Hitchcockamamie; Kitsch-Doc Maiming


There may not be a more soulless director in Hollywood than Robert Zemeckis—his entire purpose is the manufacture of empty distractions, and his mechanical authority is precisely why his movies date more wretchedly than any other high-flyin’ ’80s-’90s auteur. His new non-blockbuster What Lies Beneath dates in the pot, as he blanches the Sixth Sense-style character-driven horror movie until there’s nothing coming at you except cues and exposition. Before long, the movie begins to feel like a sleep deprivation trial: Obvious scenes are drawn out into perpetuity (you could sprout your first liver spot waiting for Zemeckis’s camera to get to its point), and then unfailingly climax with an irrelevant, slamming soundtrack gotcha. You begin to sympathize with the rats in brilliant scientist Harrison Ford’s genetics lab.

Ford’s workaholic Norman is married to high-strung Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), who begins to experience the usual movie-ghost oddness in her wealth-porn seaside manse: doors opening, radios turning on, bathtubs that fill up by themselves (not so usual, I guess), and visions of a dead girl Norman shtupped, and for whom, of course, there is hell to pay. Hardly a frame goes by without Pfeiffer, who looks day-old-dead already, and who accentuates the effect of being semi-possessed by another vapid, lynx-eyed blond with line readings worthy of a stroke victim. As it turns out, the ghost is a macguffin of sorts, and the wholly unaffecting rigmarole carries the burden of belated Hitchcockianism. (The major suspense piece involves being drug-paralyzed in a slowly filling tub antique-shopped right out of Bates Motel cabin #1.) Ostensibly a scarifying parable about wives left alone in piggish homes (the credits include a “bonsai team lead”) after the kids go off to college, What Lies Beneath does, with Ford’s presidentiality and Pfeiffer’s testy relationship with middle age, suggest a Clintons-at-home scenario for 2001—haunted by the ghosts of dalliances past.

The horror, the horror: What lies beneath the painted rictus of Tammy Faye Bakker, televangelical gargoyle, tabloid cuckoldette, rehab princess, gay-cult jester? Nothing much, according to filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, whose The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an über-kitschy, RuPaul-narrated gloss over the disastrous life and times of America’s favorite mascara smashup. It is a horror film, in every sense: Each shot is simultaneously dedicated to reglorifying Tammy Faye’s public image (the PTL song-and-dance flashbacks are as chilling a vision of Yankee foolishness as you’ll ever see), and contemptuously pissing on her for it.

Mocked by sock-puppet intros, E!-doc faux dramatics, and pitiless close-ups of makeup carnage, our heroine seems only glad for the attention. Overt camp culture is a matter of bullies and victims, and though Tammy Faye emerges standing—she seems, in fact, to walk the real Christian walk, unlike Falwell and other ministry goldbrickers—her cinebiographers come off as smirking buffoons. In fact, the movie cannot help but be merely another debacle that Tammy Faye will survive, eyelashes and integrity intact.

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