Thursday, July 4, 2013

Classic Movies about Reincarnation

In The Undead , a call girl remembers
her past as an accused witch.
The definitive film on this intriguing subject has yet to be made. In the past, reincarnation has been chiefly employed in comedies and low-budget efforts that emphasized its sensationalistic values. The first of these latter films was 1956’s The Search for Bridey Murphy, an adaptation of Morey Bernstein’s allegedly fact-based best seller about a housewife who reveals under hypnosis that she led another life 200 years earlier. 

This dreary, uninvolving tale captured the public’s fancy and imitations followed in rapid succession. Spell of the Hypnotist (1956), Roger Corman’s The Undead (1957), and the Bowery Boys’ Hold That Hypnotist (1957) all concerned people who learned of previous existences through hypnotism. Corman’s movie, shot in a refurbished supermarket, was the best of the bunch, mixing witch trials and time travel elements with its reincarnation plot. 

Hypnotism also played a prominent role in the only reincarnation musical comedy, Barbra Streisand’s On a Clear Day You Can Forever. Men were reincarnated as women in Goodbye, Charlie (1964), Cleo/Leo (1989), and Switch (1991). 

No discussion on celebrity reincarnation would be complete without mentioning Shirley MacLaine, who espoused her beliefs in Out on a Limb, a TV-movie based on her autobiographical best seller In Defending Your Life (1991), Shirley introduced people to their past lives at the heavenly Past Lives Pavilion. 

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention to The Mummy movies, in which reincarnation is often a recurring theme. Here's a representative sample of reincarnation films:

She (1935)
Corridor of Mirrors (1948)
You Never Can Tell (1951)
The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956)
I’ve Lived Before (1956)
Hold That Hypnotist (1957)
The She Creature (1957)
Spell of the Hypnotist (aka Fright) (1956)
The Undead (1957)
Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)
Goodbye, Charlie (1964)
She (1965)
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
Night of Dark Shadows (1971)
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Oh, Heavenly Dog! (1980)
All of Me (1984)
Déjà Vu (1985)
Out on a Limb (1987 TVM)
Chances Are (1989)
Manika:  The Girl Who Lived Twice (1989)
Cleo/Leo (1989)
Identity Crisis (1990)
Switch (1991)
Defending Your Life (1991) 
Hi Honey, I’m Dead (1991 TVM)
Dead Again (1991)
Dying to Remember (1993 TVM)
Fatally Yours (1996)
The Demolitionist (1996)
Kundun (1997)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (1998 TVM)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.


  1. I love your new poll!!! I adore Robert Ryan, so I was very hard-pressed to settle on just role!

    Happy 4th to you and yours!

  2. I love "You Never Can Tell", a most interesting take on reincarnation and such a fun flick. Powell was great, but Joyce Holden was superb.

    Where would something like "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" fit into the scheme of things? It's certainly convoluted toward the end, leaving the question of who is who a little vague. (Darn movie still makes me cry though.)

    1. CW, the omission of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN is likely due to that very vagueness. I love YOU NEVER CAN TELL, too.

  3. Some are under the assumption that last year's Cloud Atlas is about reincarnation, given that the cast play multiple roles in different eras. From my perspective, the reincarnation interpretation of that movie is somewhat ambiguous, at best. Regardless, it's one of the best films I've seen. I consider it a shame that it hasn't gotten anywhere near the sort of attention it deserves.

    1. A lot of people haven't. And those that have seem to either love it or hate it. Obviously, I'm in the "love it" camp.

  4. I loved Cloud Atlas too. I've published a reincarnation novel, Dreams of Amelia, (available on Amazon, B & N, and Chapters/Kobo in Canada). I'm looking for a screenwriter or producer to help create a film based on the novel. Any suggestions?