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The Believers (1987)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/14/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/16/2014
(This Blu-ray Disc is available through ScreenArchives.com.)
As someone who on more than one occasion has claimed to be the "oldest man alive", I would be the last person to incite ageism. People are living longer than ever these days and many people who would technically be considered "senior citizens" are thriving. However, that's not to say that people of a certain age aren't appropriate for certain tasks, not because of their chronological age, but because of their experiences and ideals. The recently reviewedAudrey Rose saw then 62-year old Hollywood stalwart Robert Wise taking a stab at the then-popular supernatural horror genre, only to create a stagnant melodrama. Similarly, in 1987, 61-year old veteran director John Schlesinger helmed The Believers and delivered remarkably similar results.
The Believers introduces us to Dr. Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen). Following the death of his wife, Cal moves himself and his young son, Chris (Harley Cross), to New York City, where he takes a job counseling NYPD officers. Cal also quickly falls into a relationship with his new neighbor, Jessica (Helen Shaver). Cal is called in to help with the case of Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits), a detective who is suspected in a ritualistic slaying. While Cal's official duty is that of a psychologist, he begins to do some investigating, which leads him to Oscar Sezine (Raul Davila), an expert on Santoria. As Cal learns more about this religion, while simultaneously ignoring the claims of his housekeeper, Carmen (Carla Pinza), he is unknowingly involving his family in a ring of human sacrifices.
So, what have we learned from The Believers and Paranormal Activity 2? Listen to your housekeeper if they want to help you get rid of a curse! This film also shows us that the late 80s was a minefield of confused horror films. Following the death of the slasher cycle sometime around 1985, the horror genre floundered as filmmakers sought the next trend. (We can debate all day why a trend is even necessary.) While some classic movies were released during that time, we also got many movies like The Believers, which had all of the trappings of a horror movie, but wanted to be considered a "thriller", as that sounds more dignified.
Unfortunately, The Believers doesn't provide many thrills. Following an opening which is quite effective given that we don't know any of the characters at that point, the film falls into a malaise in which we are treated to a lot of dialogue scenes and no action whatsoever. If you can clear the hurdle of Cal hooking up with Jessica very quickly, you get talk of scary religious practices and a wide-eyed Jimmy Smits, but nothing of any substance. It's not until the third act that anything interesting actually happens, and even those moments are fairly tepid. The whole thing is topped off with an ending which is meant to be shocking, but makes little sense.
So, who do we blame for this? The film boasts a pretty good cast, as we have Martin Sheen and Robert Loggia, as well as a young Jimmy Smits. Naturally, we're going to look at Robert Schlesinger first. The man had made his name with Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man. While that latter film is considered a good thriller, he did not apply those same skills to The Believers. The pacing is incredibly slack and, as noted above, the film really wanders after the opening. While the movie does contain talk of cult murders and rituals, the overall feel is more like a melodrama which just happens to have a scary guy with no pupils (Malick Bowens) wandering around. By the time the show-stopping gross-out scene arrives, one feels that the movie is grasping at straws.
However, we must turn our attention to Screenwriter Mark Frost as well. Adapting the novel by Nicholas Conde, Frost has created a story which seems to be shying away from everything that we want to see. The veteran of Hill Street Blues shows none of the plotting skills which would serve him well on Twin Peaks or with any of his novels. I haven't read the novel, but I can't imagine that it was as unfocused as this movie.
So, it sounds as if The Believers is a terrible movie, right? It truly isn't, it's just too sedate for its own good. In its attempts to not be a horror movie, the film is forced to rely on characterization and plot twists, neither of which are terribly engrossing. If I were to describe the story in full to you, it may sound mildly interesting, but the final result offers only a few moments of interest. If you want to check out a similar movie from this era, go with The Serpent and the Rainbow.
The Believers makes being a psychologist look like a really exciting job on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear. However, there are some moments of notable grain, especially the opening shot. Following this, the bulk of the movie keeps the grain to a minimum, although there are a few very mild defects from the source materials. The colors look good and never washed out. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good (the movie never has that dreaded "soft focus" look) and the depth about what we would expect from a movie from this time period. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.1 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The lack of dynamic surround effects aside, this is a satisfactory track in which the dialogue is always audible, never being drowned out by the music or sound effects. There are some nice stereo effects here, showing a good separation.
The Believers Blu-ray Disc offers the TRAILER for the film which is letterboxed at 1.85:1. We also get an Isolated Score Track which offers J. Peter Robinson's music in full.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long