Blu-ray Review: The Believers (1987) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Martin Sheen stars in director John Schlesinger’s The Believers, a 1987 fright flick written by Mark Frost (co-creator, with David Lynch, of the groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks). Debuting on Blu-ray as a limited edition (3,000 copies total) courtesy of specialty label Twilight Time, it opens with a supremely disturbing death scene. In fact, though I hadn’t previously seen the entire film, I recognized the scene straightaway from my youth, having embedded itself on my subconscious. During a typical morning of preparing breakfast for her son Chris (Harley Cross), Lisa (Janet-Laine Green) meets a particularly sudden end after fumbling with a faulty coffee maker while standing in a puddle of spilled milk.

After that indelibly realistic shocker of opening, the pulp and occasional cheese that follows can really only go downward in intensity. That doesn’t mean that Schlesinger and Frost don’t maintain a highly creepy atmosphere of paranoia and fear. Flashbacks to a mysterious tribal cult sacrifice dovetail with Cal (Martin Sheen), the widower whose wife fell victim to the coffee maker surge, and son Chris arriving in New York City. Cal works as a psychologist with the NYPD. Chris is having extreme difficulty adjusting to dad’s new relationship with Jessica (Helen Shaver). The city is hit with a series of gruesome child murders, all of which seem connected to a brujería cult (Latin American practitioners of witchcraft).

Believers cover (214x280).jpgAdmittedly, the filmmakers have managed to turn the majority of the people of color in The Believers into villains, weirdos, or at least suspicious types. Even Cal’s well-meaning housekeeper Carmen (Carla Pinza) is treated no differently than the truly malevolent “believers” of the animal- and child-sacrificing cult. It’s not especially PC and probably would raise more eyebrows as a 2014 release than it did as a 1987 release. Milky-eyed Palo (Malick Bowens) is definitely a terrifying presence as the cult’s figurehead, but there are too many unanswered questions and pure coincidences laced throughout the plot. What exactly are the rich yuppie businesspeople getting out of their membership to this bizarre organization? They’re simply brainwashed, I guess. By the time we reach the climatic showdown, set in a vast industrial complex, it might as well be the axe-clanging cultists of Cobra (1986) or some similarly schlocky mess.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation of The Believers offers a sharp image that is unfortunately plagued by relatively frequent print debris. Textures are realistic and overall this is a really nice transfer. The black flecks pop up regularly though they never really provide a hindrance to enjoying the film. There is a scene or two set against a light-colored background where we see some mild, dark splotches pop up briefly as well. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is without issue, offering a well-balanced mix of crystalline dialogue and often complex music (J. Peter Robinson’s Exorcist-like score as well as the ritually performed percussion) and sound effects.

Believers 2 (380x255).jpgAn analytical commentary could’ve been fascinating, but alas all we get on The Believers is the standard Twilight Time supplements. Robinson’s score is presented as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated mix. The film’s theatrical trailer is present, in standard definition. And film historian Julie Kirgo’s new essay is included in the Blu-ray booklet.

Twilight Time has a solid track record of selling out their limited run when it comes to horror-themed titles. As a result, those interested in The Believers will want to head over to Screen Archives will supplies last. Jimmy Smits and Robert Loggia play supporting roles. Taken as a series of strange, vaguely surreal images and scenarios, the film casts a highly watchable spell. A final twist at the end exemplifies the film’s waking-nightmare quality.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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