But, back to the Summer of Horror. Sometimes Horror is considered pure kids' stuff and is given goofy, bottom of the studio barrel treatment. Sometimes, it's the top of the heap, spawning high class imitators and low class rip offs. In truth, Horror has gone through more cycles than Evel Knievel. It depends on the year, and, yes, the zeitgeist to gauge just what form Horror will take for any given movie.
Take Audrey Rose for example. Released during a time when The Omen and The Exorcist were still entrancing the minds of audiences all over, only one year after Carrie and merely two years before The Amityville Horror, Audrey Rose seems like a natural inclusion into an overall obvious chapter in '70's horror.
To give you an idea of the dramatic and respectable direction United Artists and Sterobcar Productions were shooting for with Audrey Rose, they hired Robert Wise to direct Frank De Felitta's screenplay of his own novel. While it's true that Wise is no real stranger to the genre of horror (having brought us 1963's The Haunting, and other experiments), Wise is also the acclaimed director of West Side Story and The Sound of Music. His name adds an air of legitimacy to what is essentially another "Scary Kid" story. Robert Wise's name seemed to say to the audience that this is a real and classy movie, not just another Knock-Off. (A similar ploy was taken two years later with the choice of Wise to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)
Did the ploy work?
Well... have you ever heard of Audrey Rose?
If you have... would you say it's anywhere near as well known as any of the other late-70's horror flicks out there?
Justified or not, Audrey Rose is not exactly an "influential classic", in spite of its good intentions. While many of the performances are indeed excellent (at least in parts), many of the situations are completely illogical, convenient and contrived. Sure, I enjoyed this interesting take on the whole possession vibe, but the "Nan Taylor" within me kept hollering "What a fucking liberty!"
Audrey Rose starts off horrifically enough, featuring a strikingly realistic point-blank car crash that could bring most of us out of our theatre seats.
Surreally, Wise follows that up with a musical montage that combines Michael Small's happy score with scenes of the Templeton family eating ice-cream, rolling around in the grass of a park and visiting the zoo. Yes, the contrast is something akin to bounding from a Hot Tub in the middle of Winter, straight into an almost freezing swimming pool, but it's less of a shock than it is a weird choice. I found myself less in the mood for a gripping suspense thriller than in the mood to re-watch the complete first season of The Bob Newhart Show. Ha, ha, ha, I tell you, that Howard cracks me up ever single...
Anyway... sweet Ivy Templeton (Susan Swift) has a great mom (Marsha Mason's Janice) and a great dad (John Beck's Bill) a great school life and a kick-ass New York apartment. She seems like such a perfect and joyous lil' kiddo that we might believe she could be bounded in a nutshell, and count herself a queen of infinite space... were it not that she has bad dreams. But Bad Dreams she does have. Fiery dreams of pain, suffering and death... kind of like the complete first season of that other Bob Newhart show, Bob.
Naturally this gives Bill and Janice a collective headache THIS BIG, and it's got Excedrin written all over it. Unfortunately, mere HEADACHE is about to morph into full on MIGRAINE as they're soon stalked by bearded Brit Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins, looking like a cross between Elvis Costello and Charles Manson). After some nightmares, followed by creepy scenes of voyeurism by Hopkins, ol' Elliot reveals to the Templetons that he is convinced that Ivy is the reincarnation of his dear, deceased daughter Audrey Rose Hoover who died in the self-same car wreck that Wise treated us to before the opening credits.
Naturally, the Templetons dismiss him as thrice as kooky as my third-grade teacher, Miss Johnson. The question, however, is whether or not he actually is. He seems to have evidence to lend credence to his claims, and more than enough belief in Indian spirituality to indicate he really thinks these are the facts and that he's no mere hoax artist. Even worse for our gang is that where both parents and even the family doctor (Norman Lloyd's Steven Lipscomb) have failed, Hoover seems adroit at not only comforting Ivy in her nightmares, but allowing her to sleep soundly by calling her by the name of "Audrey Rose".
What follows is an almost-Exorcist-like study of childhood disturbance as the supernatural seems to surround Ivy. From this point we're bombarded with an ever-changing story of Ivy's ordeal, mixed with courtroom thriller, mixed with frightful imagery, mixed with family drama. All of these combine to feel more like a prototype for the similarly themed and titled The Exorcism of Emily Rose (ONE film I would cite as evidence for calling Audrey Rose "Influential").
However, it's almost way too much. The actors, and much of the acting, is pretty good. However, it's good when it comes to the dramatic aspects. The horrific aspects come off more corny than scary. Even Hopkins (who won his first Oscar for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs... a Horror film) comes off as a little goofy once in a while. He's still Anthony Hopkins and he's still worth watching, but he seems much more like an actor delivering lines than the brilliant thespian who sacrifices self-for-character in later works. A lot of what should be truly terrifying comes off as melodramatic and befitting of a TV Movie of the Week, more than a major studio psychological horror film.
Audrey Rose's worst crime may be that it's been done before. There is a hell of a lot of recognizable elements from The Exorcist and other (mostly superior) movies. But digging deeper, Audrey Rose doesn't truly survive on its own merits either. There is a serious twisting of logic here, and a plethora of convenient plot points that surround actors either forgetting the obvious, ignoring the apparent or quickly changing their minds. The audience has to buy into not only this, but a lot of the other liberties Wise and De Felitta suggest to us right up to the bitter and somewhat silly ending, which can only leave even the most generous viewer scratching the old head-bone. Incidentally, that ending features the talents of John Hillerman from Magnum P.I. I'd have paid REAL money if he'd said "She's really reincarnated, Magnum!" only to have old Selleck pop his head in and say "I'm aware of that, Higgins!"
Wise probably was, at least on paper, a wise choice (no pun intended), but his desire to make a "DRAMA" above and beyond the horror movie this might have truly been leaves us with a scary movie that is hardly ever truly scary (except for the parents of epileptic eleven year olds). Perhaps his idea was to skip the horrific and enjoy the dramatic aspects of the story. It's an admirable concept and one that had the potential to encroach upon not only legitimacy, but also believeability. Sadly, Audrey Rose comes off as "none of the above" and is a patently mixed bag. Two and One Half Stars out of Five for Audrey Rose, the Reincarnation thriller that may deserve to live again, but may never quite make it. Horror is in a different place now than it was in 1977. Who knows where it might be in another thirty years or so. Horror reincarnates each of its various scions every few years, and those branches combine to form new sub-genres, and can even manage to surprise us once in a while. But if the next branch is reincarnated along with its heaviest nightmares, attracting the attention of a stalking Anthony Hopkins at its creepiest, its time to throw your hands up and surrender, put the white flag on your door, and just veg out with your iPod. I'll see you in the next ever-so-Blunt reel.
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