Horror is a broad genre. It can encompass all kinds of movies, and there are times where two different horror films can be so vastly different from each other that you have to start using sub-genres to better define what they are. And even with all of the different types of horror available, I spent much of my time watching the 1977 ‘horror’ film Audrey Rose wondering which one it fit into, before coming to a simple conclusion by the end: it’s not really a horror film at all. Described as a ‘psychological horror drama’, to best enjoy this film I think you’re going to have to go into it not expecting any of the middle word at all.
Audrey Rose, which is directed by Robert Wise (who’s also known for films like The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture), begins pretty dramatically, with a car crash that seems to defy physics as a head on collision sends a car with a mother and daughter rolling sideways off the road, bursting into flame. It comes quickly, and without warning, and might be the most bang you’ll get in the film, as it then shifts forward in time a decade to New York, where we meet the Templeton family.
Bill (John Beck) is a successful businessman who earn enough that his wife, Janice (Marsha Mason) doesn’t need to work, and she gets to spend her days hanging around their huge two storey Upper West Side apartment whilst their daughter, Ivy (Susan Swift) attends school nearby. They live a peaceful, privileged life and seem to be a happy family. However, their life starts to take an uncomfortable turn when a man keeps turning up around Ivy’s school, watching Janice and Ivy walking home. Soon gifts start to appear at the house for Ivy, and the Templetons start to panic that they have a stalker.
When the man finally confronts the Templetons, however, he reveals that he’s more than a simple stalker. He introduces himself as Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins), and tells them how his wife and daughter died in a car accident eleven years ago. He tells them how after losing his family he was approached by a number of psychics, who told him that his daughter was alive and well, living in New York. At first he dismissed this, but after travelling to India and learning about reincarnation, he began to suspect that his daughter, Audrey Rose, might have come back. After visiting more psychics, he believes he has found the reincarnated spirit of his daughter: Ivy Templeton.
Thus begins a series of events that will see the Templetons clash with Hoover as they try to deny his outlandish claims. But as Ivy begins to experience severe nightmares about being trapped in a fire, nightmares she has around her birthday every year, they start to worry about her health. Her skin burns like she’s in a fire during her dreams, and only Hoover is able to calm her down, by calling her Audrey Rose. With Ivy’s life on the line, and Hoover believing that his daughter’s soul is trapped inside the girl, the two families clash over what’s best for Ivy.
Audrey Rose is, as I’ve already said, not a horror film. It is at best a supernatural drama movie, that uses the central conceit of reincarnation in order to drive the plot. Based upon a bestselling novel, the film focuses on very real, grounded worries in order to drive the story forward. The Templetons don’t believe in reincarnation; they don’t believe that Hoover is the father of the spirit inside their daughter. Their worries come from believing a strange, possibly dangerous man has an obsession with their child. A child who is clearly suffering and in distress in a way that they don’t know how to help. With very few changes the first half of the film could be any number of sick child movies. It’s only in the latter half of the movie, when the two groups end up in court, trying to argue that reincarnation is real, does the film begin to feel even a little interesting. But it ends up feeling like too little too late.
Whilst the plot is fairly dull and meandering, the acting is solid enough. Anthony Hopkins is a name that carries a lot of weight and pedigree now, though at the time he’d have been a much smaller casting. And it does feel like one of the weaker roles for Hopkins. He comes across as fairly tired most of the time, with his gentle tones and quiet way of talking making Hoover come across as bored more often than not. This isn’t anything to do with his acting ability, and more a lack of any real good material to work with. The rest of the cast are okay in their roles, with Marsha Mason easily given the most to do as a worried mother, but there’s not really anything truly memorable here.
Robert Wise is a director with a lot of good movies under his belt, and is not stranger to horror. He’s directed horror movies like The Body Snatcher and The Haunting, and even films like The Andromeda Strain and The Day The Earth Stood Still could be argued to be sci-fi horrors. With some recognisable horror name under his belt I expected a few frights and some decent tension in Audrey Rose, but Wise seems to have been happy to create a family drama movie, leaving the horror to rest on the idea of reincarnation in order to creep out western audiences.
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As well as the newly remastered presentation of the movie, the Blu-ray set comes with a number of extras. Film critic Jon Towlson provides a full-length commentary for the film, as well as several archival interviews. There are also some new featurettes, including an interview with a magician who goes over the concept of reincarnation, and a short that goes into the locations used to film the movie.
Audrey Rose is an interesting look into horror of the mid 70s, a time when horror was going through some big changes. It shows an older type of horror film, where the horror aspects often take a back seat to the rest of the story. The result is a film that lacks any real punch, that doesn’t really have any memorable moments, and whose central conceit is left feeling pretty flat and dull. If you’re into cinema from this era and are looking for something to watch, you might find something interesting here, but if you’re coming to this hoping for horror, you might be best skipping it.
Audrey Rose is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.