Before Anthony Hopkins starred in horror classic The Silence of the Lambs, he starred in another one – Audrey Rose, released in 1977 and directed by Robert Wise, known for some legendary films including The Sound of Music.
Based on Audrey Rose, the novel written by Frank De Felitta in 1975, the movie starts eerily with a horrific head-on car crash and a shot of one car going up in flames, but then quickly segues cheerily into a day in the life of the well-heeled Templeton family with Bill, Janice, and daughter Ivy happily bicycling around New York City. Bruce buys Ivy a balloon, and Janice, a photographer, takes pictures, before they all head home to a gorgeous New York City apartment that must have cost a fortune, even in 1977.
Life is good.
But then a mysterious, bearded man starts following the family around with an apparent interest in Ivy. On one occasion, the man even escorts her home from school after Janice (Marsha Mason) is late. Naturally, her parents are disturbed and angry, but short of anything involving physical assault, the police say there really isn’t anything can do.
The bearded man, Elliot Hoover (Hopkins), eventually loses his beard and explains himself to the Templeton’s, with the claim that the soul of his long dead daughter, Audrey Rose, is really the person inhabiting Ivy’s body. Not surprisingly, the Templeton’s believe him to be crazy and want him nowhere near their daughter.
At the same time though, something funny is happening to Ivy, a seemingly carefree child. She is having violent nightmares, which she has every year around her birthday, also the day of Audrey Rose’s death. Her nightmares seem to consist of her being trapped inside a burning car and wanting her father to save her, and the only person who can calm her down during these nightmares is Mr. Hoover, mostly by calling her Audrey Rose and telling her that he is there.
Eventually, the fight between the Templeton’s and Mr. Hoover ends up in court, with poor Ivy sent off to a boarding school to protect her from the media spotlight and attention surrounding the case.
Bill (John Beck) believes that death is final and there’s no chance of reincarnation, but Ivy’s continued strange and dangerous behavior, such as a deliberate crawl into a fire, leads Janice to painfully believe that her daughter really is Audrey Rose. And, while it’s never entirely clear what Mr. Hoover really wants, his vague appeals to Janice that they must work together, if Ivy is to be saved, can leave a viewer with the sense that something sinister is going to happen. I guess that’s the scary element of this film. There’s not so much in the way of blood or guts to be seen as there is fright of the mental kind. Can a deceased person be sharing your body? Can you really be a soul from another time, stuck in the wrong body? And if so, what is the solution?
There are obviously no clear solutions presented in this film though, which culminates with a doctor performing a “harmless” hypnotism experiment on Ivy, apparently to regress her back to the day of Audrey’s death and Ivy’s birth, except it doesn’t exactly go as planned, to say the least.
The plot aside, Hopkins is his usual riveting self, my only complaint being that there wasn’t enough of him. Despite the film being named after Ivy’s character, the star of the movie is really Marsha Mason, who is great as the mother who really only wants to do what is best for her daughter – even if it means letting her go. Also very charming is Susan Swift, the actress who plays Ivy. She doesn’t appear to have had an extensive acting career after this role, one of her earliest, but it’s easy to see why Wise chose her for the part.
Was Audrey Rose scary to audiences of 1977? As a viewer of 2014, nothing in this film was particularly scary to me, and Ivy’s nightmares actually seemed somewhat hokey. But viewers of 1977 may have had a different opinion. Regardless – no matter what one thinks of reincarnation – the film’s subject matter is definitely both creepy and thought provoking. The movie also goes in a direction I didn’t expect. I spent the first part of the film wondering if Hoover was perhaps a very convincing con man wanting Ivy for some nefarious purpose, and the latter half wondering whether there was going to be some sort of exorcism-type procedure to somehow rid Ivy’s body of Audrey’s soul.
Is Ivy saved in this film?? I guess the answer is yes and no. I can’t say that I entirely understand what happens to her at the end, but I will say that it was interesting to watch and definitely worth a view if you enjoy retro horror films of the psychological variety.
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AUDREY ROSE 1977 Retro Review: Hopkins Is His Usual Riveting Self
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