Thursday, March 31, 2022

AUDREY ROSE (1977) (Imprint Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Imprint Films
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: PG
Duration: 113 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Robert Wise
Cast: John Hillerman, Anthony Hopkins, John Beck, Marsha Mason, Susan Swift, Norman Lloyd

Supernatural melodrama Audrey Rose (1977) opens during a heavy down pour where a mother and daughter are driving on an interstate when a car heading the opposite direction veers down an embankment and into the oncoming traffic, resulting in the mother and her young daughter dying a horrific and fiery death - it's a scene that mirrors the opening of the superior chiller The Changeling. Moving ahead ten years we’re then introduced to parents Janice (Marsha Mason, Drop Dead Fred) and Bill Templeton (John Beck, Rollerball) and their adolescent daughter Ivy (Susan Swift, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers). Ivy is a sweet kid but suffers from recurring tormented visions of a fiery death, the nightmares are getting progressively worse and have begun manifesting in the form of violent waking nightmares and sleepwalking. About this time her parents notice a strange man following them on several different occasions. The stranger seems unnaturally drawn to their daughter, his name is Elliot Hoover, the grieving father of the the young girl killed in the crash at the top of the film. Hoover is played very sympathetically yet intensely by Sir Anthony Hopkins (Magic), he gives of some creeper vibes but seems well-intentioned. It eventually comes into focus  that Elliot believes the day his daughter died in that fiery wreck her soul was reincarnated into the body of the newborn Ivy. Hopkins plays the role with sincerity but also a bit demented while also being underplayed, sort of on the same wavelength we saw him do in Magic.  While you never think he might harm the girl you’re also not quite sure what his end game might be, he could be a nutter with a thing for kid. The parents initially balk at the notion, as would anyone of sound mind, but eventually the mother comes around to believe, while the father becomes more hostile towards Elliot, frustrated that he is powerless to help his own suffering daughter, while this complete stranger comes into her life offering her some sort of relief.

The first time I watched this flick I think I may have come to it with a bit too much self-imposed expectation. I had the preconception that it would be an eerie chiller along the lines of Robert Wise's fantastic chiller The Haunting or The Changeling, but the docudrama style felt a bit antiseptic at times and once it turns into a courtroom drama the film lost its footing and never quite recovered. What we have here is far less a supernatural thriller and more of an examination, and indeed trial, of the idea of reincarnation, which is quite interesting in theory but it did not wow me with what I was seeing onscreen. That's not to say there weren't some solid moments of tension and bits that gave the goosebumps, the scenes of young Ivy tormented by visions of Audrey's fiery death are quite harrowing and well-executed. 

We get some quite good performances here, especially from Hopkins and the tortured Swift, whom not to be unkind, was quite a strange looking adolescent, which serves the film well. The night terrors she suffers are intense, the most chilling involved Ivy running through the house clawing at the windows in an attempt to escape the fiery car crash of her nightmare, it's very effective and quite startling. Hopkins portrayal of Mr. Hoover is  a touch demented, but not quite over-the-top. From an outsider perspective Hopkins' character would be quite suspect, and any parent would regard a strange man with an obsession about their child for whatever reasons with a healthy amount of hostility, especially when he asserts that they're the reincarnation of his dead daughter. 

Audio/Video:  Audrey Rose (1977) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Via Vision Entertainment as part of their deluxe sub-label Imprint Films. To my eyes this looks to be the same HD master utilized by Twilight Time for their 2014 Blu-ray, framing and color-grading is quite similar and it's a similarly thick looking presentation, but it's darker. The TT release was overly bright I think, the darker Imprint presentation tones down the noise in the darker scenes, the blacks are not as milky, skin tones are slightly warmer - it's just a more natural looking presentation. See a screenshot comparison of the two releases just below, and over fifty screenshots from the Imprint Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. Audio comes by way of English PCM 2.0, it handles the dialogue, effects and score quite nicely, everything is well-balanced and there are no issues with distortion. 

