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Old 10-24-2006, 07:59 AM
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Default Dark Waters



Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 24, 2006

Released by: NoShame
Release date: 9/26/2006
MSRP: $19.95 (Single-disc), $42.95 (Limited edition)
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



inline ImageBy the early nineties, the well for Eurohorror had just about dried up. Fulci was on his last legs, Argento was in a Trauma-inflicted rut and North America had little interest in importing the titles that were made. Thus came dwindling budgets and shoddier production values, as the once great European film market deviated into direct to video sludge. There were of course some diamonds in the rough, but distribution for such films was so poor, especially in other continents, that most such films went unseen. Mariano Baino’s first (and only) film, Dark Waters, is one such film whose hopes at international success have been squandered by distributor disinterest. Most who have seen it hail it as a return to form for the genre, and now NoShame, the purveyors of the forgotten European cult film, have finally tested the Waters. Coming housed in a collectable two-disc set, the film has all the lavish necessary for major rediscovery…but is it worth the fuss?


The Story

inline ImageThe film begins on a rocky island with a religious history as chaotic as its landscape. There a priest runs through a convents mudded basement, clutching with dear life to a large stone amulet. The roars of a demon can be heard as he runs for freedom. In pursuit are a number of sinister nuns, all wanting to grab the stone-faced amulet. The man finally escapes, but unfortunately for him he is greeted to a hundred meter fall do his death. As he smashes headfirst onto a coastal bed of rocks, so too does the amulet, smashing into a number of pieces. The morsels are quickly recovered by the nuns, but they dare not put them back together, in fears of unleashing the beast whose roars bellowed so prominently before.

inline ImageThe priest had a daughter, and now Elizabeth (Louise Salter) is back to the island to settle the paperwork. The details of his death have been concealed, but the longer she spends on the island, the more she wishes the less she knew. She grew up on the island as a child, but somehow all memories of such events have been erased from her mind. Her first memories stem from when she was seven, the year she moved away. Being at the island of her youth begins to conjure flashbacks and hints of the past, as she sees herself and another girl in the past, standing before a crucifixion. As the flashbacks become clearer, she discovers, too, that she once held the very amulet that had her father killed.

inline ImageElizabeth is befriended by another convent member, the novice Theresa (Anna Rose Phipps), who helps her fill in the blanks. Theresa may be doing more than that though, as she misleads Elizabeth into missing the only boat that would allow her to escape this dungeon of death. Elizabeth runs into a blind nun, but the sights become much worse as the pieces of the amulet start to come together. The aquatic demon is growing, but that is only the start of the horrific images Elizabeth is to come across on her journey to find the truth.

inline ImageHigh on atmosphere and low on dialogue, Dark Waters has aspirations of being the successor to the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, but a comparison to Joe D’Amato is more fitting. Sparse on any sort of plotting, the film relies handily on visuals, but rather than the visual storytelling of Argento it approximates the visual confusion of something born from Anthropophagus. The lighting is so far removed from Storraro that it really looks more like a competent student film than a full fledged feature. There are bits of gore, some over-the-top, but again unlike the stylized bloodshed of Argento, this is more the innards excess of D’Amato. To its defense, filmmaker Mariano Baino does try harder at achieving art than the workmanlike Joe D’Amato, but regardless of intent, the final products of the two are little different.

inline ImageDark Waters has a late night movie quality, one that you discover half-way through its runtime on some higher-up channel, only to watch it drifting in and out of consciousness. The story is so slim and the visuals so verbose, that really, the stream-of-consciousness visuals give the film a quality that would only benefit from seeing the film in half-consciousness. When one of the characters disrobes to reveal the breasts of a demon, you know conscious thought has been thrown out the window. Mariano Baino tries his hardest to make this a revival of the great Eurohorror film, but his resources are too slim and his talent roughly the same, so what we get instead is pedestrian but passionate. It is a drawing given to you by a child, where while looking at it you can’t help but mull over how you will tell them it will never get into the Guggenheim. Biano tries, but watercolor is not his forte.

Image Quality

inline Image Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer is clean, and with effective enough color timing. Baino likes to use color, and for the most part they come through accurately, although the image can at times be a bit on the muddy side. The only instances of dirt show up on the optical effects sequences, which is of course something outside of NoShame’s hands. For the most part the image is sharp, with some incredible detail on facial features prominent throughout, although some of the darker scenes come off a bit soft. The film has looked awful on second and third generation video dupes, so finally here NoShame finally makes the film presentable.

