Barry (Lance Irwin) is the kind of guy for whom appearing on “The Psychic Friends Network” would actually be an upward career move. Barry, who advertises himself as an “occult specialist” in the newspaper, makes his living performing psychic and Tarot card readings for gullible old ladies. The key word here, of course, is “performing,” which won’t be good enough to satisfy his agreement with the wealthy but dying Jules Mathieson (Richard Runion). Mathieson is prepared to pay Barry $20,000 for attempting to bring him back from the dead and $50,000 if the paranormal hack succeeds.
At the urging of a friend, Barry visits a Shaman, hoping only to bone up on his showmanship and maybe learn to chant a mumbo jumbo-ish spell or two. He returns to the deceased Mr. Mathieson’s residence with his bimbo-ish girlfriend Wendy (Ericka Brandon) as his assistant, ready to put on a show. No one’s more surprised than Barry when, lo and behold, the deceased millionaire sits up, seemingly good as new.
Barry understandably begins drawing a lot of media attention as he repeats his feat. Inevitably, he needs an agent, which is where the fickle Norman Taft (director Francis Xavier) comes in. Yet, no sooner does this occult hot property get settled into his new mansion and jettison Wendy and his friends when the problems start cropping up with his resurrected subjects; a by product, no doubt, of his convenient, if unfortunate decision to blow off learning how to return the Soul to the body once it’s been resurrected. As nasty tempers and sullen behavior soon give way to murder and mayhem, what starts out as merely a PR disaster for Norman’s agency soon turns into a life or death struggle for the star client. The zombies Barry’s created, you see, are coming back for him!
It sure seems as if director Xavier is trying to make some sort of social commentary on the soulless, utterly mercenary world of agents and the clients they bilk, using the rather odd trappings of a zombie flick as a vehicle. At times, this shines through, if in a fairly heavy-handed manner. But is such story really even necessary? Agents, after all, tend to rank somewhere between lawyers and car salesman when it comes to public perception.
Which leaves “Barry’s Gift” sliding into a more or less typical horror/slasher film. This is especially true of the film’s ending, which is such a rushed and muddled mess, it’s virtually impossible to follow what’s happening.
The film has other structural problems as well. For starters, virtually every other scene ends with a fade out. This is totally unnecessary and makes the film look like it’s trying to hide something; some sort of major plot, continuity or timeline snafu. The other, totally unrealistic problem here is that the general public and Barry’s associates are far too accepting of what Barry’s doing. I mean, here’s a guy who’s raising people from the dead, for heaven’s sake! Yet, everyone around Barry treats him like some minor league sports star or something.
One could look at “Barry’s Gift” as a sort of muddled, humorless version of “Death Becomes Her”. The sad part is, it could have been so much more.