• The Believers (Olive Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: June 25th, 2019.
    Director: John Schlesinger
    Cast: Martin Sheen, Richard Masur, Jimmy Smits, Helen Shaver, Harley Cross
    Year: 1987
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    The Believers – Movie Review:

    Taking a page out of the occult horror playbook that seemed to be so popular throughout the seventies, John Schlesinger’s The Believers is no modern masterpiece of unmitigated terror but upon revisiting the film, it holds up better than a lot of genre fans will likely expect.

    The 1987 20th Century Fox production tells the story of Doctor Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen), a police psychotherapist still understandably upset about the loss of his wife who passed away suddenly when she was accidentally electrocuted in their family home in Minneapolis. Cal decides that, along with his seven-year-old boy Chris (Harley Cross), he’ll move to New York City and try to move on. The move goes smoothly enough, thanks to his friend buddy and lawyer Marty Wertheimer (Richard Masur) who sets him up in a nice brownstone rented to him but a foxy landlady named Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver). Cal he soon becomes involved in helping some NYPC officers intent on solving the mystery behind a rash of nasty child murders.

    One of the cops, Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits), is convinced that the murderers are actually Santeria cult members and that they’ve stolen his badge to use in their ritualistic endeavors. Nobody really pays this theory much mind but as Lopez becomes increasingly paranoid and is then found dead, possibly the victim of a suicide, the autopsy results make Cal stand up and take notice to his theory. When back at home Cal finds that his maid (Carla Pinza) has been placing talismans around Chris’ room he dismisses it all as superstitious nonsense but after reading up on things, he has to wonder if her warnings about his son’s safety are more accurate than he could have ever imagined.

    The Believers does a few things right and a few things wrong. On the right side, the film does a great job of setting up New York as the urban metropolis that it is and contrasting all of that hustle and bustle and modernity against religious rights and practices that obviously harken back to the ways of centuries past. This creates an eerily foreign vibe to the scenes of occult ritual and practice that, for all intents and purposes, are unsettling simply because they don’t seem to ‘fit’ in the location where they take place. This helps to, along with some very clever camera setups, to help build some scenes of genuinely unsettling suspense, showing us (sometimes more blatantly than others) some things that should not be. On top of this we get some pretty solid acting from pretty much everyone involved. Sheen is sympathetic due to the loss of his wife and his newfound status as a single dad. We can also understand his trepidation and hesitation to fully embrace Lopez’s theories and accept them as any more than superstitious paranoia.

    Of course, they’re not paranoia and that’s where the movie starts to unravel a bit. Once we get to the half-way point in the movie and the basics of the plot are properly established and characters properly developed, the movie goes for the ‘too much of a good thing’ approach and what started as a cerebral occult thriller quickly becomes too over the top to really work. That’s not to say that the last half of the movie is a complete wash, because there are still some stand out moments here and the efforts of the cast remains uniformly solid throughout, but the story tends to border on the silly. Subtlety is tossed out the window as the cultists become less than human emissaries of evil than they are unstoppable supervillains.

    The Believers – Blu-ray Review:

    Olive Film’s Blu-ray release of The Believers seems to mirror the presentation seen on the Twilight Time Blu-ray from a few years ago. The film is presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The transfer is crisp and clean and shows very good fine detail throughout in both close up and medium/long distance shots as well. Outside of a couple of tiny white specks that most people won’t even notice, there are no issues with any print damage. A natural looking amount of film grain is present but never to the point of distraction – it looks ‘right.’ There are no problems with any noise reduction at all nor are there any compression artifacts or edge enhancement problems to complain about. Color reproduction is accurate and black levels are nice and solid. Twilight Time have done the film right in the visuals department to be sure.

    Audio is presented in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Master Audio with optional English closed captioning provided. There are some nice directional effects up front in the left and right channels and dialogue is always clear and properly balanced. The score sounds strong and powerful without burying anything, there’s really nice depth here. Additionally, the audio is very clean sounding, there are no issues at all with any hiss or distortion to note. The movie sounds great.

    There are no extras on the disc aside from a static menu.

    The Believers – The Final Word:

    The Believers starts off with a very strong first half and then unfortunately gets a little carried away with the depictions of what it had previously very cleverly hinted at. Regardless, it’s a decent movie, if not as strong as it seemed it would be, and it does feature some genuinely creepy imagery and a few fine performances. Olive Film’s Blu-ray release is devoid of extras but it’s hard to imagine it looking or sounding a whole lot better than it does here. If you’re a fan and don’t have the previous Blu-ray, this release is worth the upgrade for that reason alone.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Believers Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      That electrocution scene scarred me as a young lad.
    1. unclefred's Avatar
      unclefred -
      I thought it stood up well against the othe voodoo style films of that time.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      I saw this as the opener when I saw RoboCop at the drive-in back in 1987, and a few times since, and it holds up well. It’s not a straight-up horror, but a good, tense thriller that blurs a few lines in some interesting ways.