Audrey Rose Blu-ray Review: An "Exorcist" for the Neil Simon Crowd

Twilight Time brings vintage horror movie lovers a misaligned tale of reincarnation and possession.
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The mark of a new decade brings with it much anticipation of something new. Something special. A particular type of renovation that will outdo the victories and faults of its predecessor, whether it be in the world of fashion, music, and film. And the '70s definitely ushered in a venerable revolution in all three of those departments, from incredible (and somewhat incorrigible) clothing, to that funky music a certain unknown audience member shouted for white boy Rob Parissi to play, and right down to an entirely new era of the moving pictures: creepy kids. Though the concept of a child being a villain was nothing new in the realm of celluloid (witness required viewing items The Bad Seed and the original Village of the Damned for two very fine examples), the '70s did however make it more of commonplace affair.

And we mostly have the 1973 release The Exorcist to thank for that. Once William Friedkin's supernatural horror film left its still-noticeable mark on moviegoers, studio executives near and far were keen to cash-in on the craze. The rip-off phenomenon hit its zenith (and simultaneously, its nadir) in Italy, where many an inferior and laughably blatant clone was made and shipped around the world (also see: Seytan (aka "Turkish Exorcist"). Meanwhile, back in the United States, filmmakers who were trying to keep abreast of the wave of excessive imported copyright infringement materials looked to higher ground for creepy kid flick ideas that weren't as likely to receive an invitation to a courtroom as their European counterparts.

So, in 1977, just a few months before a movie called Star Wars would unintentionally initiate an entirely new slew of rip-offs - effectively erasing the creepy kid subgenre for a spell - United Artists unveiled their own psychological horror flick; one that actually does wind up in court, interestingly enough. Directed by the one and only Robert Wise - the same man behind The Sound of Music and the original (better) versions of The Haunting and The Day the Earth Stood Still - Audrey Rose attempts to deliver its tale of possession via the not-at-all-the-same concept of reincarnation. Had the original 1975 novel the film was adapted from by Frank De Felitta (Dark Night of the Scarecrow) been written prior to the release of The Exorcist, he might have got away with it.

Such was not the case, however, and Robert Wise's Audrey Rose received its fair share of cries from certain audience members who shouted "Play that exorcism, Wise boy". Viewed today, it's a rather tepid "psychological thriller" (a term that really came about for the home video market during the '90s when people got tired of hearing the word "horror") about a tortured soul inhabiting the body of an already scary-looking kid and the so-called helpful advances of an equally creepy grownup.

Adapted for the screen by De Felitta himself, this tawdry Audrey finds stage star Marsha Mason (who was trying to get back into film again after marrying Neil Simon - an act that would lead to appearing in one Neil Simon project after another for the next ten years) as a photographer who acts like she's on the stage (possibly in a Neil Simon project; watch as she snaps her fingers when moving to the phone, then shake your head in disbelief that Robert Wise didn't cry out "Cut!"). She and her onscreen hubby John Beck (aka His Moustached Holiness, a frequently-overlooked actor whose movies have, fortunately, been popping up a lot lately on home video) have an unnervingly wide-eyed, jagged-toothed eleven-year-old girl (Susan Swift, debuting in her short-lived career) and an unwanted stalker in a trenchcoat, played by award winner Anthony Hopkins (who was trying to get something of career going in the US - a plight that would take well over a decade to achieve).

As it turns out, the daughter of Marsha and John (aka The Man with the Breathtaking Bum) is more than an unnervingly wide-eyed, jagged-toothed little monster: she is, in fact, the reincarnation of Hopkins' deceased offspring, Audrey Rose, who died in a fiery car crash more than ten years prior. In order to prove this to the disbelieving parents, Hopkins follows them everywhere and phones 'em up until they finally consent to meet with him so he can explain how much of a loon he is (and more importantly, make us wonder just what Chinese gunpowder is). Choosing to ignore the slightly distorted Hopkins, our lead parents soon become concerned when their daughter starts to have dangerous nightmares where she bangs on the window and shows signs of being burned afterward.

Is it really reincarnation, or is this all the sick ploy of a deranged sexual predator? Just what the heck is Chinese gunpowder anyway? And is Audrey Rose scarier than other creepy kid films like, say, My Girl 2? The answers are as easy to see as John Beck's upper lip in this mostly fully euthanized thriller, which starts off like it might be a decent picture, before losing its steam shortly thereafter. Hopkins seems to be the only participant who is into the story as much as its writer, even as the tale transcends into a bizarre courtroom drama wherein the dead Audrey Rose's tormented father tried to convince a jury that reincarnation exists (which is something right out of a Schick Sunn Classic feature), wherein a hyper Robert Walden and a very bored John Hillerman appear as lawyers.

Also appearing in this confused film are Norman Lloyd (prominently billed, but who is brought in at the last minute of the film), Philip Sterling, and Stephen Pearlman as the family's personal attorney (who seems to have been possessed by the living spirit of Neil Simon). One can only imagine director Robert Wise employed what he learned here in the making of another boring '70s film, Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture - a film that was only rushed into production when Star Wars became the next big copycat-worthy thing. (Reportedly, this was the only film wherein director Wise was actually given a full week of rehearsals before shooting commenced.) Composer Michael Small, whose credits ranged from Marathon Man to Jaws: The Revenge wrote score for the film, which is perhaps most memorable for making its network broadcast debut the following year - something The Exorcist and Star Wars didn't do until seven years after their initial theatrical releases.

I suppose, what I'm getting at here, boys and girls, is that I didn't really like Audrey Rose all that much. But, much like Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (aka "Turkish Star Wars") the film has its own fanbase, and those folks will probably be the first to line up for this new Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, which presents the movie in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer with 1.0 DTS-HD MA lossless sound. The audio track is a fine monaural listen in itself, while the video presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. Some part of the film look quite beautiful, rich with color and detail, while the film's darker moments (in terms of lighting, that is), are possessed with a good deal of noise and grain, often looking rather flat at times.

Now, I understand that this could very well be from the film stock used when the movie was shot, but when you notice the same scenes look much better in the disc's accompanying trailer, you have to wonder how much of a High-Definition mastering job MGM did with this old catalogue title. Moving on, a secondary audio option in the form of Michael Small's soundtrack in an isolated form and English (SDH) subtitles are also on-hand here, as are Julie Kirgo's wonderful (as usual) liner notes. Of course, love it or hate it, anyone in the mood to add this one to their Halloween movie marathon roster had better act fast, as Twilight Time's release of Audrey Rose is limited to a pressing of 3,000 copies, available exclusively at Screen Archives while supplies last.

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