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Synapse Films presents
Fatal Frames (1996)

"He must have cut her into tiny bits, because they never did find the body."
- Wendy Williams (Linnea Quigley)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 30, 2001

Stars: Stefania Stella, Rick Gianasi, David Warbeck
Other Stars: Donald Pleasence, Leo Daniel, Alida Valli, Geoffrey Copleston, Linnea Quigley, Rossano Brazzi, Angus Scrimm
Director: Al Festa

Manufacturer: Global Vision
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (gore, violence, nudity, sexual contact)
Run Time: 02h:05m:28s
Release Date: March 27, 2001
UPC: 654930301296
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BBB+ A-

DVD Review

Sometimes directors of music videos and commercials successfully make the transition to director of feature films. Most of the time, however, in such cases there tends to be an excess of style at the expense of substance. Al Festa rather successfully (but not wholly so) navigates this course with his 1996 cult hit, Fatal Frames.

Music video director Alex Ritt (Rick Gianasi) is contacted by Dan Antonucci (Leo Daniel) to come to Rome to make a video for rising star Stefania Stella (as herself). Ritt agrees, though still mourning the murder of his wife. When he arrives in Rome, he witnesses the murder of a young woman he was supposed to meet. When he returns from fetching the police, there is no sign of the killer or the victim either. The police treat Ritt as daffy, until a videotape of the killing is provided to them. Soon one after another, women connected with Ritt are mercilessly butchered in the same way. What is the connection to Ritt? How does it fit in with a mysterious painting and its artist who refuses to stay dead?

The cast in general is decent, if not spectacular. Gianasi is acceptable though he has an occasional tendency to overact, as does Italian B-movie favorite David Warbeck, who plays the police commissioner pursuing the killer. Stefania Stella (the director's wife and also producer of the film) can only act in the broadest strokes, and her impenetrable accent makes listening to her part rather a chore. Oddly enough, this was the final picture for longtime stars Donald Pleasence and Rossano Brazzi; Pleasence died during filming and is rather abruptly written out of the film to the setting of a bad Halloween gag. Unfortunately, Pleasence must have died before he was able to dub his scenes, because only a bad imitation is heard throughout the picture. B-movie queen Linnea Quigley does a nice turn as parapsychologist Wendy Williams. Angus Scrimm (the Tall Man from the Phantasm series) provides a nasty cameo as the undead artist Andrea Pisani.

The music video style is in full force here, though at least not without respite. We suffer through numerous pointless dissolves, slow-motion shots, insanely fast cuts and wildly moving cameras. However, Festa does give us relief with fairly normal shots in between, which helps make these techniques a little more interesting. Color has an important part here, as the murder sequences are all shot through an orange filter, and others are shot through a blue filter. Nearly every scene is infused with vast quantities of dry ice fog; even indoor scenes improbably have a thorough coating of fog, which is really overdoing it badly.

The songs (also written by Festa) are excruciatingly vacuous and boring Europop; thus makes the numerous sequences of shooting the video rather unpleasant. The proper film music (again by Festa) is primarily a riff on Carpenter's effective score for Halloween (with a casual swipe from Herrmann's Vertigo), though there are some nice touches here and there.

The script, again by Festa, is surprisingly strong. Upon a second viewing, what seemed innocuous lines assume a macabre double entendre status that makes one appreciate the picture a bit more than might be the case on a first viewing. Perhaps the best thing about the movie is the special effects work by Oscar®-winner Steve Johnson. The severed heads (of which there are several) look highly convincing, probably the first time I've ever felt that in a horror movie. The blood and gore are liberally applied, so fans of Eurohorror and the giallo will find much to like here.

In all, a decent serial killer film that is worth a look if you like this material.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Disappointingly, this very recent picture is not given an anamorphic transfer. That's a shame, because the frequent tracking shots display heavy digital artifacting and moire which might have been helped by an anamorphic transfer. Colors and blacks are excellent, and detail is very good indeed. The image is occasionally grainy, but this appears to be limited to certain sequences and is no doubt part of the original film element. An attractive picture that isn't quite all that it could be.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This disc has one of the most aggressive surround mixes I've ever heard. It doesn't sound bad, but it's somewhat surprising in its intensity. Numerous scenes have excessive echoing that makes dialogue hard to understand (which is doubly a problem when heavy accents are involved). Foley effects are also mixed far too aggressively, attracting undue attention to themselves. If you like your soundtracks juiced, then this one is for you. Range is excellent and bass response very good for a 2.0 track. The sound is hiss- and noise-free.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 TV Spots/Teasers
0 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Al Festa and star Stefania Stella
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:33m:16s

Extra Extras:
  1. 3 Al Festa music videos
  2. 3 Stefania Stella music videos
Extras Review: Synapse provides a packed special edition here. Probably the best extra is a lengthy (26m:07s) Making-Of documentary, which has a good focus on the special effects and how many of them were accomplished. The commentary from Festa and Stella is all right, though it doesn't give a great deal of background information and often veers off into description of the action. They do, however, assiduously avoid spoilers, if there are any who want to do the commentary before the feature proper. Three videos by Al Festa are included, for the bands Biancaneve, Chavan and Peplum. These are in widely variant styles, indicating some of Festa's versatility. Three (sadly) full-length performances of the songs from the film are given music video presentations by Stefania Stella. Only hardcore fans will need to look at these. A single Italian trailer is included, as well as two TV spots (English and Italian), though all three are essentially the same thing. Wrapping up the package are numerous deleted scenes. These include many brief scenes, as well as lengthier ones. Only here can Pleasence's own voice be heard. Sadly, no subtitles are included. This is a defect both in that the Italian accents can be hard to understand, and that during the commentary the movie audio is completely wiped out.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A nice special edition of a cult favorite serial killer film. An anamorphic presentation would have been better, but this is certainly watchable. Plenty of extras are included to make fans very happy indeed.


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