THE BELIEVERS (Orion 1987) (0live Films,2019) R- Color. Region A. 114 minutes. 1:85:1 aspect ratio https://olivefilms.com/product/the-believers/ Available on Blu Ray $29.95 and DVD $24.95
THE BELIEVERS is a fascinating though at times frustrating film. The movie itself deals with religious beliefs and the supernatural beliefs in a modern, more secular world while the production tries to be a Val Lewtonesque film dealing with the subject but with flashes of modern grue effects to keep the punters paying attention.
The film’s pedigree made this a higher than normal profile project for the genre. Directed by John Schlesinger, C.B.E. (Oscar winning director of MIDNIGHT COWBOY, 1969, U.A.) with a screenplay by television writer Mark Frost (who two years later would change that media as co-creator, with David Lynch, with their groundbreaking TWIN PEAKS, Lynch/Frost Productions, 1990-91). The film was based upon the 1982 novel THE RELIGION (Dutton, written by Nicolas Conde. Conde is a pseudonym for the writing team of Robert Rosenblum and Robert Nathan).
The critical response, however, was less than kind. Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars, writing :
“I’m getting tired of the dingy tenements in Spanish Harlem with the blood-soaked chicken feathers on the floor, and the scenes where the shrink realizes he needs a witch doctor to save his child.”-June 10,1987.
THE BELIEVERS also generated controversy by making some of its more sinister events tie in with Santería (a Spanish word meaning “follower of saints”), a religion in NYC that is a mixture of Christianity and Afro-Cuban religious ideals.
When Lisa Jamison (Janet-Laine Green) is electrocuted in a home accident before her horrified son’s eyes, her husband Carl (Martin Sheen, THE DEAD ZONE, Paramount, 1983) moves himself and the young boy Chris (Harley Cross, MRS SOFFEL, MGM,1984) to New York City.
Cal is a police psychologist (an anthropologist in the novel), so he doesn’t have much time to grieve, for soon after he arrives in the city, he is drawn into a savage murder mystery.
Undercover Police Officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits, RUNNING SCARED, MGM,1986) is acting very irrationally after he finds the body of a young boy murdered by a religious cult. The cult knows who the officer is, and he is terrified. It turns out he is also a member of the group.
As Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver, THE COLOR OF MONEY, Touchstone, 1986), the Jamison landlord, becomes more romantically involved, strange items start to appear in the apartment, left by the maid Carmen (Carla Pinza, who also acted as the film’s cultural advisor).
About the same time, Carl & Chris come across an animal sacrifice in Central Park. While Carl is distracted, Chris picks up an item left at the scene.
Things get more complex when a Haitian named Palo (Malick Bowens, OUT OF AFRICA, Universal,1985) arrives in the city with mysterious powers.
Meanwhile, Tom Lopez is in terrible pain, and goes to a Santeria shop, where he grabs a knife and stabs himself repeatedly in the stomach.
Police Lt McTaggert (the always reliable Robert Loggia, PRIZZI’S HONOR, Fox, 1985) along with Cal attend the autopsy, and are shocked and horrified to find that Tom Lopez’ stomach is full of squirming live snakes.
The mystery goes deeper ,with the religion being connected with local politics (out of towners saying, “Yeah well it is New York” ) , and the further they get involved , the more it endangers the lives of Cal ,his son and Jessica (who gets a very disturbing “pimple” ).
New York is a good setting for a mysterious religious cult. One of the most modern cities in the world, it still holds 6000 churches (2,000, with at least 4,000 unofficial places of worship), It is so busy, that a hidden cult can easily thrive in the impersonal activities of Manhattan and its boroughs.
“Wait. This Isn’t THE OMEN?”
THE SEVENTH VICTIM (RKO,1943), ROSEMARY’S BABY (Paramount ,1968), the already mentioned THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY -all make good use of this. THE BELIEVERS also does, but, like THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY, there is also the clash of cultures added within the mix.
OLIVE FILMS has given the film a sharp new 1080p release. Comparing it to my old MGM DVD, the colors are much sharper and the flatness of the image has been replaced with a much more vibrant one (note ,my review is based upon Olive Films Blu Ray ).
The sound also has been cleaned up as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue and sound mix are clean with no noticeable pops or hiss.
There are also optional English Subtitles.
RECOMMENDED for Horror fans, Martin Sheen fans, fans of voo-doo thrillers, NYC based thrillers.
–Kevin G Shinnick