Master filmmaker Robert Wise began his career with horror classics The Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher for producer Val Lewton. His career would go on to include westerns, thrillers, science fiction and musicals, earning him two academy awards for Best Director. In 1963 he returned to his Lewtonian roots with the classic ghost story The Haunting. In 1977 he returned once more with the supernatural thriller Audrey Rose.
All Bill and Jane Templeton wish for is a quiet, peaceful life with their 11-year-old daughter Ivy. But their dreams turn to nightmares as Ivy is besieged first by terrifying ‘memories’ of events that never occurred... and then by a mysterious stranger who stalks her every move, and claims that Ivy was in fact his daughter in another life.
Released in the wake of The Exorcist and The Omen, Audrey Rose is an intelligent, heartfelt drama that approaches its subject with an open mind and seriousness of intent that caught many off guard but typifies Wise’s previous genre forays. Sensitively played by a sterling cast at the top of their game, this underseen gem deserves a place on the shelf of any fan of classic horror.
Robert Wise’s Audrey Rose receives a new Blu-ray special edition from Arrow Video presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The film has previously seen releases from Twilight Time and the Australian label Imprint, but Arrow’s 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 2K restoration, whereas the other releases were sourced from older masters. This new restoration was performed by Arrow and comes from a 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative.
Arrow is usually on point with their restorations so the end results here aren’t all that surprising: the film looks unbelievably good. It’s an incredibly grainy film but the base scan and end encode captures and delivers it incredibly, and there is a terrific film texture present because of it. Grain even looks strong (if imperfect) in darker areas going into the shadows. The presentation also manages to superbly handle the drastic shifts in colour and contrast within sequences, including nighttime scenes in Ivy’s/Audrey’s bedroom where an intense violet light works its way through the otherwise darkened room, the encode rendering it cleanly without any evident pixilation. Outside of those scenes (and scenes in a white hospital setting) the primary colours for the film lean dirtier browns and beiges but saturation is excellent. Blacks are also nice a majority of the time, maybe getting a bit milky on occasion (a byproduct of lighting) but shadow delineation is excellent.
All of this leads to a staggering level of detail, with long shots even managing to expose a lot. The restoration has cleaned up most of the damage, but a number of small marks and bits of dirt pop up here and there throughout. There are no significant issues to report.
I know the film has its following and has been receiving a bit of a reassessment through the years, but I wasn’t expecting anyone to go all out on it like Arrow has here. It looks remarkably good.
The film comes with a lossless single-channel PCM monaural soundtrack. Range is surprisingly wide, and voices show excellent fidelity and depth. Michael Small’s score also comes off incredibly dynamic and rich. It's a single-channel track but it manages to deliver the goods.
Arrow loads on a number of special features, even managing to license a lot of content from the edition released by the Australian label, Imprint. These features includes an 18-minute interview with actor Marsha Mason, who recounts how she was drawn to the film (the subject matter interested her) and what it was like working with her costars and director Robert Wise. This is then followed by footage edited together from an interview with author Frank De Felitta, who passed away in 2016. The 11-minutes’ worth of material features him talking about how he came to write the novel Audrey Rose following a brief career working for television stations making TV documentaries. He also has a short stint writing treatments at Universal. Interestingly, he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Audrey Rose, the novel or the film, but he does end up talking a lot about The Entity, which is an adaptation he’s very happy with.
Composer Daniel Schweiger spends 17-minutes talking about Michael Small’s score for the film after touching on his overall career. He admires how the score for the film goes a “different route” compared to Small's other work and other thrillers of the period. He then steps through and breaks down a handful of cues to show how Small's music serviced their respective sequences and added another layer to them. I found it an enjoyable inclusion, and the same can be said about a 17-minute video essay created by Lee Gambin entitled I’ve Been Here Before, offering an examination at Hollywood’s treatment of the subject of reincarnation (and since it was made for an Australian release it opens with a warning for Aboriginal viewers since it will feature photos of deceased persons). He not only explores Audrey Rose but he also looks at Here Comes Mr. Jordan and its remake Heaven Can Wait (no mention of Down to Earth) before getting into the films where the concept was used to examine certain social issues, gender roles being explored using the concept through Goodbye Charlie and Switch. And then for good measure he brings up the films where animals are the central focus, like A Dog’s Purpose, along with character studies like The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and then Australian thrillers like The Last Wave. I found it fun, insightful and tightly edited.
Exclusive to Arrow’s edition is an audio commentary featuring film critic Jon Towlson, who gets into the movie and how it can be lumped in with other “devil child” movies coming out around the time, like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (and the many knock-offs of each that followed). While discussing the film he touches on its production, where it sits in Robert Wise’s filmography, and the original novel on which its based, but since the film was made more to cash in on the still-recent success of The Exorcist, Towlson uses the last third of the track to discuss the other Exorcist “inspired” films released through years, including titles like Beyond the Door and even spoofs like Repossessed. The sequels, including John Boorman’s maligned Exorcist II also receive some special focus. This is all well and good, and I did find it interesting, but it feels like the last third takes the turn it does because Towlson was struggling to bring up material specific to this film, which isn’t considered to be one of Wise’s better ones (though it has its fanbase). Still, it’s clear Towlson has put a lot of work into his and it’s nicely organized and constructed.
The other exclusive feature is a new “appreciation” by magician Adam Cardone. This one’s an odd duck and I confess I’m not at all sure where Cardone or Arrow are going with it. I think Cardone is looking at the film and its plot from the perspective of a performer, talking about how the film handles the subject matter in a serious manner while also bringing up how the film could be watched from both the perspective that everything in the film is real or that Anthony Hopkins’ character is a con artist. Maybe. He also talks a bit about how the film is about a marriage imploding and how Hopkins' character seems to accelerate it. There are some okay insights but the problem is that the feature doesn’t have a real focus or sense of flow, Cardone going on about one subject before segueing to another with no conclusion to the initial thought. It’s a passionate 19-minute piece for sure, and I get a sense he genuinely loves the film, but I have no idea what the end goal of it was.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer that is similar to others from the time, featuring an ominous narrator naming key elements in the film (“The mother. The father. The daughter. The stranger. The past. The present. The nightmare…” etcetera, etcetera). There is then a gallery featuring lobby cards, production photos, and posters, as well as what appears to be the film’s young star Susan Swift visiting a temple. The included booklet then features a couple of essays, one on Robert Wise’s supernatural films (Curse of the Cat People, The Haunting¸ Audrey Rose and so on) written by Kimberly Lindberg, and another about author Frank De Felitta, this one written by Johnny Mains.
Some confusing material aside, Arrow has thrown together a great little collection of material for fans of the film
Arrow’s new edition features an impressive new restoration and presentation.