Monday, June 10, 2019

THE BELIEVERS (1987) (Olive Films Blu-ray Review/Comparison)


Label:  Olive Films 
Region Code: A
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 

I remember watching occult-thriller The Believers (1987) on late night cable TV as an early teen and enjoying it quite a bit, but more than anything it made me wary of my mom's coffee maker and the possibility that it might someday kill me. That's 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, Apocalypse Now) and young son Chris (Harley Chris, Someone To Watch Over Me). Watching it again now I was a bit less traumatized by the scene of electric death and more jadedly amused at how overwrought that scene is. While not as jolting as I remember it does move the story along, with the now grieving widow moving from Minnesota to New York City to start a new life with his son. Cal assumes a new job 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, The Amityville Horror) who takes a liking to Cal and a romance blossoms much to the chagrin of his son who still grieves for his deceased mother.

A series of ritualistic child murders plague the city, at the first crime scene we meet undercover officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits, Bless The Child) looking to be 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 the scene of an animal sacrifice, nearby  Chris finds decorative shell which he keeps to himself, and soon enough strange things begin happening around the Jamison home. 

What unfolds afterward hints that the elite and powerful aristocrats of the city may be sacrificing their own children to ensure their place in high society, with the corrupting influence of the occult permeating all facets of society, no one is safe and no one is above suspicion, which makes this a surprisingly effective and creepy paranoid thriller. 

Martin Sheen as the cop psychiatrist is easy to get behind, the caring 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 Santeria cult, he's unhinged the moment he arrives onscreen and only unravels further as the film moves on. Then we have the always intimidating Robert Loggia (Lost Highway) as Lieutenant Sean McTaggert, whom is feeling increasing pressure to find the culprits behind the child murders, even when Loggia is a good guy like he is here he is still a menacing presence onscreen. 

The occult baddies in the film are embodied by wealthy tycoon Robert Calder (Harris Yulin, Ghostbusters II) and cult priest Palo (Malick Bowens, Double Team), a creepy figure who uses the occult to enthrall, corrupt and curse his followers and enemies throughout the film - a few of his scenes still give 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 definitely a little over-the-top.

Directed by John Schlesinger (Marathon Man) with a screenplay by future Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost the attractive cinematography from Robby Müller (Dead Man)- 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. 

Audio/Video: The Believers arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films presented in 1080p HD and framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen framing with a nice layer of film grain with pleasant some moments of fine detail and clarity. Color reproduction looks terrific and skin tones are natural looking. Black levels are decent and the source material is near flawless with the exception of some minor white speckling throughout. This  looks to be the same HD master provided by 20th Century Fox to Twilight Time for their 2014 Blu-ray release, with the same color-grading and identical white speckling in certain scenes, though the now out-of-print TT release looks to have the superior encode, but only marginally. Check out a screenshot comparison below: 

Top: Twilight Time Blu-ray (2014) 

Bottom: Olive Films Blu-ray (2019)

The disc audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix, dialogue, effects and the J. Peter Robinson (The Wraith) score are well-balanced, a solid stereo mix with optional English SDH Subtitles are provided. 

The only extra on this release is the original theatrical trailer for the film. The previous Twilight Time disc only offered the trailer, an isolated score and collector's booklet with writing on the film from Julie Kirgo, so you're not losing a lot of extras, and the transfers are nearly identical. The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, while I didn't love the TT artwork this one doesn't really improve on it, Olive's stylized artwork is usually an acquired taste.    

While not quite the supreme occult thriller I remembered from my youth The Believers (1987) is still a creepy occult entry with some strong performances and troubling imagery. The new Blu-ray from Olive Films looks and sounds great if you're a fan of the film and missed out on the previous TT release this is a solid alternative. 

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