Who Cries for Audrey Rose?
Janice’s (Marsha Mason) daughter Ivy (Susan Swift) is having night terrors, bouts of sleepwalking and other odd behavior at night after going to bed. Her and husband Bill (John Beck) and his fabulous 70s mustache aren’t quite sure what to do about it. They notice a man who has been following them both and they worry for their safety as well as for Ivy, because he’s been hanging around her school. Finally, the man approaches Janice and tries to speak with her. She runs off. Eventually, they arrange a meeting with this man who introduces himself as Eliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins) and tells them the sad story of the tragic death of his daughter, Audrey Rose. Eliot is convinced, through several chance encounters with psychics, that Audrey has been reincarnated in Ivy’s body and that the problems Ivy is having is the result of two souls struggling for control. He wants to help. Naturally, Janice and Bill scoff and warn him to leave them alone. But things get worse for Ivy and soon Eliot comes along again and helps them out by calling her Audrey Rose as she is screaming in her sleep, purportedly reliving the car crash that killed her. Janice begins to believe but Bill does not, and the matter escalates when Eliot kidnaps Ivy to help her out. This leads to an arrest and a trial and, eventually, a final confrontation between Ivy and Audrey Rose. Is all of this the result of mental illness in the child, or is Audrey Rose really reborn?
This was a really strange movie. First off, great acting, Hopkins killing it here, completely convincing as a man who has lost everything and is clinging to the one last shred of hope that he has. You never know if he’s right or just a nutbar. Mason is great as the mother, handing out her best hysterical moments like candy to kids on Halloween. Director Robert Wise creates some choice 70s horror atmosphere, his shots and the general feel of the movie being both big and intimate at the same time. The problem is, this movie wants to be The Exorcist of reincarnation, but it fails at being scary and it fails at being compelling. Yeah, the story idea is interesting, and everyone involved does their best to make it work, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a threat to anyone, other than the daughter having fits and manifesting blisters on her hands and face. Sure, she tries to crawl into a fire during a weird pagan-looking moment at the Catholic school she is attending (and what's up with that segment? it's weird and doesn't make any sense), but that’s about it. Most of her pain and suffering is kept in the background, as our main characters philosophize over whether reincarnation is real or not. This isn’t a terrible move by any means, but it keeps the tension and terror, which should be more vibrant and at the front, on the backburner. Plus, the whole trial bit where they’re trying to convince the jury of the truth of reincarnation is silly and distracting from the main story. The ending is a wallop, though, I’ll grant them that.
Audrey Rose is an interesting film that shows a lot of promise on which it doesn’t really deliver. Not in a horror aspect, at least. It is well-made and worth seeing, no doubt, but it’s nothing I will carry with me beyond the one viewing. The atmosphere is terrific and 70s NYC is always cool to see, but beyond that and the performances, it’s ultimately a cold film that never really emotionally connects. Billed as a "supernatural drama," it succeeds at both, but could have been much better. Worth a watch, but not worth classic status.