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The Believers: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Believers (1987) movie poster The Believers

Theatrical Release: June 10, 1987 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Schlesinger / Writers: Nicholas Conde (novel The Religion), Mark Frost (screenplay)

Cast: Martin Sheen (Cal Jamison), Helen Shaver (Jessica Halliday), Harley Cross (Chris Jamison), Robert Loggia (Lieutenant Sean McTaggert), Elizabeth Wilson (Kate Maslow), Harris Yulin (Robert Calder), Lee Richardson (Dennis Maslow), Richard Masur (Marty Wertheimer), Carla Pinza (Mrs. Carmen Ruiz), Jimmy Smits (Tom Lopez), Raúl Dávila (Oscar Sezine), Malick Bowens (Palo), Janet-Laine Green (Lisa Jamison)

Buy The Believers on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

British director John Schlesinger made immediate impact with his American film debut. Midnight Cowboy (1969) won the Academy Award for Best Picture and gave Schlesinger the Oscar for Best Director. While he never recreated the acclaim and accolades of that initially X-rated New York drama, Schlesinger worked steadily,
primarily in America, until his death in 2003. His films grew less respectable with time and his last one, 2000's The Next Big Thing, drew five Razzie nominations, "winning" Worst Actress for leading lady Madonna. Nonetheless, the filmmaker was no one-hit wonder. He had well-received films on either side of Midnight, from 1965's Darling, Julie Christie's Best Actress Oscar winner and the first of Schlesinger's three career nominations, to Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), to his 1976 reunion with Midnight's Ratso, Dustin Hoffman, on Marathon Man.

In 1987, with his prestige somewhat faded but his ability to accrue favorable reviews intact, Schlesinger made his first horror movie: The Believers. It might not strike modern moviegoers as an obvious horror movie, with its undarkened color palette, many daylight scenes, accomplished cast, and somewhat procedural style. But it is clearly designed to unsettle, more in the manner of Rosemary's Baby than today's clearly delineated genre offerings.

The film's opening minutes throw you for a loop. Minneapolis police therapist Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) comes home after a short-shorted morning jog. Moments later, while he's in the shower, a spilled milk carton and a faulty coffee machine combine to electrocute Cal's loving wife (Janet-Laine Green) with their young son Chris (Harley Cross) watching. The widowed father and son then move to New York, where Dad attended grad school at Columbia University.

In "The Believers" (1987), police psychologist Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) is consulted by Lieutenant Sean McTaggert (Robert Loggia) on a troubling string of child sacrifices.

Retaining his line of work in the much bigger city, Cal gets called in the middle of a night to provide a psychiatric evaluation of Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits), an upset police officer who has discovered a child dead at an altar in a long-abandoned theater, the apparent victim of a ritualistic human sacrifice. Jaded veteran lieutenant Sean McTaggert (Robert Loggia) doesn't make much of Lopez's state or his belief in the ancient religion of Santeria. But the clearly traumatized Cuban immigrant and potential suspect fears for his life. Lopez escapes a mental institution and contacts Cal before killing himself dramatically in a tortured diner visit.

In his call, Lopez warned that lapsed Catholic Cal and Chris are in danger. He's not the only one to think so. The Jamisons' Spanish-speaking housekeeper Carmen (Carla Pinza), who also subscribes to Santeria, has been performing rituals in private in an attempt to protect the family from looming peril. The peril seems to be emanating from Palo (Malick Bowens), a devilish, mysterious black man with markings on his abdomen and evil in his eyes (the actor often wears milky contact lenses). The wickedness Palo is capable of has ties to an organization for troubled youths where Lopez volunteered and whose chairman, wealthy developer Robert Calder (Harris Yulin), he warned of in his dying act. There is also an enchanted shell that Chris found in Central Park near a ritually decapitated cat.

Meanwhile, in what begins as a lighter storyline, Cal starts seeing Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver), the attractive, divorced landlady who lives across the street. She too is endangered by association; after a brush with Palo, she develops what at first looks like a bad zit that then evolves into a cheek-sized growth with a life of its own.

For Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver), what started as a small blemish develops into this large growth, the product of using a cursed cosmetic brush. The milky-eyed gyrations of Palo (Malick Bowens) have power over women and over us the power to disturb.

