December 18, 2009

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) - the first incarnation

(1975, USA)

Soon to be remade - but not on DVD

I must have just missed this in the cinemas back in 1975, but I caught the paperback (UK edition, pictured above). The photos spread in British monster mag World of Horror #9 (see below) intrigued me enough to want to see it.
But I never found it on British TV and so, thirty years later, I look around for a DVD to find it's not been released. This is why I'm still buying VHS! Back to eBay, and I found an 1980s' US release (with really nasty artwork, pictured below).

In recent years, there've been several films about Buddha plus Vincent Ward's spectacular What Dreams May Come, all of which treated reincarnation fairly straightforwardly. But in the 1970s, the only genre interested in 'life after death' was horror. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud wasn't a big hit, so it's a surprise to see that director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) is currently interested in a remake. it's an odd choice, but could be very interesting if it happens.
Peter Proud is having recurring dreams, of places he's never been, people he doesn't know, and in a time before he was born. Vividly, he also feels that he's been swimming in a lake at night, just before being violently murdered. While he tries to stop the dreams through sleep therapy and psychoanalysis, he starts to recognise elements of these dreams in real life. They're not in his imagination after all. A car, actual landmarks and eventually faces that are all familiar.

Past-life regression was one of many psychic bandwagons that got popular. Hypnotism helped people remember the experiences of their former selves (just before they started remembering alien abduction scenarios). When science fails him, Peter has to seek the advice of less conventional experts... But he quickly (too quickly) decides he's reincarnated and sets off in search of who he was in his previous life...

This is a very seventies, very adult thriller, strong on a sexual theme. It's a good example of just how far you could go in a mainstream film. While the men flashed their chests and bums, the women were expected to go further, more often - while baring their chests was a big deal,
full frontal nudity was both encouraged and permitted.

Two of the actresses seem to have been picked for their willingness to get sexual, rather than be able to act.
The result is that the film opens rather shakily with some rather flat punny dialogue. Not helped by Corinne O'Neil (Peter's girlfriend, Nora) who exclaims her way through the early scenes. But she looks good in bed, so she got the part I guess. There's a bizarre scene where even a helpful teenager tries to vamp Peter, and seems disappointed that she doesn't get jumped. Her only reason to be in the film is for a car washing scene in cutoff denim shorts - all very seventies. She's useless to the plot, except for making Peter look less like Mr Average and more like James Bond.

The acting settles down when Margot Kidder (inbetween Black Christmas and The Amityville Horror) and Jennifer O'Neill (before Scanners and Cover Up) get involved, though both get compulsory sex scenes. Kidder famously also gets very naked in the bath, during a flashback of a sexual assault. In true 70s style, it's ambiguous whether she's actually enjoying the memory.

But there's also man-flesh. Michael Sarrazin (pictured below on the CD cover) was a body beautiful back then, swanning around in a towel in Eye of the Cat, and being the perfect physical creation for Frankenstein - The True Story. But his physique is outclassed by actor Tony Stephano (also in Tron but nothing else), who reminds me a lot of Joe Dallesandro (Blood for Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein) who, as far as I'm concerned, looked like raw sex. Stephano was also extremely fit and gets to show it all off, well, almost all. I also think that it's Stephano who's in the 'screaming' movie poster, and not Sarrazin.

From the end of the sixties (They Shoot Horses Don't They?, The Flim-Flam Man) through most of the seventies (For Pete's Sake, The Gumball Rally) Michael Sarrazin was a leading man. But none of his films have endured with any sizable success to keep his career outside of TV work, or ensure any sort of comeback like, say, Burt Reynolds. But at the time he was big and almost always the star. Good in both comedy and drama, he also did mainstream fantasy - Peter Proud, Frankenstein, Eye of the Cat and The Groundstar Conspiracy (where, after he survives a huge explosion, the authorities aren't sure whether or not he's an alien). I last saw him in the two recent Harry Alan Towers adaptions of Harry Palmer novels (Bullet To Beijing, Midnight In Saint Petersburg), the return of Michael Caine's cold war spy.

The excess of swinging sex is matched by 70s visuals, mostly frantic intercutting as the past 'flashes' into the present, when Peter's "pre-natal memories" start catching up on him. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he accidentally catches one of his dreamed images on TV. Like Friday the 13th, the trail of clues leads to Crystal Lake... I'm not making this up, see it for yourself!

The film is quite hypnotic. Maybe because it's from a different era (it feels odd to be looking back in time at a film that's looking back in time), but it has plenty to offer as a mystery, as to how it's all going to pan out. Also, it's not coy! I don't think there's nearly as much sex or nudity in mainstream horror (or thrillers) at the moment. There are some surprises from the director J. Lee Thompson (Happy Birthday to Me, Cape Fear (1962), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) as well as the actors. Interesting to see Margot Kidder playing in two different timeframes, old and young - let down slightly by the old-age make-up.

The rather linear, inevitable storyline has only one place to go... I guess An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (1962, a short film showcased in The Twilight Zone) could've been more of an influence here than any real-life case.

For me the film was also spoilt by most of the publicity shots coming from the closing seconds of the movie!
Audrey Rose (1977) also presented reincarnation as horror material and was a much bigger hit, perhaps because Anthony Hopkins was already a bigger star, but it bored me tears at the time and was certainly not as downright dirty.

Once again, the soundtrack was released on CD (pictured) while the film hasn't made it to DVD. Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score helps the film immeasurably, and includes some spooky burbling synthesizers to clue us in that we're on the edge of something strange.
As far as I can tell, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud last surfaced on home video in America on VHS. Hopefully David Fincher's project will revive interest in Max Ehrlich's novel, and inspire a DVD release. But perhaps Margot isn't keen on any more exposure...

This 1975 issue of World of Horror gave me an appetite to see The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. Full of cartoons, fiction, movie news and gory colour photos, you can see that Fangoria wasn't the first magazine to have shocking front covers. The cover girl is Sheila Keith in Frightmare! Very eye-catching!

1 comment:

  1. Worth seeing if only to get a great sequence involving a pre-Superman Margot Kidder pleasuring herself in the tub. Ah, what (wet) dreams may come..