Sound

The film is presented in English mono only, and it sounds like a low-budget nineties direct-to-video movie. Most of it sounds a little flat, and the parts with some bizarre creature noises sound more manufactured than organic. The score comes across nicely, but there just isn’t enough punch to liven the film. Considering the legions of work NoShame put into everything else on this disc, you’d think they would have sprung for the 5.1 as well.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageWhile the movie may not be much to praise, the work NoShame has done on this release certainly is. The packaging on the limited edition set, which includes a replica of the amulet found in the film (in hardened clay too, no less!), is one of the highest quality collectables to grace a DVD set. Ready to be mounted on the wall, it is prestige all the way. The whole thing is housed in a huge box, even bigger than their Killer Queen box set, and is put together in a similar way. Between looking at the box and reading the liner notes, one could spend hours just looking at the set, but cracking it open will surely devour an entire day.

inline ImageDisc one, which includes the movie, also includes a commentary, deleted scenes, a feature length documentary, bloopers and a director’s intro. The intro is good fun, with Baino holding a candle and basically awestruck at the fact that he gets a two-disc limited edition by NoShame and Sergio Martino doesn’t. His commentary, moderated by NoShame producer Michele de Angelis, is very vocal, with Baino never afraid to talk about whatever is happening on screen. He spends most of the time exploring his psyche, and when not doing that he is filling in the blanks that his plot hole ridden script could not. He’s lively though, and too his credit there are few commentaries more personal than this.

inline ImageNext up is the 50-minute “Deep Into Dark Waters”, which features interviews with Baino, lead actress Louise Salter and other people close to the film. Baino thankfully talks more about anecdotes on the making of the film than anecdotes on himself for the featurette, and there is plenty of good trivia to listen to. In addition to some on-set horror stories, the featurette also details the release of the film as well, which has its own horrors to it as well. NoShame has come a long way when it comes to their featurettes, with this one looking and feeling much more professional, with much more B-roll footage and a quicker pace.

inline ImageThe remainder of disc one is composed of some interesting excised footage. The first, and most unique, is the 7-minute deleted scenes reel. The twist here is that the film was originally released much longer, and this reel is literally every frame that was cut, in sequential order, to arrive at this new “director’s cut” of the film. Most of the time it is just a frame here and a frame there for pacing, but there are some larger scenes cut as well. A 3-minute blooper reel is included as well, with commentary by Baino and Angelis. There are some funny bits, most notably with Louise Salter getting lost in the cryptic underground tunnel set and then breaking into a Ashlee Simpson jig. A photo gallery is last, and that’s all you get if you get the single disc release, but disc two is where the real intrigue lies.

inline ImageDisc two is conceived much like the second disc on Criterion’s Knife in the Water¸ with the director’s shorts and other projects comprising the entire disc. Baino has three shorts and a music video to his name, and they are certainly more interesting than the feature film they proceed. Baino has no problems with visuals, it is story where he suffers, and thankfully his shorts are brief enough that the lack of coherence doesn’t really factor into the finished product.

inline ImageHis first short, filled with irreparable scan lines and video noise, is slight on sense but high on style. Entitled Dream Car, and running 16 minutes, it follows an asthmatic twentysomething (Baino’s real-life brother), as he wakes from a frightful dream, jumps inside a flashy red car and finds himself locked inside for the film’s remainder. The plot makes about as much sense as a Chris Cunningham music video, and while the visuals are considerably more tame, there is still some flourish. He has a keen eye for cuts and composition, and Baino’s roaming camera is impressive, especially for a debut film. The very eighties synthesizer score caps off this fun little entry into Christine territory. Baino and Angelis again contribute a commentary to this (and the remainder of the shorts), and while Angelis tries to get into politics and aesthetics, Baino is more comfortable just having a good time relishing his first movie experience.

inline ImageCaruncula is Baino’s next short, which was shot this time on 16mm and longer at 20-minutes. Beginning first on a shot of burning dolls, a lengthy tracking shot later reveals that what we are seeing is the bordello of a sadomasochistic murderer. He mutilates more than dolls though, and claims victims in a theater, but meets his match when he faces off with a vampiric young lady. The film ends with the lady and her mother having a particularly meaty dish. While this short may be even less coherent than the previous, it thankfully is even more visual than the other as well, making for a good tradeoff. Baino gives us more great tracking shots in addition to some much improved, and very Argentoesque lighting. In many ways it predicts Hostel, but everything is so abstract you could make that case for any film that came out after it. On the commentary Baino spends quite a bit of time summarizing what is happening on screen, and for once in a commentary it is welcomed, since the film is so obtuse.

inline ImageThe final short, Never Ever After, is another visual treat, but the plot this time is surprisingly simple. Almost insultingly simple, really. A girl dressed like little red riding hood (the credits deem the film “a Mariano Baino fairy tale”) goes to a clinic looking for drastic surgery. She never wants to worry about her body ever again…but unfortunately the nurses take her literally. Although only 13-minutes, it could be half the length, since the punch line makes itself obvious at about the 6-minute mark. Still, he tells the story with such a lush color palette and kinetic visual style, you are almost able to overlook the obvious shortcomings of the story. Baino’s commentary sounds like it was recorded in the early-nineties in the way he addresses the concerns of the female body image and how it is construed in the media. He’s a lively guy though, and you can’t help but humor him throughout. The short comes with a making-of that runs 6 minutes longer than the film, and includes a nice mix of cast and crew interviews and on-set footage. The screenplay is also downloadable as a .pdf for DVD-ROM users.

inline ImageThe female body image fixation continues with the final supplement on disc two, the Baino directed music video, “The Face and the Body” for the singer Cecily Fay. Both the song and the music video seem again culled from the eighties, with Fay both looking and sounding like a Vogue-era Madonna. The song has a catchy electronic beat though, and Baino directs with flash utilizing hard backlights and elaborately weird sets. Considering how abstract his thinking is, the music video is the perfect outlet for Baino, and this is no doubt the best demonstration of his talents.

