Kevin Bacon Pulled Out A Real Tooth In Stir Of Echoes, It Just Wasn’t His

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Since 1999, the reputation of “Stir of Echoes” — based on the book by science-fiction writer Richard Matheson — has continued to improve with age. It remains a standout in the long line of gripping ghost stories that came before it, and it helped set the stage for more mainstream paranormal hits down the line like “The Conjuring,” in a time when meta-slasher films had taken over in a post-“Scream” horror landscape. Kevin Bacon gives a tortured performance as a man forced to solve the mystery behind the death of a local girl after she begins haunting him. After his New Age sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) hypnotizes him, Bacon’s character Tom can’t stop seeing horrific visions, including one memorable scene where he pulls out his own bloody tooth. 

“Stir of Echoes” was released in the wake of the huge success of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” and was completely overshadowed by it. Had the studio released the film earlier, it might not have seemed like a copycat (even though that would have been impossible considering “Stir of Echoes” came out exactly one month after Shyamalan’s blockbuster) Everyone remembers the shocking twist at the end of “The Sixth Sense,” and most moviegoers went back to watch it a second time to see what they missed. In comparison, “Stir of Echoes,” with its easily forgotten title and bad timing, was largely ignored upon its initial release. 

Looking back in the rearview almost 20 years later, Bacon and Director David Koepp talked to Entertainment Weekly about not liking the title from the start (Bacon wanted to call the movie “Dig!”), the movie magic of Bacon’s self-imposed root canal, and the things that scare them the most.  

The Horror Of Aging

In his 2017 interview, celebrated screenwriter and director David Koepp confessed that the infamous tooth-pulling scene came from one of his worst fears. “[The scene was] based on a nightmare I had … It’s a classic aging dream,” he confessed. “It’s a fear of your body crumbling and dying, which, as it turns out, is a pretty darn legitimate fear, because it’s going to happen.”

The implied horror of aging is an inescapable truth we all face. That fear tends to be universal, so it’s no wonder that it has been explored in “Stir of Echoes” and so many other films, including the dark fairy tale “Something Wicked This Way Comes” starring Jason Robards, and Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s hauntingly beautiful French film “The City of Lost Children,” about a mad scientist who steals the dreams of children to slow down the aging process. 

When Koepp’s own children asked him what the scariest idea would be for a horror film, he didn’t hold back, saying:

“Without hesitation, I said aging, because it is. It’s awful. Your body will betray and desert you. When I look at this scene, I see someone’s body falling apart before their eyes. As a viewer, I relate to it because it’s that inability to not pick at it, to not make it worse … but you have to see how bad it is. I know I’d do the same thing if I were him.”

The scene is reminiscent of the fever dream that Marty (Martin Casella), the paranormal investigator in “Poltergeist,” experiences when he starts clawing his own face off in the mirror. That particular sequence almost earned the 1982 film an R rating, while “Stir of Echoes” had already earned a hard R rating; another difference between it and the more palatable PG-13 rating of “The Sixth Sense.”

Pulling Out Kevin Bacon’s Tooth

Since he was the one who actually had to do the deed, Bacon chimed in saying that his character Tom was “fragile at that point” and the tooth sequence was him hitting rock bottom. “Teeth are a symbol of vibrancy, health, and youth. Everything’s crumbling around him … without your teeth, you’re a shadow of your former self,” he told EW. There’s really no coming back after losing your teeth, and the sudden inability to smile would make society look at you in a different way. There’s ego involved, especially for an actor like Bacon who had mostly been known for his good looks, until he began to make the switch to more character-driven films. For example, he pivoted and went against his own plan by saying yes to “The Woodsman,” a 2004 film by Nicole Kassell in which Bacon plays Walter, the child molester who was recently released from prison.

Bacon is so dedicated to his “Stir of Echoes” scene that he actually sells what is, in reality, a simple camera trick. Koepp revealed to EW how they pulled off the effect. “We blacked out Kevin’s tooth and built a cap to go over it, so he’s pulling out a cap that comes off fairly easily,” he explained. Then, Bacon actually pulled out a real tooth with some clever sleight-of-hand. Koepp continued:

“While he’s pulling out the tooth, he’s palming a real tooth in his other hand. He drops the real tooth, we tilt down to see it, and then somebody darted in with a washcloth and wiped the blood off Kevin’s face, so when he looks back up into the mirror, his face and teeth are clean. We were doing it all very low tech … everybody was doing it like a magic trick and that creates a great sense of teamwork in a crew, and brings life to it.”

The Simplest Thing Is Usually The Scariest

This low-tech approach worked for the scene, but Bacon sells the gag even more thanks to some extra gore provided by a bloody string of spit, supplying that highly sought-after, cringe-worthy moment. “That was a happy accident, it was f****** fantastic,” Bacon recalled. “I don’t know if the blood was made specifically to have that stringy effect, but I don’t think it was.” Bacon has quietly become something of a horror icon, starring in “Tremors,” “Flatliners, “Stir of Echoes, “Hollow Man,” and the recent genre entry “They/Them” where Bacon finally returns to a slasher-sleepaway-camp after his initial ingress in “Friday the 13th.” He and Koepp also just reunited in 2020 for the ambitious but fairly disappointing horror movie “You Should Have Left” co-starring Amanda Seyfried.

After that many outings, Bacon knows what scares him the most at this point in his career and it’s rarely, if ever, the big elaborate jump scare. “When it comes to horror, I’m drawn to things that are chilling in their simplicity,” he told EW. [Horror often uses] bells, whistles, jump-scares … but when you can do it with such a simple, uncomplicated gesture, it’s f****** creepy and horrific.”

Read this next: The 31 Scariest Movie Scenes Ever

The post Kevin Bacon Pulled Out A Real Tooth In Stir Of Echoes, It Just Wasn’t His appeared first on /Film.

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