Robert Wise, the “I Can Do Any Genre” Director who brought us The Haunting, The Andromeda Strain, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and was even editor of Citizen Kane, could also, sadly, helm some dogs. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture anyone?) And as much as I wanted to like Audrey Rose (I remember its initial release, with a lot of pomp and circumstance), it does not hold up. Nor did it upon its initial release, actually, but perhaps in my rose-colored rear view mirror, I remember it being better than it was.
There’s also no question the producers were trying to cash in on the success of The Exorcist, by showing a (painfully) sweet young girl, innocent and dewey, who becomes a hysterical loon once her nightmares begin. The one redeeming element of the whole affair is Anthony Hopkins, who acts the shit out of his part, and finds little quirks and ticks, as well as awkward ways of stumbling and fretting about his uncomfortable role to make him, as always, one of the more fascinating actors to watch.
Twilight Time’s recent release of Audrey Rose on Blu-Ray may not be the Christmas gift you were looking for, but it’s better than a lump of coal. Actually, if I’m to continue the analogy, Audrey Rose is like the board game you get that’s only good if you have 4–6 friends to play with. As a solitary experience, it’s a two-wheeled tricycle.
To sum it up, it’s 1964 and a terrible car accident kills a woman and her daughter. Flash forward to 1975 and the seemingly happy triad of mom Marsha Mason, dad John Beck and startlingly big-eyed daughter Susan Swift montage their way through all sorts of Seventies Sweetness, darkened by the scowling appearance of a mysterious bearded stranger who lurks around corners wherever Ivy (Swift) happens to be. Mom is easily agitated, cause that’s how Mason always seemed to play it. One day, mom is late to pick Ivy up from school, and in the rain, gets completely hysterical when the stranger approaches her to tell her he walked Ivy home in her absence. He asks to have a conversation with her, which she counters with a plea to just “leave my family alone!” and retreats to their lavish Upper Westside flat where she reprimands Ivy, shaking her more than is appropriate for leaving school.
In the meantime, Ivy has been having horrific (or is it horrifically portrayed) nightmares where she awakens, sports those big eyes and scrambles around the bedroom calling for daddy. Daddy Beck with the ever chiseled features can’t seem to nullify her wails (and they are wails). Mason is continually apoplectic over Ivy’s nightmares.
When the bearded stranger continues pressing mom and dad to meet, they agree and share some Dubonnet on the Rocks at the local Italian eatery and stranger Hopkins explains about reincarnation and a visit to India that confirmed his daughter, Audrey Rose, who died in that car accident, was reborn two minutes later as their daughter Ivy. (Notice the florally named connectors?)
Small thinker Beck who believes once you die it’s all over, gets irritated by this accented mamby-pamby and threatens to wallop Hopkins and they leave. But soon, when Beck has to work late, Ivy has another of her nightmarish fits and Hopkins, who has been lurking around the apartment building, beats down the door and Mason lets him in so he can help her with Ivy. In the midst of her caterwauling, Ivy places her hands on the window and is burned as the soulful memory of the car fire that “did her in” seems to have manifested itself in a most physical way. As Hopkins calls Ivy by the name of Audrey Rose, she calms down.
Now the tug of war between Beck and Hopkins, with Mason in the middle not knowing what to do, is complete, and we follow the story to its logical, hospital room, hypnotically induced conclusion. (Note the great supporting work of actor Norman Lloyd, who recently turned 100-years-old, as a very earnest hypnotherapist.)
For a not-so-scary Halloween party, or any group viewing enjoyment, Audrey Rose ensures laughs and eye rolls, but it just cannot be recommended for any serious consideration. However, for an example of a great actor (Hopkins) doing his very best with the very worst material, and a stage actress (Mason) delivering bigger than life, good-old fashioned scenery chew, you can’t beat Audrey Rose — though you may want to.