Final Thoughts

Dark Waters may have a lucidity of camera akin to a waterfall, but the story sinks in its own lack of development. While its heart is in the right place, loving trying to evoke Argento, it ends up more like D’Amato. Director Mariano Baino fares much better on the bonus disc (available only in the limited edition), with three interesting shorts and a cool music video. The video and audio are average, but NoShame’s amazing packaging and extensive supplements make this disc worth a look for those open to new blood on the horror front. Baino may have a long way to go if he wants to be the next Argento, but this DVD certainly shows us how far he’s come.

Rating

Movie - C-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - A

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 24 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 2 Discs
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Mono
  • English subtitles
  • Italian subtitles

Supplements
  • DISC ONE
  • Audio Commentary by writer/director Mariano Baino, moderated by NoShame Films producer Michele De Angelis
  • Director’s Intro
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Deep Into Dark Waters – featurette on the making of Dark Waters. All new interviews with writer/editor/director Mariano Baino, lead actress Louise Salter, camera operator Steve Brooke Smith, co-editor Rick Littler and associate producer Nigel Dali. Also includes never-seen-before behind the scenes photos from Mariano Baino’s personal collection. (55 mins. approx.) Silent Blooper Reel - with audio commentary by director Mariano Baino
  • Photo and Artwork Gallery
  • DISC TWO (Limited Edition only)
  • DREAM CAR - Mariano Baino’s first short film. Shot on ¾ video, transferred from the original master and presented here for the very first time on home video (16 mins., color, Audio: English mono) Dream Car Audio Commentary by writer/director Mariano Baino moderated by NoShame Films producer Michele De Angelis
  • CARUNCULA - New HD transfer, remastered from the original 16mm positive print, of Mariano Baino’s celebrated second short film, presented here for the first time in home video (color, 20 mins., Audio: English mono) Caruncula Audio Commentary by writer/director Mariano Baino moderated by NoShame Films producer Michele De Angelis
  • NEVER EVER AFTER - Transferred from the original Digital Betacam master, Mariano Baino’s latest effort is presented here for the first time in home video (color, 13 mins , Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Subtitles: English, Italian) Never Ever After Audio Commentary by writer/producer/director Mariano Baino moderated by NoShame Films producer Michele De Angelis
  • Making Never Ever After - includes exclusive behind the scenes footage, exclusive making-of footage, original sketches and storyboards, and all new interviews with Mariano Baino, director of photography Steve Brooke Smith, and lead actresses Abby Leamon and Jackie Stirling (20 mins. approx)
  • NEVER EVER AFTER SCREENPLAY (PDF)
  • PHOTO AND ARTWORK GALLERIES
  • COLLECTABLE BOOKLET - 48 pages booklet including exclusive production and pre-production artwork, storyboards and reprinted script pages, introduction by Mariano Baino, liner notes, and director's bio. (Limited Edition only)
  • Heavy collectable amulet replica (Limited Edition only)

Other Pictures

 

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Old 10-24-2006, 01:55 PM
It should be noted that Caruncula does not star Lil' Jon.

I like pronouncing it CarUNKula.
 
 
Old 10-30-2006, 05:54 PM
Victim
I blind purchased this baby based on Rhett's review and I was more than happy with the 'larger than porno VHS box' dvd packaging. I would have scored the movie a little higher as it was entertaining albeit somewhat slow in parts. The extras are all a fan could ask for, (the amulet is a kick-ass replica and proudly displayed on my living room wall).

Now to go pick up the Suspiria 3-disc set I've been eyeing for years... she's on saled for $30 CDN
 
 
Old 12-04-2006, 01:13 AM
Victim
I still wanna see it. I shouldn't, because I don't typically enjoy the 'stream of consciousness' approach found in much of the old-school eurohorror that this film allegedly strives to emulate.

There are occasional exceptions however, such as Fulci's 'Gates of Hell' or Fabrizio Laurenti's 'Witchery', where the imagery actually is enough to work for me. I don't know why, but I usually seem to be able to 'guess' which of the millions of potential disappoints will entertain me in this way.

I don't think this review changed any opinion I've formulated so far about the film's potential, but it's cemented my resolve to give it a try. Thanks!
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