Audrey Rose Review
In a sense, Audrey Rose doesn’t really belong in a series of horror film reviews. Despite dealing with what is, broadly speaking, the supernatural, it’s got a dogged earnestness about it which mitigates against either horror or, to be honest, entertainment. One can well imagine Robert Wise, the director, protesting strongly that this is a realistic drama and not a horror movie. Unfortunately, the self-conscious seriousness of its approach tends to render it, at first, rather dull and, ultimately, laughably idiotic.
Based on the bestselling novel by Frank De Felitta – one of his deliberately realistic studies of the supernatural – the film deals with the slightly demented Elliott Hoover (Hopkins) who believes that dead daughter Audrey Rose, who died in a car crash, has been reincarnated in the body of Ivy , daughter of boringly middle class couple Janice (Mason) and Bill (Beck). Ivy has been having increasingly frequent nightmares in which she is trapped in a burning car. Hoover’s patent sincerity makes his story more credible than it should be but neither Bill nor Janice are keen to believe it’s true. But if it’s not true, then how were Ivy’s hands burnt when she was nowhere near a heat source ?
Robert Wise gained a well deserved reputation for painstaking scientific accuracy in films such as The Haunting and The Andromeda Strain, and he tries to do something similar in this movie. Wise deserves credit for taking the issue of reincarnation seriously and giving it a relatively unexploitative treatment. However, this creates two problems. The first one is that the material is intrinsically exploitative, a kind of pulp horror which plays on very basic fears about child safety. Take this kind of thing seriously and it begins to look pretentious – Stuart Rosenberg tried something similar, and fell into the same trap, with The Amityville Horror (the subtle details of The Haunting bear up to serious examination but slime running down the walls and a gateway to hell in the basement don’t). The second is that reincarnation is a considerably more controversial and essentially spiritual issue than the ones examined in his other films – even more so than the idea of a scientific haunting – and the way its presented in the story is no more inherently serious than an article from the “National Enquirer”.
I have to say that I find Frank De Felitta’s “it’s all true” echt-documentary style rather objectionable, always trying to give the impression of truth even when its completely fictional, especially when it relies on our feelings about vulnerable characters in order to gain dramatic weight. The scenes of the child in the burning car are just as unpleasantly manipulative as the lengthy rape sequences in The Entity. He claims that this story was based on a real incident in his life regarding his son’s sudden prowess at the piano but I suspect it’s got more to do with the success of The Exorcist and the vogue for films about children in confrontation with the occult. In the book, there’s considerable debate about the issue of reincarnation but in the film, the arguments in favour of reincarnation are presented uncritically and never questioned. The weight of detail is meant to convince us that it must exist, but there’s never a scene in which the issue is seriously questioned.
Whatever you think of this film’s approach to its subject, it’s hard to see much entertainment value in this kind of tedious case history-style drama. John Beck and Marsha Mason certainly don’t bring much to their roles, apart from a plodding underplaying which may be admirable in the circumstances but isn’t much fun to watch. The supporting cast, containing reliables such as Norman Lloyd and John Hillerman, does its best but is all at sea with the ludicrous plot and increasingly unspeakable dialogue. Only Anthony Hopkins livens things up – and even then it’s only because he supplies a generous double helping of ham. His intense stare and suppressed dementia are suitable for the role but so overdone that you can’t resist breaking up into hysterical laughter. This was around the time that Hopkins was trying to make a career in America but this is hardly the best calling card you can imagine. He did much better a year later in Richard Attenborough’s undervalued Magic.
The film is well made, as you’d expect from an old pro like Robert Wise, but it’s also deeply flawed. The pacing is somnolent at times, especially when Wise keeps the camera on a character while they perform a monologue. It would certainly have been easy to lose twenty minutes from the film. Victor J. Kemper’s cinematography is rather ugly and the film has a flat TV-Movie look for much of the time. I also dislike Michael Small’s woefully obvious music score, cueing us into how to feel for every scene. However, the tin lid on the film’s artistic failure is the ending. It’s hard to explain how horrible sentimental and manipulative this is without giving it away. It left me with a profound hatred of the film, much more virulent than I normally feel. The last five minutes are unforgivable, lachrymose bullshit and not worthy of the talents of the director and the actors.
I’m getting a bit tired of writing this about MGM discs, but the Region 2 DVD of Audrey Rose is entirely competent without being remotely impressive.
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and, unlike the American disc, is anamorphically enhanced. There’s a fair bit of artifacting present and a certain lack of detail. The photography is often quite soft-focus but the picture goes beyond this on occasion to become a little blurred. Colours are fine and there’s no excessive grain. The English Mono soundtrack is absolutely fine and presents no problems at all.
There are no extras on the disc. The film is divided into 16 chapter stops and contains optional subtitles in a range of languages.
Audrey Rose is a self-important film which isn’t very good at all. The DVD offers a reasonable presentation but, given the flaws of the main feature and the lack of extra features, isn’t really worth your time.