the movie being seen."

Although Bacon was an established Hollywood star, he didn't have the clout to convince Artisan to change their minds on the release date, saying that "generally what you get is, 'Listen, kid, you don't know what you're talking about. We know what we're doing.'" Bacon also felt that the title, although taken from the Matheson story, was too vague. He did give an alternative, though: "People have a hard time remembering [the title] ... and there was time we were all lobbying for a title change. I wanted to call it 'Dig!'"

Personally, Mr. Bacon, I don't dig it.