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Monday, June 4, 2018

Retro Review: THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975)


THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD
(US - 1975)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Written by Max Ehrlich. Cast: Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O'Neill, Margot Kidder, Cornelia Sharpe, Paul Hecht, Tony Stephano, Normann Burton, Anne Ives, Debralee Scott, Steve Franken, Fred Stuthman, Addison Powell. (R, 105 mins)

Gifted with a vividly distinctive title that's ultimately more memorable than the film itself, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD has become one of those horror movies from a bygone era whose scarce availability has led to somewhat of an inflated reputation that it's some mythical, lost masterpiece. Rarely seen since its 1980s VHS release and its long-ago days in regular rotation on late-night TV in what had to be a drastically-cut version, PETER PROUD was never released on DVD but is now reincarnated on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead). It's likely that some may find it a little too dry and too skimpy with the shocks, considering its contemporaries were the likes of THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN. In its own way, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD, from the masters of erotica-infused horror at Bing Crosby Productions, carved its own niche for hard-R notoriety with its then-copious amounts of nudity and occasionally explicit sex, particularly an extended Margot Kidder bathtub masturbation scene that's usually the first and only thing anyone who's seen the film can recall whenever it's mentioned. "The Bathtub Scene" is also the subject of two different extras on the Blu-ray, which may further contribute to the legend that it's the 1970s horror geek equivalent of the LAST TANGO IN PARIS butter scene. But while Kidder leaves little to the imagination, it's still not the quite the teenage spank bank fodder that time and three decades of limited accessibility have made it out to be.






Adapted by veteran TV writer Max Ehrlich (THE DEFENDERS, THE UNTOUCHABLES, STAR TREK) from his 1973 novel, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD managed to be modest hit in the summer of 1975, though it's almost certain that some of those movie tickets were purchased by people who couldn't get into a sold-out JAWS and were already at the theater anyway. Haunted by recurring dreams where he's someone he's never met being murdered by a woman he doesn't know, college professor Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) is referred to parapsychologist Dr. Goodman (Paul Hecht), who puts him in a dream study only to discover that his dream activity isn't even registering and that they may be psychic visions showing him events that took place 30 years earlier. Peter eventually concludes the town he sees in his visions is in Massachusetts, and with his skeptical and eventually unsympathetic girlfriend Nora (Cornelia Sharpe) in tow, Peter travels across the country and eventually finds the town, Crystal Lake (!). He seeks out Marcia Curtis (Kidder), the woman in his visions who he repeatedly sees kill her husband Jeff (Tony Stephano), and in time, he becomes increasingly unable to differentiate between his own memories and the memories of the dead Jeff, feeling certain that Jeff's spirit has been reborn in his body. To get to Marcia, Peter befriends her 30-year-old daughter Ann (Jennifer O'Neill), though Marcia rightly assumes that something is off about Peter, disturbed by the overwhelming sense that she's met him before.


With a bored Nora heading back to California, Peter is freed up, which inevitably leads to a romance with Ann, thus establishing an undeniable ick factor in the sense that Peter, his body slowly becoming the vessel for the murdered and reborn Jeff, is essentially sleeping with his own daughter, who was only three months old when her father was killed. With Jeff inside his head, Peter comes to sympathize with why Marcia did what she did (Jeff was abusive and a serial adulterer) and as his love for Ann grows (even though he occasionally slips and refers to her as "my daughter"), he doesn't want to return to his old life. It wouldn't take a whole lot of tweaking to turn this into a maudlin, supernaturally-skewed Nicholas Sparks story if it were made today. Of course, you'd have to factor out the incestous elements, along with the fact that the masturbation scene is intercut with Marcia fantasizing about a time when Jeff violently raped her, a juxtaposition that, coupled with the incest, would launch at least two weeks' worth of AV Club and Vulture thinkpieces.





Even without her showstopping bathtub scene, Kidder gives the showiest performance, even though half of it is under aging makeup that's passable but doesn't quite stand up in the age of high-definition. Quebec-born Sarrazin, best known for 1969's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? and in the midst of his run as a '70s Hollywood leading man before heading back to Canada in the mid '80s (he was big enough in his day to host SNL in 1978), is fine as the troubled Proud, though his performance requires more reacting than acting and a lot of driving, as the first hour offers so much of Peter behind the wheel that it threatens to become a supernatural road movie. THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD is a middling effort from journeyman director J. Lee Thompson, whose career ran that gamut from revered classics like 1961's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and 1962's CAPE FEAR to later Cannon essentials like 1983's 10 TO MIDNIGHT and 1989's KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS. There isn't much in the way of suspense or scares as the story plays out, requiring Thompson offer a little more skin than usual for this sort of thing, but there is one of Jerry Goldsmith's most unusual scores, one that eventually turns distinctively Goldsmithian near the end but for the most part, is a lot of eeric electronically-based sounds and effects. The most effective scene isn't Kidder's much-ballyhooed adult bathtime, but an emotional and heartbreaking one where Ann introduces Peter to her dementia-addled grandmother (Anne Ives), whose mind immediately returns from wherever it was as she sees her long-dead son Jeff in Peter and asks where he's been all this time. Most horror fans satisfying their curiosity about PETER PROUD won't be asking that when this reaches its conclusion, but for cult movie connoisseurs and fans of the recently deceased Kidder and the somewhat forgotten Sarrazin (who died in 2011), it's at least worth a look.

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