The Believers is adapted by David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost from The Religion, a 1983 novel attributed to Nicholas Condé, a pseudonym used by a team of writers including veteran TV producer-writer Robert Nathan ("ER", "Law & Order").
The film offers a dark, depressing portrayal of New York City that can make your skin crawl. It's a place where the inside of subway cars are filled with graffiti and where children turn up sacrificed by cults in old, abandoned theaters to no evident consequence. It's a city in need of the cleansing and revitalization that would soon come under the mayorship of Rudy Giuliani.

The Believers is horrifying at times and ridiculous at others. It is overlong, running nearly two hours and feeling closer to three. It is undoubtedly effective, but also really disturbing and often in bad taste. Some critics accused it of racism. Your opinion of the movie will be full of conflict that is strongest in the climax, an unnerving sequence set in a huge factory after hours and featuring a boy in a disconcerting loincloth.

It is well-directed by Schlesinger and nicely shot by Jim Jarmusch's longtime, apparently retired cinematographer Robby Müller. The cast serves the material well, with suitable anchor Sheen surrounded by tough, reliable pros like Loggia and Yulin.

The Believers was not well-received by critics. In June of 1987, it debuted in fifth place at the box office, widely trailing fellow openers Predator and The Witches of Eastwick as well as formidable holdovers Beverly Hills Cop II and The Untouchables. Horror may be the genre with the most passionate and well-versed fans, but if the movie's praises have since been sung, I haven't heard them. It currently carries a 6.0 user rating on IMDb, which you might consider the edge of respectability for a film of its age.

An Orion Pictures release, The Believers is part of the massive MGM home video library, which generally only comes to Blu-ray these days under license to some other company. This one is licensed by Twilight Time, who recently issued it in their standard limited printing of 3,000 copies.

The Believers: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA (English, Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as MGM DVD (August 27, 2002)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Believers doesn't look as dapper as some of its contemporaries that Twilight Time has similarly rescued from obscurity. The 1.85:1 presentation has its share of imperfections. But they are minor, usually no worse than a white speck or black spot that vanishes a frame or two later. The steady, lightly grainy element is untroubled by anything bigger than those flaws and does display an agreeable amount of detail.

Better than the picture quality is the solid 2.0 surround DTS-HD master audio, which presents all elements with appropriate clarity and immediacy. The track is more engulfing than two-channel mixes usually are and complements the material nicely. As always, Twilight Time provides English SDH subtitles. You just probably won't need to consult them.

The Believers' original theatrical trailer is about the extent of its Blu-ray video bonus features. Twilight Time's catalogue reminds us that their limited print titles don't always remain available very long.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Believers is kindly joined by its original theatrical trailer (1:51, SD), as well as MGM's 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06). MGM's 2002 DVD supposedly included both a teaser and a trailer, but we only get the latter here.

There is also the standard Twilight Time alternate soundtrack: an isolated score.
The 2.0 DTS-HD master audio mix presents the music of J. Peter Robinson without dialogue or effects over it. His compositions have that distinct late-'80s grown-up movie sound.

As always, Twilight Time adapts the simple, static top menu directly from the cover art. The company includes a gallery showcasing its entire Limited Edition Series Blu-ray catalog. The Blu-ray doesn't allow you to set bookmarks, but does allow you to resume unfinished playback.

The final extra is found inside the case: the disc is joined by an illustrated 8-page booklet, boasting yet another rewarding and informative essay by Twilight Time historian Julie Kirgo. It fittingly puts the film into the context of "classy" supernatural horror films, the economically booming 1980s, and the careers of its cast and crew, finding modern relevance in its class depictions.

Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) is coerced into taking grave action in the chilling climax of "The Believers."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Whether or not you consider yourself a horror movie fan, The Believers is worth one watch. This forgotten 1980s thriller is technically sound and often discomforting. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is what you've come to expect from the distributor: a sharp-looking presentation with some good standard bonuses at a higher price and narrower availability than catalog discs released to general retail.

Buy The Believers on Blu-ray: ScreenArchives.com / Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Physical EvidenceChild's PlayCujoArachnophobiaRosemary's BabyCohen & Tate
Martin Sheen: Apocalypse NowBadlandsWall StreetCatch Me If You CanThe Amazing Spider-Man
Robert Loggia: ScarfaceBigWide AwakeOliver & CompanyElfego Baca | Helen Shaver: The Color of Money
Screenplay by Mark Frost: Fantastic FourFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver SurferThe Greatest Game Ever Played
New: The Vanishing (1988) • The Vanishing (1993) • The CallingThe Taking of Deborah Logan

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Reviewed November 23, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1987 Orion Pictures and 2014 Twilight Time, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.