My brief investigation of post-Exorcist attempts to exploit different religious ideas for horror films alights on Robert Wise’s generally forgotten entry in the demonology cycle, Audrey Rose. While The Exorcist and The Omen went for traditional rules of engagements, Holocaust 2000 took inspiration from the Middle East, Exorcist 2 mines beliefs from Africa, and Audrey Rose attempts to go for Hindu beliefs and specifically re-incarnation. That might sound like fertile ground for domestic fantasy, but this adaptation of Frank de Felitta’s novel never quite takes off, despite scattered points of interest.
Wise, of course, graduated from the Val Lewton school of horror in the 40’s, before creating cinematic monuments like The Sound of Music; his return offers old-school rigour in terms of acting and location work, but a lack of luridness seems to work against things. A posho couple, the Templetons (Marsha Mason, John Beck) find that their daughter is sleeping badly. A mysterious stranger named Elliot Hoover (a bearded Anthony Hopkins, never more hirsute) turns up on their doorstep, seeking access; he’s lost his own child in a car-accident, and after some kind of spiritual awakening in India, Hoover believes that the Templeton child is his.
Spoiler alert; the girl dies at the end, putting a stop to the pre-Kramer vs Kramer tug of love, but also casting a pall of the story; nobody gets what they want here, particularly the viewer. Supernatural overtones don’t go much further than the girl seeming to burn the skin of her hands on a cold radiator, not much bang for your buck compared to the other films mentioned above. The saving grace here is Hopkins, who gives a dignified, thoughtful performance that holds the film together until a hurried ending; the Welsh star manages to make several long dialogue scenes sing, even if the pay-off is weak.
Audiences didn’t turn out for Audrey Rose, although the lack of sex, swearing, violence or even incident made it an 80’s tv staple. Audrey Rose is a fairly weedy entry in the demonology cycle, but is one of cinemas few attempts to get serious about re-incarnation, and in its own clumsy way, at least offers up a rare, positive point of view on widely held notions of life beyond death.