Starring Tomas Milian, Ugo D’Alessio, Florinda Bolkan, Marc Porel
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Distributed by Arrow Video
Lucio Fulci may be the “Godfather of Gore” but not all of his films are wall-to-wall bloodbaths – and those are generally his lesser-known titles. There are 56 directorial credits to his name, most of which don’t fall within the guidelines viewers expect from a name like Fulci. One of his greatest efforts came nearly a decade before he delved deeply into the dismemberment scene: a prescient picture called Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972).
Fulci took on a big adversary – the Catholic Church – and in the process found his film facing limited release due to opposition. The film tackles abuse of a different nature than the one facing the church today: murder. Although often lumped in to the giallo subgenre, Fulci’s film also plays as a thriller and smartly crafted whodunit. It’s definitely one of his most cerebral efforts. And despite being lighter on gore than his splatterpieces, there are several scenes of visceral violence that will remind viewers who they’re watching.
In a dusty Sicilian village, three young friends – Bruno, Michele, and Tonino – regularly engage in acts of light mischief. Today, it’s spying on the local peeping tom, Giuseppe (Vito Passeri), who’s getting an eyeful of the action at a local whorehouse. The boys tease the dimwitted local, who chases them off. Concurrently, a witch who lives in the mountains, Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), conducts a black magic ritual that involves making tiny effigies of the boys and driving a needle through the heads. Bruno goes missing the next day and the cops, naturally, pin the crime on Giuseppe. It didn’t help he was standing near the boy’s body, which he admitted to burying. But Giuseppe claims the boy was already dead. His case is lent credibility when Tonino shows up dead the following day.
Big-city reporter Andrea (Tomas Milian) arrives in town to cover the growing story, bringing his own acute insights to the case. He works with Cpt. Modesti (Ugo D’Alessio), the local police chief, as well as speaking with Don Alberto (Marc Porel), a local priest who runs a church where the boys like to play soccer. Andrea and Cpt. Modesti eventually work their way to Magiara, who freely admits to killing the boys… with her black magic; no physical harm was committed by her hands. The police have no choice but to let her go – although the locals feel otherwise – leaving Andrea and the police scrambling to uncover the mystery of who is killing the local children.
Fulci not only deserves credit for tackling a subject as controversial as murder within the Catholic Church, but also for his assistance in writing a taut screenplay with clear motivations, characters, and a chilling, effective twist. Another reason why this film isn’t quite a giallo is because those pictures tend to spend time reveling in death scenes, whereas here the focus is truly on story first and gore second. The script also avoids being bogged down by red herrings aplenty. A handful of potential suspects are given screen time, as to be expected, but the story manages to play the final reveal close enough to the vest that it’s the mystery of the thing propelling the story. Even better, Fulci smartly cast a strong actor in Milian, a man who can always be counted on to deliver a strong performance.
Soundtracks always deserve some recognition and Fulci put a powerhouse to work here, as famed Cannibal Holocaust (1980) composer Riz Ortolani provides the score. His work here plays typical of the genre, coming across as more sensual & serene than sinister. Many Italian soundtracks play like juxtaposition to the imagery on screen, with music that could be palatable to my mother overlaid a scene of complete brutality. Ortolani had a real knack making beautiful music for ugly movies.
It would be easy to nitpick the 2.35:1 1080p picture, but after reading the Herculean effort made by Arrow Video to restore this film to its former glory it would be impossible not to respect whatever level of quality they were able to achieve. The explanation is long – and worth reading! – so crack open that thick booklet and get learning. Suffice it to say, after making it past some grainy & dirty opening credits the picture stabilizes nicely. The print has been meticulously cleaned, with scratches only making much of an appearance during the third act. Colors are strongly saturated and vivid. Definition and fine detail remain impressive, even when the action switches to nighttime. Considering all the work done here, I’d say this is a wonder.
Arrow provides audio options in both English and Italian, both with an LPCM 2.0 mono track. Each is clean and consistent in quality, but for my ears I usually go for the dubs. All audio was recorded in post for the majority of Italian productions anyway, so no “in the moment” action is being missed. Dialogue is clean and clear either way you choose. Ortolani’s score sounds soaring in lossless. Subtitles are available in English.
Author Troy Howarth provides an audio commentary, delivering plenty of facts and anecdotes regarding the production.
“Giallo a la Campagna” is a “video conversation” with expert Mikel J. Koven, who discusses giallo and this film’s place within the subgenre.
“Hell is Already in Us” is a discussion of the film’s misogynistic claims, with critic Kat Ellinger.
“Lucio Fulci Remembers” is a 1988 audio interview with the director, presented here in two parts.
There are also “Cast & Crew Interviews” with Florinda Bolkan, Sergio D’Offizi, Bruno Michell, and Maurizio Trani.
- Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
- English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
- New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
- The Blood of Innocents, a new video discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
- Hell is Already in Us, a new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
- Interviews with co-writer/director Lucio Fulci, actor Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides
- First pressing only: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes
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