top

Psychic
(1991)

Director: George Mihalka 
Cast:
Zach Galligan, Catherine Mary Stewart, Michael Nouri


I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I have a great imagination. This isn't something that happened just recently. It started when I was a small child and had the naturally occurring curiosity most young children have. I was fortunate to live in a home environment where most of my questions on life were answered in a way that encouraged me to find out more about the topics that I wanted answers to. While there were also some questions that my environment could not answer, I was not discouraged to think about them on my own or to look up answers in the rest of the world. Anyway, with permission to let my mind run riot as a child, I developed a mind that likes to daydream about many things over the course of a day. This includes things that many people might consider fantastic and wonder why a grown man would be thinking of these things. I cannot help it, and I find it simply fun to think about the fantastic. In past reviews, I have mentioned a number of fantastic things I like to think about. In one review, I mentioned that I find the idea of vampires silly, that they supposedly could resist a shotgun blast to the face but not a stake in the heart. But there are some things that have not been one hundred percent found false that I find interesting to think about. Aliens from other solar systems visiting our planet? Well, it hasn't been determined one way or another for so many years. Sasquatch? Well, even though it's not been definitely found to be false, I have a gut feeling that if Sasquatch ever existed, we would have found out by now one way or another. Ghosts? Well, I can't imagine myself not existing, even after death, so I think that there is some kind of afterlife.

I've talked about aliens, Sasquatch, and ghosts before in other reviews, so I won't get into those topics any more. But there is one other fantastic topic I would like to talk about that I haven't talked about before, the subject of the film being reviewed here. And that subject is psychic powers. I think you know what I'm talking about - a sixth sense that supposedly gives people the power to do things like read other people's minds, predict the future, and move objects without actually touching them. These kinds of powers are abilities that I love to daydream about, because I can see so many advantages to having these powers. If you had these powers, you could get to be very rich by knowing the right way to bet at any round in a casino, or what numbers to play on your lottery ticket. You could get ahead socially by reading the minds of people around you, giving you the information you need to know what to do or say to these people you mind read. And you could use your powers for good by becoming a crime fighter, if you had the ability to predict future events. All this sounds sweet, but thinking about it for a while, a number of disadvantages to having psychic powers come up. Casinos and lottery bureaus would notice if you kept winning money from them again and again. Reading people's minds might expose some deep buried negative feelings these people have towards you. And if you were able to predict various crimes before they happened, more likely than not the government would notice, and they would pick you up and interrogate you - and maybe subsequently get you to work for them.

But there is evidence to say that you should not worry about these things at all, because evidence says that psychic powers simply do not exist at all. Years ago, I read an article about the famous magician James Randi. In the article, he said that there was no such thing as psychic powers, Psychicand that he was so confident about his feelings that he offered a million dollar reward if someone under Randi's rigorous testing could prove that they had psychic powers. Well, when the article was written, no one had gotten close to getting the reward. And checking on the matter years later, still no one had gotten those million dollars. That's pretty sobering evidence, I have to admit. But all the same, I find it fun to think about what life would be like with psychic powers, as well as see movies where it is portrayed. It goes without saying that Psychic is one such movie, though what interested me was that its description promised to be more of a serious look at the matter rather than a gee-whiz portrayal. The title figure is one Patrick Costello (Galligan, Gremlins) a student who goes to a small community college. One of his instructors is Laurel Young (Stewart, The Apple), who he has a crush on, though she is currently the girlfriend of Dr. Steering (Nouri, The Hidden). But Patrick's unrequited love is not his biggest problem at the moment. Patrick is a psychic, though it's a psychic power that he is unable to control. And what Patrick is having visions of is women in the area who are later found to be murdered. He goes to the police, but the police not only don't believe his claim of visions, they start to suspect him of being the serial killer. To make matters worse, Patrick eventually gets a vision of Laurel being stalked by Steering, and concludes that Steering is the one who has been killing all the women. What should he do?

