The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (Kino Lorber, R)

T he Reincarnation of Peter Proud goes the same way as when you’re out of shape and get a sudden burst of confidence and decide to go for a run, but you don’t pace yourself, and so you start out with a sprint and then halfway through you can’t breathe anymore, so you have to slowly trudge home, wheezing and covered in sweat, collapsing just about as soon as you walk in the door. The premise doesn’t sound all that special. All that we know, going in, is that the eponymous character has dreams of another life, and sets out to find who he used to be. Novels have been written about it, and countless spec scripts, probably. Characters in the film even comment on the popularity of reincarnation as a spiritual idea in the 70s. At the outset, I expected one of those dime-a-dozen parapsychological horror films that seemed to pop up a lot during the 70s and 80s—The Entity, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Other, The Changeling, and so on. To my surprise, I found myself considerably intrigued by the beginning, the intrigue quickly escalating into downright admiration. The ill-fated midpoint, however, brought the admiration down to the point that the entire film reverted back to my original expectation.

The beginning has promise. A trippy score by Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen) mixes digital and analogue sounds as the image of a muscle bound man swimming nude through a lake at night plays under the credits. Due to odd color-timing and/or lighting, his body appears blood red. He stops at a boat carrying his wife, Marcia, from whom he begs forgiveness for certain unknown things he’s said and done. She appears to do so, but then murders him with a paddle. Cut to our protagonist, Peter (Michael Sarrazin), awaking in a sweaty panic. From there, we’re treated to an impeccably solid, engaging supernatural mystery filled with rapid, experimental editing and tight storytelling.

Peter goes straight from plot point to plot point in engaging and desperate pursuit of the reason behind his troubling nightmares. Said dream sequences are edited dizzyingly and contain surreal and evocative imagery. Transitions from scene to scene are dreamlike as well, cutting abruptly and sometimes disorientingly in the way that dreams shift time and place before there’s time to register the change. On top of that, every major character is well written and well-performed with the exception of Cornelia Sharpe as Peter’s girlfriend Nora, though her lack of acting skills isn’t distracting and strangely seems to work after a while. Among all the snappy dialogue, hers is the weirdest and funniest (“Goodbye, Peter. You’re a delicious man”), and her affected and overexaggerated delivery works perfectly for it.

When Peter arrives in the town of his former life, the effect is ballistic gelatin on a bullet. All the excitement and interest comes to a screeching halt. Margot Kidder’s impressively subtle and emotional performance as the now aging Marcia (Peter’s former wife when he was one “Steve Curtis”) is drowned in a litany of boring scenes, each leading to nothing. The characters no longer barrel towards the conclusion but sit on one of those moving sidewalks you see at airports, maybe getting there if they feel like it. And once the underwhelming and uncreative climax occurs, the film ends with its tail between its legs, the filmmakers clearly too ashamed of their lack of imagination to include even one more scene to wrap things up. The disparity between these halves is something rarely seen. I’m disappointed that I can’t recommend this film. But in not doing so, I’m saving you even greater disappointment. | Nic Champion

Other than a commentary on the film by film historian Lee Gambin, the special features don’t astound. One thing to the credit of the release is the 4k transfer from the original negative, so the picture quality really shines. It has that great 70s grain like you’re watching it from a projector. The most bizarre feature is an alternative version of a creepy bathtub masturbation scene with Margot Kidder in Spanish and on 8mm. Why this scene is included in a foreign language and in lesser picture quality along with a side-by-side comparison, I will never know.

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