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Disappearing Acts

1992, 36min. (Color/VHS)


Kerianne Steele, Laney Simmons, Delaney Steele, Jennifer Simmons, Kyle Simmons, Jim Granucci


The first of Simmons's films in which at least one major character lives through to the closing credits, Disappearing Acts begins with beautiful, sunny scenes of lovely San Francisco. Jessica and Marion Jameson (Laney Simmons and Kerianne Steele) have returned from their first day at a new school, and are having a snack when their mother (Delaney Steele) returns home. We learn that this is an adjustment period for everyone, as they have just moved into a new house.

Immediately, things begin to go wrong. The shower handle falls off of Mrs. Jameson's shower. Jessica's chair collapses at dinner. The light switches malfunction. Toilets don't flush. Doorknobs fall off in hands. Something is definitely wrong with this house and Mrs. Jameson is going to get to the bottom of it.

Before she can do anything about it, however, even more chaos ensues. The next morning, Marion awakens to find her room has been transformed into a playground. Board games and children's magazines are scattered everywhere; she even finds a checker-piece in her mouth! Later, at breakfast, as the Jamesons are trying to watch Olympic rowing, the channels on the television keep switching to children's programming. Marion must struggle with the remote to keep the station tuned to NBC's 'plausibly live' coverage.

Mrs. Jameson has had it. That afternoon, she calls the realtor and demands that he do something about the state of affairs in her home. She is met with fierce resistance in the form of incomprehensible legalese about sub-clauses and contractual negligence forbearances. Frustrated, she sits down to play a game of Trivial Pursuit(R) with her daughters. In the middle of the game, just as Jessica is beginning to pull into the lead, the board pieces fly off the table, landing with a crash at the floor and scattering wedges everywhere. Marion, who has been contesting all along that ghosts are to blame for these abnormalities, is now convinced. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jameson must comfort young Jessica and allay her fears.

The next day, young Jessica is thrust into her closet and trapped there by unseen forces, and Mrs. Jameson must come and rescue her. It is a very emotional scene, and Mrs. Jameson makes another heated call to the realtor to try to elicit corrective action. She does not get past the receptionist. Finally, Marion manages to persuade her mother to allow her to perform a simple experiment. Reasoning that all ghosts live in attics, Marion proposes to put a tray of flour at the foot of the stairs, thus recording the footsteps of any unsuspecting ghosts that should happen to venture into the house from the safe confines of the attic.

That very night, after brushing her teeth, Marion bends to examine her tray of flour. Just as she does, a footprint appears, right before her eyes! Footsteps proceed up the stairs and Marion immediately follows in hot pursuit. Mrs. Jameson and Jessica hesitantly follow. Once in the attic, they find two young children, Sarah (Jennifer Simmons) and Kyle (Kyle Simmons), sitting among the junk. Of course, everyone is interested in an explanation of the curious events around them.

Sarah explains: their father (Jim Granucci) was a traveling magician and was always moving from one house to another, dragging them along. This left the youngsters always feeling terribly displaced. They were the previous inhabitants of this house, and had grown very attached to it. So, one day they escaped their father and returned, living in the attic. There, they came across some of their father's potion. After consuming it, they became invisible whenever they left the attic. Ever since, they have been performing michief in a desperate plea for love and attention.

The Jamesons are touched by the story and agree to let the invisible children live with them, and all ends happily.

Production Notes

Disappearing Acts was a landmark film for me. Firstly, the 10 minute opening title sequence was my longest ever, especially in proportion to the tiny 30 minute film. But, more importantly, this was the first movie in which not one single character died. It was incredible. The idea of the happy ending was such a revelation for me (especially as opposed to the sickeningly tragic ending).

This is also the only movie to have a story credit. All of the other stories were my own ideas, but Disappearing Acts started with my idea and was refined by Kibbie Ruth and Jennifer Simmons. That was a lot of fun, too. The collaboration in pre-production was a new experience, and very exciting. My original idea was that the young children in the story were ghosts, strangled in the attic by their abusive parents, and they lived in the attic forever after, even when their parents moved away. In that case, Kyle and Jennifer would wear lots of makeup to make their throats look terribly bruised. But Kibbie and Jennifer had a much more innocent idea. We ended up going with invisible runaways rather than slaughtered orphans. It's easier on the psyche.

Kerianne Steele contributed some excellent ideas in production, as well. (And, if you've ever watched "Behind The Scenes: Disappearing Acts," you know how I feel about those.) My idea for the scene in which Marion awakens to find her room in shambles was for her clothes and belongings to be in jumbled heaps everywhere. Kerianne suggested that the children had no reason to destroy everything, they would only want to play games. It was a point well taken. Kerianne also suggested the shot through the window of the convenience store, which turned out to be incredible.

Again, I must commend Jim Granucci for his outstanding performance as Kyle and Sarah's father. I know of few others who would have dashed through that door and yelled (with such passion!) into that parking lot, "Kyle! Sarah! Where are you going?"

Speaking of which, this is just one more of the film series in my crusade against Dan Quayle. In only three films (Arachnophobia II, The Clock Struck One, and Disappearing Acts), I had already told the story of four single-parent families (the Szalinskis, the MacKenzies, the Jamesons, and the magician and his children). Candice Bergen and I were really right on the same track, up until she started doing those spots for Sprint Long Distance.

The story line is far more developed (and far more original) than the first two, the characters are better, and there is more coverage in any given scene. The style was really improving. In two great sequences, when Kyle and Sarah run away at the convenience store and when Jessica is locked in her closet, my understanding of the use of editing and shot setup was certainly becoming more developed.