The Film: Audrey Rose
The Principles: Starring Marsha Mason, Sir Anthony Hopkins, John Beck, Susan Swift, Norman Lloyd and John Hillerman. Written by Frank De Felitta. Directed by Robert Wise.
The Premise: Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason and John Beck) are a happily married couple living a comfortable life in a posh apartment in New York’s Upper East Side with their eleven-year-old daughter Ivy (Susan Swift). One day while picking up Ivy from school, Janice notices a bearded weirdo stalking them. She tells her husband, who has also noticed the same man following him, but soon the stranger contacts them both and they all meet for dinner and an explanation. Turns out the man is Elliot Hoover (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and he believes that their daughter is the reincarnation of his own deceased Audrey Rose who burned to death along with her mother in a fiery car accident eleven years prior. He is convinced that her soul transferred into Ivy, who was born two minutes after Audrey died. Janice, Bill and their lawyer all think he’s nuts, but nobody can seem to explain Ivy’s horrible nightmares accompanied by unexplainable burns that appear on the palms of her hands or the fact that only Elliot, a complete stranger, is capable of calming her down by calling her by his dead daughter’s name. In desperation Elliot kidnaps Ivy to help her, so he’s arrested and tried in a court of law where he must prove that both Ivy and Audrey Rose share the same soul.
Is it any good?: It’s actually a cool, atmospheric tale of soul possession that plays a little like a lo-fi version of The Exorcist only with a reincarnation angle replacing the whole demon thing. The results are a very strange mix of psychological horror, fantasy and legal drama that’s photographed like a Dario Argento movie from the period. When the film was released it was scoffed at as an Exorcist rip-off, but it comes off now as a unique little thriller that never once enters the realm of the supernatural, yet plays exactly like it does. I’m sure back in the seventies this movie was considered a bit too avant-garde for moviegoers expecting a good The Omen or Carrie type of horror film, but it’s a pretty original twist on the genre.
Sturdily directed by Robert Wise who gave us the terror-classic The Haunting and the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the script is by Frank De Felitta based on his own best selling novel. The movie looks great, has many terrific performances and an interesting plot, but on occasion the pacing can be a little slow. There’s a lot of suspense building combined with a gloomy atmosphere soaked in a steady downpour of pervasive rainfall throughout the first two acts, but once we figure out that maybe there’s some truth to all this reincarnation mumbo jumbo the film sticks us into a bizarre courtroom drama with John Hillerman as a tough city prosecutor trying to put Hopkins away.
Out of all the performances this film belongs to Susan Swift as Ivy/Audrey Rose. She delivers a tour de force acting explosion of hysterical crying fits coupled with creepy eye movements that really sells it. She looks weird even in a family photo used as a prop and there’s one scene of her channeling Audrey while looking in a bathroom mirror that’s definitely goose bump inducing.
Is it worth a look?: If you’re a fan of seventies horror films centered around creepy little kids then this is right up your alley. If you’re just in the mood for something different that’s made well from the period, you could do a lot worse. It’s more Polanski than Friedkin, so expect something a little moodier and a lot less visceral.
Random anecdotes: It was widely speculated that a young Brooke Shields was originally going to play Audrey Rose, but in truth her image was used as a model for the cover of the novel only.
Cinematic soul mates: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Manitou and The Entity.