Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE BELIEVERS (1987)

THE BELIEVERS (1987) 
Label: Twilight Time
Region Code: ALL
Rating: R
Duration: 114 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: John Schlesinger 
Cast: Robert Loggia, Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Harley Cross, Jimmy Smits, Elizabeth Wilson
SYNOPSIS: 
Director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) ventures elegantly into supernatural territory with The Believers (1987), the tale of Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen), a recently widowed police psychologist forced to deal with a series of ritualistic child murders apparently perpetrated by a malevolent rogue branch of a Caribbean cult religion. As the cult’s connections to corporate oligarchs begin to emerge, the lives of Cal and those around him—particularly his vulnerable young son (Harley Cross)—are put at terrible risk. Also starring Helen Shaver, Robert Loggia, and Jimmy Smits, and atmospherically shot by the great Robby Müller, cinematographer/partner of Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier, and Jim Jarmusch.

THE FILM: 
I remember watching THE BELIEVERS on late night cable TV as a teen and enjoying it
quite a bit. More than anything it made me wary of my mom's coffee maker and the possibility that it might someday kill me because at the top of the film a woman named Lisa Jamison (Janet-Laine Green) is fatally electrocuted by a faulty coffee maker right in front of her husband Cal (Martin Sheen) and her young son Chris (Harley Chris). Watching it now I was less traumatized by the scene of electric death and more jadedly amused at how overwrought the sequence seemed. Not as jolting as I remember but it does move the story along, the now grieving widow moving from Minnesota to New York City to start a new life. Cal is now working as a therapist for the NYPD treating cops traumatized in the line of duty. Enter an attractive and recently divorced landlady Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver) who takes a liking to Cal and a romance blossoms much to the chagrin of his son who still grieves for his dead mother. 

A series of ritualistic child murders plague the city, at the first crime scene we meet undercover officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) on the verge of a nervous breakdown,
screaming about a Santeria cult and their strange powers. At about the same time Cal and his son are enjoying a day at Central Park when Chris stumble upon a brutal animal sacrifice, nearby he finds decorative shell which he keeps to himself and soon strange things begin to happen around the Jamison home. 

What unfolds afterward hints at the elite and powerful aristocrats of the city may be sacrificing their own children to ensure their place in high society, much like ROSEMARY'S BABY we see that the corrupting influence of the occult permeates all facets of society, no one is safe and no one is above suspicion, which makes for an effective and creepy paranoid thriller. 

Martin Sheen as the cop psychiatrist is easy to get behind, a strong father dealing with grief while starting a new relationship. Harley Chris as the son manages to not be too annoying as kid actors are prone to be and Helen Shaver as the new love interest does a fine job.

Then we have Jimmy Smits as the undercover cop fallen prey to the cult, he's unhinged the moment he arrives onscreen and only unravels further as the film moves on. Then we have the intimidating Robert Loggia as Lieutenant Sean McTaggert, whom is feeling increasing pressure to find the culprits behind the child murders, even when Loggia is a good guy he is still a scary presence onscreen, such a menacing face. 

The occult baddies in the film are embodied by wealthy tycoon Robert Calder (Harris Yulin) and cult priest Palo (Malick Bowens), a creepy figure who uses the occult to enthrall, corrupt and curse throughout the film - a few of his scenes gave me the shivers.

After the overwrought beginning the film settles into a slow methodical build-up of occult tension and paranoia before diving off the deep-end with the revelation of just how far the influence of the cult extends and the result is a tiny bit over-the-top, not ruining it for me but it definitely detracting from it. 

Directed by John Schlesinger with a screenplay by future TWIN PEAKS co-creator Mark Frost the attractive cinematography from Robby Müller - there's a solid creative team behind the camera. While I enjoyed the heart of the story of a father pulled into the occult activities of the elite and powerful the bookend whammy of that overwrought electrocution and nutty ending do bring it down a few points. Nonetheless, I do give THE BELIEVERS a recommend, it's a tense and paranoia infused occult thriller with a great cast, definitely a film deserving of some attention. 

BLU-RAY:
The Blu-ray from Twilight Time presents the film in the original widescreen aspect ratio with a nice layer of natural film grain with some moments of fine detail and clarity. Color reproduction looks great and skin tones are mostly natural looking. Black levels are decent and the source material is near flawless with the exception of some minor white speckling throughout. The crisp master provided by 20th Century Fox should please fans through and through. 

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 manages audio duties nicely with well balanced dialogue, effects and J. Peter Robinson's score, it's a good stereo mix with no one element overpowering the other. Optional English SDH Subtitles are provided. 

The disc includes and the original theatrical trailer, MGM 90th Anniversary trailer and the usual isolated music score highlighting the music of J.Peter Robinson. 

VERDICT:
Maybe not quite the supreme occult thriller I remembered from my youth but still a creepy occult cinema entry with some strong performances and troubling imagery. The new HD upgrade looks and sounds fantastic and fans of the film should enjoy it. This release is limited edition release of just 3000 units and is available exclusively from www.screenarchives.com

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