Blu-ray Screenshot Comparison: 
Top: Twilight Time Blu-ray (2014) 
Bottom: Imprint Film Blu-ray (2022)

Where this release excellent is the extras, beginning with a brand new Audio Commentary by film historian Samm Deighan. Who offers some great insights into this film and the exploration of reincarnation, comparing it to other supernatural films of the era like Exorcist, and the themes of exploitation in the film. There are also some terrific Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and Imprint Films produced featurettes, kicking off with Investigator: The Paranormal World Of Frank De Felitta features the novelist talking about his early career, how being Italian he believes in the supernatural, and his time as a documentary filmmaker for CBS, them moving onto Universal, then writing his first novel Oktoberfest, soon after researching reincarnation for his next novel - Audrey Rose, which Robert Wise directed and he wrote the screenplay and produced. Then touching on the real-life experiences of what would be detailed in his book The Entity, which also became a film. 

Kim Newman on “Audrey Rose” is a 24-min chat with the UK cult film head, featuring Newman seated on the familiar quilt-draped couch with his own novels on the shelf behind him, speaking to the themes of reincarnation in both literature and film, including the real life case the Bridey Murphy case of past life regression therapy, and the phenomena's rise in popularity. He gets into the career of novelist Frank De Felitta and his string of 'its all true' supernatural themed novels and his directorial entries like Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Newman also touches on director Robert Wise's subtlety scary (The Haunting) direction, plus the casting of the film. 

The Role Of A Mother – an interview with actress Marsha Mason runs 18-min, she talks about being drawn to the film because of the theme of reincarnation and the chance to work with the legendary Robert Wise. She touches on her own spiritual/meditational endeavors and beliefs, her own acting style, and what it was like working with "terrific guy" Beck, child actor Swift, and Hopkins. She also talks about Wise's use of storyboards which helped her understand the atmosphere of the film. 

I’ve Been Here Before”: Reincarnation On Film – a video essay by film historian Lee Gambin explores the wild and varied sub-genre through the years with loads of great similar themed cinema, beginning with All Sou's Eve (1921 and on though the decades and the various ways they explored reincarnation. He touches on some films I've never seen that intrigued me like the Barbara Streisand starring music On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), and Goodbye Charlie (1964). It's a great deep-diving video essay that added quite a few film to my to-see list. 

In the 17-min Hypnotist: Inside The Score for “Audrey Rose” film historian Daniel Schweizer explores the work of composer Michael Small, tracking his career scoring serial comedies and entry into genre filmmaking with films like Parallax ViewMarathon Man, Stepford Wives and Night Moves. Defining the composer as diverse, modernistic composer and detailing what he brought to Audrey Rose, noting that it complimented Wise's direction, singling out several important signature themes featured in the film, and offering some terrific insights into the score that made me listen to the isolated track with a headful of new insights that made me enjoy it even more. The disc is buttoned-up with Isolated Score audio track featuring the music of Michael Small in uncompressed PCM 2.0, us the 2-min Theatrical TrailerThe single disc release arrives in a clear, oversized keepcase with a two-sided but not reversible sleeve of artwork, plus an attractive limited edition slipcover. 
Special Features:
- 1080p high-definition presentation by Paramount Pictures
- NEW Audio Commentary by film historian Samm Deighan
- NEW Investigator: The Paranormal World Of Frank De Felitta– featurette (2022) (12 min) 
- NEW Kim Newman on “Audrey Rose” (2022) (24 min) 
- NEW The Role Of A Mother – an interview with actress Marsha Mason (2022) (18 min) 
- NEW “I’ve Been Here Before”: Reincarnation On Film – a video essay by film historian Lee Gambin (2022) (17 min) 
- NEW Hypnotist: Inside The Score for “Audrey Rose” – featurette (2022) (17 min) 
- Isolated Score audio track featuring the music of Michael Small (PCM 2.0) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Limited Edition slipcase on the first 2000 copies with unique artwork

Audrey Rose (1977) is an interesting examination of reincarnation and past lives, fans of psychological horror and supernatural melodrama should take note. I still don't love it, but it is an under appreciated gem for sure, and this Imprint Blu-ray is easily the most definitive and best-looking release of it on disc to date.

Screenshots from the Imprint Films Blu-ray: