Color, 1986, 97 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Susan Shadburne
Starring Dee Wallace, Cloris Leachman, Ron Kuhlman, Barry Laws, Susan Dixon
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Thoughtful Shadow Playsupernatural Shadow Playromantic fantasies have been in short supply for a long time despite being in vogue once in Hollywood with titles like Portrait of Jennie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and later efforts like Somewhere in Time and Ghost. Far less known than those is a fascinating little oddity from New World, Shadow Play, the only feature directorial credit for educational filmmaker Susan Shadburne (who also pulled multiple duties on the animated The Adventures of Mark Twain directed by her husband, Will Vinton).

Eight years after the apparent suicide of her fiancé who fell from the top of a lighthouse, playwright Morgan Hanna (The Howling's Wallace) still finds herself haunted by dreams of his final moments. Suffering from a persistent case of writer's block, she receives a letter from Jeremy's widowed mother, Millie (Leachman), to come pay a visit to the her island home where Jeremy died. Upon arrival she's also kept company by Jeremy's brother, John (Kuhlman), and old friend Zelda (Dixon), who tells her that Jeremy's room has been kept exactly the way it was since he died. Morgan becomes motivated to channel her grief into a new play, but she soon experiences sightings of Jeremy in random places and finds her writing being influenced by a spectral presence and a voice saying things like "Ride with me through the glass"-- while John Shadow PlayShadow Playvehemently argues that it's all in her mind.

A film that never quite heads where you think it will, Shadow Play feels like a ghostly murder mystery for much of its running time but actually has a somewhat different agenda in mind. Ultimately it's a character study about letting go of the past, and while there is indeed a revelation in store about the dead man's fate (delivered during a climactic confrontation at the lighthouse on a windswept night, natch), it doesn't result in the standard type of climax you would expect. Some will probably find this slow going given the lack of interest in going the horror route, but if you're willing to just go along for the ride and soak in the atmosphere, it's a strangely haunting watch with a reliably beguiling and sympathetic performance by Wallace at its core.

Supposedly given a bit of a theatrical release, Shadow Play received a fairly wide VHS release from New World in 1986 and barely earned any buzz whatsoever. However, it did win over some fans who were adventurous enough to rent it after seeing the box turning anywhere from the Horror to Mystery to Romance sections at their local video store. In 2020, Shadow PlayScorpion Releasing brought the film back to the public with a Blu-ray release that looks far better than the old tape (not surprisingly). The opening studio logo Shadow Playand main titles have some obvious damage and a gritty look, but after that the source is in excellent shape and really shines during the golden-hued flashback scenes that were a smudgy mess before. As usual for New World, the film was released in mono and that's reflected in the perfectly fine DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mix included here (with optional English SDH subtitles). A new video interview with Wallace (22m42s) is as engaging as you'd expect as she seems very bemused talking about a film she hadn't thought about for many years. She starts off talking about the marital tension with Christopher Stone caused by the film's big love scene (which she went ahead with after they talked to their shrink, and it still sort of ranks as her only nude scene), her own attitudes about communicating with "the other side," Leachman's supportive nature, and her good working relationship with her late director (who was suffering from MS at the time). She also answers questions about some very random other roles from her career like, uh, Bigfoot and Wildboy and Jimmy the Kid. A photo gallery (3m10s) and a lo-res trailer are also included.

Reviewed on May 22, 2020