Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DVD Review: Audrey Rose (1977)


“A Haunting Vision of Reincarnation”
RUN TIME: 113 Min.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
CAST: Marsha Mason, Anthony Hopkins, John Beck, Susan Swift

I’ve always heard mention of this film in the same breath as the George C. Scott classic The Changeling. So, it’s been on my radar a while, then I discovered it was directed by Robert Wise, and that really caught my attention. Let me spin off just a few of this man’s films: The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945) – which is one of my favorite Karloff films, the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – what a body of work! Considering the comparison to The Changeling, his body of work, and the appearance of Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) I thought it was high time I took in a viewing. I picked it up from a SwapaDVD.Com trade, if you’re not familiar with the site, check it out, it’s awesome. FYI, the film is based on a same-titled novel from Frank De Felitta, which I’ve not read.

SYNOPSIS: The parents of 11-year-old girl are approached by a stranger who tries to convince them that their daughter is the reincarnation of his deceased daughter.

THE FILM: Audrey Rose opens during a rainstorm, a mother and daughter are driving to an unspecified location; a car heading the opposite direction veers into oncoming traffic, striking the car resulting in a rollover and the fiery death of the title character and her mother. The scene closely mirrors a scenario in The Changeling, a very similar introduction, indeed. We’re then introduced to Janice and Bill Templeton and their daughter Ivy played by Susan Swift (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers). Ivy suffers from tormented dreams of a fiery death, they’re getting progressively worse as time goes by, eventually manifesting themselves in the form of violent waking nightmares. About this time her parents notice a strange man following them on several occasions, he seems unusually interested in their daughter. The stranger is actually Elliot Hoover, the father of the title character who was killed in the fiery car crash, played by Anthony Hopkins. It eventually comes to light, though convoluted it may be, that Elliot believes the day his daughter died her soul was reincarnated into the body of the newly born Ivy. Hopkins plays the role with such sincerity, albeit a bit demented, that you don’t believe he’s out to harm the girl, but you’re not quite sure he’s there to help, either. The parents, of course, balk at the idea, though, eventually Janice (Marsha Mason) comes around to the notion, while Bill (John Beck) becomes increasing hostile towards Elliot, frustrated by his powerlessness to help his own daughter.

I think I may have come into this film with a bit too much enthusiasm or expectation. I’d the preconception that it would be eerie thriller, ala Wise’s amazing film The Haunting or the aforementioned The Changeling. In reality, its presented in a docudrama style, very antiseptic and dry, not haunting in the least, or visually alluring, and it’s probably not meant to be. At its heart the film is less a supernatural thriller than an examination of religious beliefs.

What saved the film for me were the performances of Hopkins and Swift. Swift, truly an odd looking adolescent at the time, was pretty great. The night terrors she suffered were convincing, particularly the regressive hypnotherapy session during the films finale, frightening stuff. The most chilling scenes involved Ivy running through the house clawing at the windows, in an attempt to escape the fiery car of her dreams, very effective. Hopkins portrayal of Mr. Hoover is not over-the-top, it’s tense and demented but never does he chew on the scenery as he’s prone to do these days, The Wolfman anyone?

DVD: Audrey Rose is presented in its original 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. This DVD came out back in 2001, pretty early on in the DVD age, as was the case with a lot of the early MGM releases it’s a bare bones affair, the only special feature being a trailer. Yawn.

VERDICT: While I don’t think that Audrey Rose is a classic film along the lines of The Haunting or The Changeling, it’s an effective and striking examination of the idea of reincarnation. Seeing Hopkins in this film, in that era, reminded me of his 1978 film Magic, I saw when I was 7 and it scared me something fierce, I need to revisit that film, I mean it’s been 30 years, it’s about time, right? It’s out of print and expensive, so If you have a spare copy send it my way. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)