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January 3, 2015

Movie Review: Audrey Rose (1977)

Directed By Robert Wise

Movie review by Greg Goodsell

Bill and Janice Templeton (John Beck and Marsha Mason) are a wealthy New York City couple who live in their sumptuous apartment with their 13-year-old daughter Ivy (Susan Swift). Things are just great until a bearded stranger (Hannibal Lechter himself, Anthony Hopkins) begins shadowing Janice and Ivy at school and on the city streets. The man comes forward to the Templetons, says his name is Elliot Hoover, and in a roundabout way says that their Ivy is in fact the reincarnation of his daughter Audrey Rose who died along with her mother in a car wreck two minutes before Ivy's birth. In lieu of taking him out on the street and giving him a sound thrashing (macho actor John Beck was in Rollerball in 1975, after all), the seed of doubt is planted in the Templeton’s minds. Ivy has suffered from a series of night terrors from a very early age that have amazing fidelity to being burned alive in a car wreck. The reappearance of her former “father” only escalates Ivy’s convulsions, and slowly but surely Janice’s confidence in the rational begins to crack. The matter winds up in a courtroom – and it all ends rather badly for Ivy/Audrey.

At the time of its release, the preeminent journal of fantastic film at that time, Cinefantastique nailed what was wrong with Audrey Rose. “Nothing essentially happens.” That assessment is far too harsh. Audrey Rose deals with a smug couple secretly at war with each other who use their child as a battlefield. It offers up intriguing theories about life, death and reincarnation while remaining most definitely a film NOT about reincarnation. And then there is the fateful showdown. Nonetheless, Audrey Rose failed to click with audiences and is barely remembered today.

As the marvelous Julie Kirgo points out in the liner notes in this limited edition Twilight Time Blu-Ray release, director Robert Wise directed undisputed masterpieces in a wide variety of genres. It’s hard to believe that he helmed both the classic musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music as well as the sci-fi standards The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain. When he turned his attention to the horror genre he likewise spun cinematic gold: Curse of the Cat People (1944), which like Audrey Rose is about a bedeviled little girl, The Body Snatcher (1944) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and bar none the best ghost story on film, The Haunting (1963). When Audrey Rose arrived late in his career, people just noted its similarities to The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and gave it a pass.

Audrey Rose does pay visual homage to both the Friedkin and Polanski films (the scenes of Ivy in a white nightgown and the Templeton’s inviting if uncomfortable apartment demonstrate this), Audrey Rose did those two films one better - and suffered as a result. As has been the argument among some reactionary critics, the popularity of the exorcism subgenre following The Exorcist was due to society’s acceptance of divorce. Once loving parents, since separated, would engage in a battle in an attempt to take “possession” of their own children with bribery, petty rivalries and psychological mind games – with the innocent children suffering as a result. When Regan starts to let loose with all sorts of deviltry in The Exorcist, it’s in part to avenge her mom’s (Ellen Burstyn) selfish career-mindedness and combative relationship with Regan’s father.

A stunning example of this in present day horror cinema is on view in the Australia shocker The Babadook (2014). Essie Davis, the mother of a similarly possessed child shows egregious parenting skills and becomes far more frightening than the titular monster.

Over and over again, from top-tier genre efforts to the lowliest programmers, ALL possession children-in-distress films feature selfish, unsympathetic parents brought their comeuppance by their kids. Such is the case in Audrey Rose … as Kirgo notes, Ivy’s father as played by Beck is a suave, brutish villain while the milquetoast Hopkins remains sympathetic throughout – even when he suggests to Ivy’s mom that they will have “to share” their daughter. Every divorced mother knows what that feels like …

Audrey Rose shows its sympathetic, wholly innocent child heroine paying for the sins of her mother, father and “extended family.” Audiences were turned off as a result. But here it is on Blu-Ray for all those who wish to see it.

The Twilight Time release featured an isolated music track, the film’s original theatrical trailer and yes, those liner notes by Julie Kirgo.         

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