As you can see from that somewhat brief plot description, Psychic at its core is yet another serial killer mystery, with familiar plot elements ranging from a love interest in danger to a hero who struggles with various obstacles in order to try and stop the killer before he hits too close for comfort. However, the addition of psychic powers does add some novelty despite not being the first serial killer movie to do this. Though this addition at the same time added an extra challenge to the filmmakers, which was to find the correct way to portray the psychic powers. Does the movie manage to pull off its portrayal of psychic powers? In the end, no, it doesn't. The movie does manage to occasionally make a detail of Patrick Costello's psychic powers plausible, such as when he tests himself by predicting the cars that will pass his apartment and finds he makes a mistake about twenty five percent of the time. But for the most part, the psychic powers of the character of Patrick are written in a way to be convenient for the story instead of having them strictly defined and having the story evolve around them. Patrick several times is seen getting a picture of a person by touching a personal item of the target. But later, when he goes to the police and they ask him to prove his powers by touching the lead investigator's cigarette lighter, he can't do it, claiming "stress". In other parts of the movie, Patrick gets visions of the killer stalking and killing his victims, though sometimes he is seeing through the killer's eyes, and other times he gets to see the killer's face from an observer's position. Had Patrick's psychic powers been limited and more defined, we might have had a more believable depiction of psychic powers as a result.

While the portrayal of psychic powers in Psychic may be disappointing, there are other parts of the screenplay that make the portrayal look like genius screenwriting. One particular problem with the screenplay that is downright annoying at times is how the character of Patrick has been written. To be quite frank, I thought he was downright stupid at times. The many unbelievable things he does include dropping his class with Laurel so that he's no longer her student and he can therefore ask her out on a date, as well as breaking into several people's apartments to look for evidence. The most embarrassing scene may be when he goes to the police and expects them to instantly believe he is a psychic and has had visions of the killer - couldn't he just have mailed an anonymous tip to the police? But it's not just the writing of Patrick that's a problem. Ever wonder why actor Zach Galligan never became a big star after the smash hit Gremlins? His performance here gives a clue. While Galligan isn't awful, he's awfully bland, and fails to command the screen in any of his scenes. For that matter, nobody else in the movie performs in a way that has any color, including the two other leads Catherine Mary Stewart and Michael Nouri. In fairness to Stewart and Nouri, their roles are also not particularly well written as well. Stewart doesn't get much that explains why her character is desired by two men. Maybe it's because it's shown she's willing to sleep with Galligan's character after two dates. As for Nouri, despite being both a romantic rival and the figure that Galligan's character believes is the serial killer terrorizing the city, I don't think the running time of his scenes put together runs more than five minutes in length.

There are other problems with characters in the movie. For example, late in the movie another character is introduced, a character who has confessed to the murders and had forensic evidence in his car linking him to the crimes. Of course it turns out he is innocent, but we never learn why he falsely confessed. Nor do we learn why he had forensic evidence in his car, and that is not the only problem found in the story part of Psychic's screenplay. While I won't reveal what happens during the movie's climax, I will say that you will have seen every turn and action of the climax from the climaxes of dozens of other motion pictures before. In fact, a great deal of the rest of the movie has a déjà vu feeling, with scene after scene coming across as very familiar despite the injection of psychic powers into the plot. It doesn't help that director George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine) doesn't seem to be contributing anything to spice things up. The movie has a dull look to it, with washed-out outdoor scenes and interiors that are often badly lit. There is also an extremely low key feeling throughout, with the movie slowly plodding along with no real atmosphere as well as no feeling of suspense or tension even during the psychic visions of the murders. Which is surprising, because six years earlier Mihalka directed Eternal Evil (a.k.a. The Blue Man), a much better movie that dealt with psychic powers. The scenes of psychic powers in that movie were very atmospheric and suspenseful despite being made with a much lower budget than what was given to Psychic. Why Mihalka couldn't repeat his feat with more money at hand is a mystery. Maybe if one of my readers is a psychic, they could find out the answer for me.

(Posted January 29, 2017)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)

See also: I, Madman, Psychic Killer, Slaughterhouse Rock

homeindexgenree-mail