BR: Believers, The (1987)

January 29, 2015 | By


Believers1987_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  October 14, 2014

Genre:  Supernatural Horror

Synopsis: After the sudden death of his wife, a criminal psychiatrist moves to his home town of New York City in the hope of rebuilding his life with his son, only to become entangled in a spate of recent cult killings.

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.




John Schlesinger (Marathon Man, Pacific Heights) directed this occult thriller that’s perhaps best-remembered by fans for a giant zit that emits spiders from Helen Shaver’s face.

Based on the novel The Religion by Nicholas Conde and adapted by a pre-Twin Peaks Mark Frost, The Believers concerns police psychiatrist Cal (Martin Sheen) who relocates with son Chris to his old med school stomping ground in New York City after his beloved wife is electrically fried in a freak kitchen accident. (That scene, which launches the film, is quite horrifying.) Cal’s new home comes with caregiver Carmen (Carla Pinza), recommended by their landlord Jessica (Helen Shaver), but the family helper falls into disfavour after disobeying Cal by peppering Chris’ room with Santeria paraphernalia and spiritual offerings.

Cal soon discovers Chris is desired by a malevolent cult who gain power through the voluntary sacrifice of sons to a high-level priest (eerie Malick Bowens), although what that power actually entails is kept vague in Frost’s rather perfunctory dialogue, but as in a classic Hammer thriller where good triumphs over evil, it’s only a battle that’s won.

The Believers could have easily been larded with bad stereotypes, but the Santeria religion and its practitioners aren’t blemished in this potboiler; it’s made clear the killings stem from a dark, irrational spin-off cult orchestrated and propagated by morally bankrupt white folks who use a priest they’ve bred from childhood to fulfill their needs upon request.

The film’s cops, though, are very stereotypical: a frazzled Robert Loggia fails to elevate Det. Taggert beyond a grumpy-panted cartoon, and Jimmy Smits is a bit too physically broad as the paranoid, rogue detective whom Cal’s asked to examine after he was found rambling at a crime scene. When Smits’ character goes nuts, it’s an elevated interpretation of Method acting, although one could argue if one thinks voodoo pins are really penetrating one’s abdomen, the next level of expression should be a complete freak-out.

What grounds the film is how Schlesinger treats Cal and Jessica’s emerging relationship with tangible care, and Sheen is wholly convincing as a newly minted single parent trying to support his son while periodically visiting murder scenes in which the centerpiece is often a gutted young boy. (Given the grisly scenes, cadavers, and traumatic minds he must deal with, it’s really a wonder Cal isn’t perpetually drunk or stoned after work hours.)

And then there’s that pre-digital era zit scene which is near-impossible to watch without cringing: real spiders burst and run across Helen Shaver’s beautiful face. One can only imagine what it felt like between takes, feeling a pack of arachnids moving close to one’s cheek, crawling ever closer to a nostril, or getting within millimeters of an eye socket.

This is a slick, beautifully shot and scored film, and Torontonians will be amused to see their City Hall doubling as some NYC community centre, a choice that in retrospect is akin to using London’s Gherkin as a multi-level NYC dance club.

There’s also the newly decommissioned Hearn Generating Station doubling as an after hours cult killing centre, which is worth noting because in the passing 20 years the building’s been stripped clean, leaving just its internal support skeleton which has been transformed into futuristic or criminal handover meeting places in Hollywood productions such as Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) and Red (2010).

Also making a rare appearance in the film is the disintegrating RKO Bushwick Theatre which was eventually gutted and repurposed into the Brooklyn High School for Law and Technology. Smits’ arrest takes place in the abandoned cinema, and there’s some decent details of the decrepit interior.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a very nice transfer and an isolated score of J. Peter Robinson’s underrated music. The theatrical trailer  features Bowens in a trance, and some optical blurring and zooming to heighten the trailer’s intensity.

Schlesinger alternated his eighties commercial schlock with meatier dramatic material, but certainly the next film deserving the special edition treatment is Pacific Heights (1990). Not so sure about Eye for an Eye (1996), though.…



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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