If you were to think of a movie, any movie that’s the furthest thing from a horror film, what would it be? The Lion King (1994), perhaps? Maybe Revenge of the Nerds (1984)? Oh, I know, Ford v Ferrari (2019)! Whatever your choice, you would be correct… sort of. You see, this is Almost Horror where we comb the fringes of what makes a horror film Horror, and some of the results will open your eyes.
September is A Haunting of Film Street month here at Nightmare on Film Street and Almost Horror has reached into our ghostly grabbag of goodies and pulled out a winner, in our books. So get your short pants on, lace up those Jordans and get ready to get down and dirty in the paint because we’re about to show you just how terrifying The 6th Man (1997) is.
Setting Up The Shots
While on the surface director Randall Miller (CBGB, 2013) turns out a generic late 90s comedy for star Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie, 2000) to showcase his slapstick comedic chops, deep down in the bowels of this story is a tale of loss, grieving and spectral possession. The story is so tragic that without a script peppered with jokes and comedy, the final narrative would be a severely depressing one.
When brothers Antoine and Kenny Tyler make it to the same college basketball club to honor the deceased father’s memory, team leader Antoine, played by Kadeem Hardison (Vampire In Brooklyn, 1995) suffers a heart attack in the middle of a game. Despite best efforts, the young captain succumbs to his inherited defect and dies. Brother Kenny (Wayans) falls into a deep depression following the loss and the team suffers too. Their record begins to slide and the season looks to be a loss, that is until Antione comes…
Back From The Dead
In many ways, The 6th Man plays out like a 70s/80s slow-burn ghost story. Looking beyond the hip-hop score and the urban setting, the story creeps along at a pace reminiscent of The Changeling (1980) or Ghost Story (1981) with nothing supernatural happening until around the thirty-three-minute mark. But when the ghost of Antoine Tyler comes to his brother Kenny in a particularly trying time in Kenny’s grieving process, the result is genuinely frightening.
Thanks to director Miller’s use of dutch angles, moody lighting, and well-placed edits, Antoine’s return is straight out of any haunted house picture’s playbook. Lights flicker, locker room showers turn on by themselves, the eerie sound of disembodied voices whisper in frightened Kenny’s ear and ultimately Antoine materialized, even drawing in energy from around the locker room. Wayan’s performance, while later on gets pretty comedic, his initial reaction to his first encounter with his deceased brother is quite genuine and plays well with the spooky events swirling around him.
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A Spirited Comeback
Don’t call it a comeback! Sorry, just a little LL Cool J for you all as I set up this next bit. You see, it’s not just Kenny that Antoine haunts, or rather, helps. Antoine loved his team as much as he loved to play and seeing them slumping after his death was killing him, for lack of a better term. In life he was a winner, someone who won at all costs, and in death, it seems the same is true.
As the team played against their rivals, they once again begin getting their butts handed to them on a silver platter, but once Antoine gets ahold of them, things change real quick. From janky lay-ups to funky dunks, it seemed to team are suddenly back to their winning form but like, in a weird, defying gravity way. While the team notices, they chalk it up to snapping their losing streak, but Kenny knows what force is behind it.
The Fragile Psyche Of Kenny Tyler
Right now you’re probably thinking, this must be really strange for poor Kenny. The guy loses his brother, so he has that to deal with, and then he starts seeing his ghost. That alone is enough to screw with your neurons pretty badly. Throw in the fact that Antoine is controlling everything in Kenny’s life, it’s pretty much time for old Kenny to make a trip to Belview. From his play on the court to his budding relationship with journalist R.C. St. John played by Michael Michele (The Substitute 2: School’s Out, 1998), who starts to suspect something is going on with Kenny and the team after witnessing their bizarre behavior on the hardwood. It seems Kenny is ripe for a straight jacket fitting.
Even Kenny himself questions his own sanity as things go haywire around him. For example, he finally lands a date with St. John and during that date, the condiments move around the table by themselves, the table levitates, an entire bottle of steak sauce is poured onto Kenny’s salmon and the whole time no one seems to notice but Kenny. The poor guy is put through the wringer psychologically and I’m quite frankly surprised he didn’t jump in front of a bus with the amount of crap that was happening to him.
There’s No Ghost In Team
Finally, the team begins to question their unearthly abilities where they ultimately find out about Antoine’s return when he makes the same dramatic appearance to them that he did his brother. Some truly creepy stuff begins to happen when, while standing midcourt, the gymnasium doors slam on their own, distorted images begin to flash across the screen of the jumbotron and the air fills with a bluish-purple electromagnetic charge.
The team somehow accepts this strange occurrence and later at the game they use Antoine to help them win. More eerie otherworldly things happen as the team storms through the competition but this ultimately does not sit well with the guys on the team and they decided that they can’t continue with Antoine’s help. This, of course, enrages Antoine and his angry spirit trashes a hotel room in the process.
Possession Goes To Antoine
You with me so far? It gets creepier. In one of the many games that Antoine assists the team, he pulls a full-on Exorcist move and possesses a very good player from a rival team causing him to make a free throw so badly that the ball ends up in the arena rafters. To add insult to injury, he makes the player laugh maniacally at himself for the misplay.
In the same game and to the same player, Antoine possesses the game ball as the player is about to make a play, sending him terrified to the locker room. But in a darker, more sinister twist, in a later, more important game, a driven, competitive Antoine possesses the body of a friend of his who plays for the competing team, sending him flying into the backboard and dropping him to the floor where his shatters his leg, a potentially career-ending injury. It’s clear that at this point, things have gone to Antoine’s head and he has crossed to the line of playful poltergeist to that of a vengeful spirit. A pretty dark twist for a comedy, no?
Game Winning Point
And there you have the story of The 6th Man. Is it a light-hearted goofy basketball comedy with a playful paranormal twist or is it a profoundly tragic look at the torment of grief? Perhaps it’s a commentary on the fragility of one’s sanity in the face of life-changing circumstances or maybe even a glimpse at the games our minds will play with us when we’re not ready to say goodbye to a loved one who was taken away far too soon. Either way, it’s a far deeper dive than a goofy sports movie and the proof is n the paint, so to speak.
What are your thoughts on our The 6th Man theories? Does it fall into the horror realm or have we fouled ourselves out of the game? Let us know on our Nightmare on Film Street Twitter, Subreddit, and Horror Movie Fiend Club page on Facebook. Not only will you be able to leave comments and interact with the boys and ghouls of NOFS, but you’ll also find everything under the horror movie sun. So until next time fellow fiends, stay creepy!