Label: Twilight Time
Released: October 14, 2014
Genre: Supernatural / Horror
Synopsis: Based on the novel by Frank De Felitta, a widower is thoroughly convinced the tormented spirit of his daughter is alive but very unwell inside the body of wealthy couple’s child, and only he can bring her lasting peace.
Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
Frank De Felitta’s novel about a family confronting the possibility that their daughter Ivy may be the reincarnated soul of a child killed in a car accident in 1964 was a huge best-seller in the seventies – I vividly remember seeing it being read on buses, and couldn’t look away from one of the most brilliantly terrifying book covers ever designed – and Robert Wise’s 1977 film version remains a fine example of horror conveyed through emotion, circumstances, and atmosphere instead of visual and aural pyrotechnics.
Wise had already proven his flair for slow-burning horror in The Haunting (1963) and procedural sci-fi with The Andromeda Strain (1971), and his background as an editor ensures the strategic shocks really pack an emotional wallop, but he’s essentially building on an already solid core of adult characters forced to watch a child they love be afflicted by awfully traumatic nightmares.
The world of Janice (Marsha Mason) and Bill Templeton (John Beck) is turned upside-down when a creepy bearded man, Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins) trailing them day and night, finally gains entry to their home and posits the ridiculous: that Ivy’s increasingly violent nightmares stem from the ill soul of his dead daughter. Janice’s inability to cope with Ivy’s severe outbursts and his unique ability to calm the girl enables Hoover to earn Janice’s trust, but his increasing protectiveness results in legal action, and a veiled custody trial that pits spiritual beliefs against conventional thinking.
The early moments of the trial are jarring and seem more improbable than De Felitta’s plot – Hoover’s defense includes putting the very existence of reincarnation on trial – but once we move towards a court-mandated hypnotism test, things get emotionally gritty.
There are some striking similarities between Audrey Rose and Poltergeist (1982): like Wise, Tobe Hooper / Steven Spielberg emphasized in visuals and story a mother’s unbearable pain in trying to comprehend, console, and ultimately bring back her daughter to the safety of a once-loving family, but the fate of Ivy / Audrey Rose is more ambiguous in this round.
Poltergeist Medium Tangina is essentially Elliot Hoover, and the battle against poltergeists is an embellishment of the Templetons and Hoover trying to bring the right daughter back to reality, except there is no right soul; there’s just a confused entity, and what materializes in the finale is brilliantly dramatized through performances from Mason, and Susan Swift, an underrated child actress whose unusual eyes and infantile smile make Ivy quite eerie.
Wise also stages select shocks with incredible precision, choreographing edits to slowly destabilize audiences, maintain a sense of unease, and with a simple edit, cut to a shot that’s the equivalent of a shrill scream. Ivy’s hallway stroll is jarring, a weirdly lit panel of rain-soaked glass is especially terrifying when Ivy has another fit, and the finale is augmented by a great combination of widescreen composition, performance, and Michael Small very creepy score (which is happily isolated in a separate stereo music track).
Twilight Time’s limited Blu-ray sports a sharp HD transfer that captures the heavy film grain Wise apparently desired to give the film a docu-drama veneer, but there are shots whose grain level gets rather prickly. Audrey Rose never looked great on TV nor DVD, and the HD transfer arguably proves the grain level was always high – it just never looked so severe in SD.
Robert Wise would follow-up with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), whose budgetary infamy and poor scripting seemingly stalled his career. His last films were Rooftops (1989) and the TV movie A Storm in Summer (2000).
Frank De Felitta’s career includes writing several teleplays during the 1950s, and directing several TV movies: Trapped (1973), The Two Worlds of Jenny Loag (1979), the cult favourite Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), and Killer in the Mirror (1986). In addition to directing the feature film Scissors (1991), De Felitta also wrote the cult films Z.P.G. (1972), The Savage is Loose (1974), and the brutal The Entity (1981), based on his novel.
Susan Swift appeared in a handful of TV shows and feature films, ultimately retiring from movies after Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995).
© 2014 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review