Audrey Rose is a film by Robert Wise, one of the most diverse directors from the classic Hollywood era right up to the New Hollywood era. He helmed everything from West Side Story and The Haunting to The Day the Earth Stood Still and Odds Against Tomorrow. With Audrey Rose, he was near the end of his career—he followed it with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which he was probably the wrong guy to do. He made two more films with long gaps in between before retiring.
The poster makes it out to sort of an Exorcist rip-off, but it’s actually a kind of interesting film about belief. Anthony Hopkins plays a stranger, Elliot, who comes into an upper middle-class family’s life, following them around in public places on the upper west side of Manhattan. He eventually tells them that he believes their daughter Ivy is the reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose, who died in a car crash with her mother. It is revealed that Ivy was born two minutes after his daughter died.
It reminded me a bit of the Jonathan Glaser film Birth, which is a similar story although it’s more of an exploitation film style. It’s clearly trying to catch a bit off audience for The Exorcist, and it becomes a bit more supernatural as it goes along. The first third is pretty good, but it becomes a sort of weird legal melodrama for a while before going into the supernatural. That doesn’t quite work, but Wise was a good enough filmmaker that it’s well made anyway (this was a guy who edited Citizen Kane, after all…)
Audrey Rose came out the same year as Exorcist II: The Heretic, and I would say the latter is a better movie, and more fun to watch. It was one of Hopkins’ first American films, following on from another horror film, Magic. Marsha Mason plays the mother, and John Beck from Dallas plays the father. Neither left that much of an impression on me, Hopkins is the most interesting character. Susan Swift plays Ivy, and she did not have much of a film career—her last film was Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. At one point Brooke Shields almost took the role (she had previously posed for the cover of the novel that it was based on, and screen-tested for the role).
When Wise first started making films as a director after having been an editor in the ‘30s and ‘40s, he directed the reshoots for The Magnificent Ambersons, among other projects. But it’s not odd that one of the last films he would direct would be a supernatural thriller, because his first films as a director were supernatural films produced by Val Luton, like The Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher so fitting he went fill circle near the end.
This new release comes with quite a few extras, starting with a new audio commentary from film critic Jon Towlson, a new interview with magician Adam Cardone, a new featurette called Never Birth nor Death, and featurettes with Marsha Mason and with paranormal investigator Frank De Felitta. Also in the set are a visual essay by Lee Gambin, a new interview with film music historian Daniel Schweger about the film’s score, image gallery and theatrical trailer. The accompanying booklet has essays from critics Kimberly Lindbergs and Johnny Mains.