Audrey Rose (1977) is a film that's long been in my brain. From the undeniably creepy poster art to that time in art school when I was talking horror movies with a classmate and she told me she that the most terrifying film she'd ever seen like, ever, was Audrey Rose...well, it was always a film I had to see. My art school days, however, were the days before The Internet (yes, there was a time before The Internet) and DVDs; this little movie was difficult to find and so I relegated it to "I'll get around to it" status and that was that. After I began Final Girl in earnest and started really diving into the world of horror movies, reading about them and researching them and really just enveloping myself in them, I never forgot about Audrey Rose. It was still a fairly rare film, despite the advent of DVD, and I found it odd that no one seemed to talk about it much, given that that one girl that one time assured me it was pee-your-pants terrifying. So it was glee- glee, I tells ya- that I was feeling when I found a megacheap VHS copy recently. What's the verdict after all these years of searching and waiting?
Umm, if Art School Girl found Audrey Rose to be the most horrifying film in the history of ever, then her head would surely explode within 10 seconds of watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. That's not to say it's a bad movie, but to my great disappointment, this isn't some lost classic unknown sleeper gem that everyone should see right this very second. If anything, it's more drama than horror- which is fine and all, but it's not what I was expecting...and everything should be exactly as I expect forever and ever!
Audrey Rose begins with a fiery car crash on a rain-slicked road in Pennsylvania, then quickly jumps to Manhattan eleven years later. A man in full-on weirdo beard mode (Anthony Hopkins) engages in some lite stalking of the Templeton family: he follows dad Bill (John Beck) to work, he waits outside the school where mom Janice (Marsha Mason) picks up daughter Ivy (Susan Swift)...he never engages the family, but he's always lurking in corners.
Weirdo Beardo isn't the only problem facing this happy little family, however: as Ivy's birthday approaches, she becomes increasingly plagued with nightmares she cannot remember upon waking.
Eventually Weirdo Beardo contacts the Templetons and explains why he's been passively harassing them: his name is Elliot Hoover, and eleven years prior he lost his wife and daughter Audrey Rose in that fiery car accident. After years of talking with psychics and delving into Indian mysticism, Hoover became convinced that his daughter was reincarnated; what's more, he believes that Audrey Rose's soul resides within Ivy, who was born two minutes after Audrey Rose died. Ivy's nightmares are the result of her soul wrestling with its dual nature. Bill and Janice are skeptical, but when Hoover calms Ivy's sleep-yelling by calling her "Audrey Rose", Janice begins to have her doubts.
Then begins a cycle:
- Ivy has a nightmare
- Bill is either absent (working late) or simply can't calm the girl down
- Hoover is present and can calm the girl
- Bill and Janice argue over what's happening and what should be done about it
...repeat, repeat. Oddly enough, Audrey Rose becomes a courtroom drama towards the end, wherein the possibilities of reincarnation are discussed- what rights does Hoover have if Ivy has a piece of Audrey Rose's soul lurking within her? There's a bit of science vs religion that ultimately results in an ending that's supposed to be uplifting, I suppose, but really isn't.
Don't get me wrong- Audrey Rose isn't a terrible film. It raises plenty of questions (though it falls squarely on the pro-reincarnation side of things) and provides lots of food for thought. The entire affair is helmed by the venerable Robert Wise (The Haunting), so to call it competent filmmaking is a bit of an understatement. It's bolstered by some fine performances, particularly from Marsha Mason (this is really her film, after all) and Susan Swift, who's largely given the thankless task of screaming and whining ad nauseum. Anthony Hopkins is serviceable, though he manages to be simultaneously dead-eyed and twitchy as a man fighting to save his dead daughter's soul. I even managed to overcome my deep and abiding loathing of John Beck, who appeared on Dallas as Mark Graison, a guy who I suppose was nice enough but totally came between Pam and Bobby solely due to creepy, wealthy persistence.
No, the problem with Audrey Rose is that it's been miscategorized for decades, largely in my head. The Exorcism of Emily Rose comes to mind as a descendant, though that film is far more flashy and horrifying than its predecessor. In short, it's worth a watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, perhaps, but take it from me: don't let it haunt your brain!