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No Shame Films presents
Dark Waters: Special Two-Disc Limited Edition (1994)

"If your theory is right, there's a good chance we're going to get killed anyway, so we might as well try and find out why."
- Sarah (Venera Simmons)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 25, 2006

Stars: Louise Salter, Verena Simmons
Other Stars: Mariya Kaprist, Lubov Snegur, Alvina Skarga
Director: Mariano Baino

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore, highly disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:32m05s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 882853003397
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A BA-B+ A

DVD Review

During the 1990s, there was a trend toward making horror films jokey and sarcastically hip, epitomized by Wes Craven's Scream series and the Re-Animator pictures. Straightforward horror that refused to relent seemed hard to come by for a time, but Italian director Mariano Baino was determined to create such a movie. Presented here by NoShame for the first time in a very solid edition, the Lovecraft-influenced result certainly has its share of creepy and highly disturbing moments, even though it occasionally lacks cohesiveness.

Elizabeth (Louise Salter) is summoned from England at the request of her friend Theresa (Anna Rose Phipps), who for undisclosed reasons has joined a convent on an isolated island with little communication to the mainland. On her arrival, Elizabeth is told that Theresa left for London several days before, but Elizabeth soon discovers evidence her friend was brutally murdered. With the help of a novice, Sarah (Venera Simmons), who has a fondness for Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Elizabeth tries to unravel the secrets of the convent and a stone amulet that keeps a monstrous creature ("she who was not and is") trapped so long as the fragments of the amulet are never brought together.

Elizabeth's journey reminds one of Jonathan Harker's trip to Transylvania, full of mood and weird characters who are terrified of what awaits her. But the principal literary influence is Lovecraft, with echoes of The Shadow over Innsmouth in particular resonating throughout the film. The central creature (glimpsed only briefly and in part, in the best Val Lewton style) seems like a cross between Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, a mother beast with a tentacled face and a desire to rule the world in darkness. Baino also lends plenty of striking visual touches to the picture, with characters having a ghastly atavistic tendency to chow down on still-flapping raw fish. The images of the demonic nuns carrying their burning crosses as they hunt for Elizabeth is unforgettable, as are the sequences of the many blind characters who have an insight into the creature's existence and powers. Some of these images are nightmarishly shocking, such as the image of a crucified nun howling in agony, while two little girls smile cheerfully in front of her. The film is, true to its title, thoroughly waterlogged from start to finish, heightening the claustrophobic terror.

While the style works beautifully, there are gaps and problems with the presentation that keep this from being thoroughly recommendable. The nuns alternately seem to be trying to keep the demon penned in, and also to be worshipping it. Nuns keep trying to murder Elizabeth for no clear reason. A bit of dark comedy involving an embalmer falls flat when Baino fails (as he acknowledges in the commentary) to properly establish his profession. A subplot involving a mad painter in a pit beneath the convent lends Elizabeth some critical clues, but seems to be pointing to something else; yet that strand ends up totally forgotten in the ensuing chaos. The geography of the island, the village, the convent and the underground catacombs never becomes quite clear at all, which may be intentional since it keeps the action in a dreamlike weirdness as things seem to connect up in unexpected ways. The final shock reveal seems to be borrowed from Lucio Fulci, and doesn't bear any real connection to the finale. It doesn't help that many of the Slavic actors seem to be rendering their lines phonetically, without quite understanding what they're saying. At least the English-speaking leads are more than satisfactory.

On the whole, it's quite effective, with a nightmarish quality throughout. Salter makes a reasonably interesting heroine, and Simmons is quite delightful at walking the tightrope between an enthusiastic devotion and a vaguely threatening aspect. The visuals are frequently stunning and horrifying, and there is a relentless sense of dread throughout. Don't come looking for self-referential horror/comedy here.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: NoShame continues its run of excellent transfers here. There's a wee bit of aliasing visible in one sequence that I noticed, but otherwise it's quite nice. There's plenty of detail and texture, free of edge enhancement, and the colors are vivid (though the palette is rather limited due to heavy reliance on candles and torches in the convent). Shadow detail is frequently excellent, and black levels are solid and lack macroblocking.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono mix is highly effective, with virtually no noise or hiss. It has a good presence, with the airy synth score upping the fear factor substantially. Dialogue is generally clear, though the subtitles occasionally come in handy. While a 5.1 remix might have made an impression, the mono takes the viewer by the throat on its own.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Italian with remote access
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Mariano Baino
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:32m:24s

Extra Extras:
  1. Three Short Films by Baino
  2. Booklet
  3. Blooper Reel
  4. Galleries
  5. Music Video
Extras Review: NoShame offers this movie in both a standard one-disc edition and a limited (3000-piece) two-disc boxed edition. The contents on disc 1 are identical in both sets, and they're quite substantial in and of themselves. Baino provides a nonstop commentary discussing the film and its origins, among other topics, and he addresses many of the areas in which the film doesn't work or where things didn't turn out quite as he expected them to. In addition, Deep into Dark Waters (50m:25s) provides behind-the-scenes footage and substantial interviews with cast and crew as they detail the nightmarish shoot in the Ukraine, from the lackadaisical attitude of the Ukrainian crew to the necessity of having film stock bought on the Moscow black market and shipped to the studio in Kiev. To top it all off, the cast learns that they're shooting only 17 km from Chernobyl and that their food and drink is quite radioactive. It's quite astonishing that this picture ever got completed, given all the insanity surrounding it. A silent blooper reel running about 3m offers some screwups, with Baino's commentary. The deleted scenes section contains just about everything ever snipped from the movie in creating this director's cut, totalling about 7m. There are about ten scenes of any substantiality, while many of the "deleted scenes" are quite literally only a handful of frames. Finally, a gallery contains well over a hundred behind-the-scenes stills and artwork.

If that's not enough for you, there's the limited edition. This features a 48-page booklet crammed with more artwork and storyboards, script excerpts, a Baino bio, production notes and more. A second disc includes three short films from Baino. Dream Car, his first short film, is an equally nightmarish take on a young man's desire to obtain a nice car to attract girls. Garuncula looks at a warped sadomasochist who goes out looking for a victim, only to find that the woman he encounters is far more than he bargained for. Finally, Never Ever After is a brief cautionary fairy tale about women's self-image and loathing for their own bodies. These shorts clearly track Baino's development and elements of these pictures can also be seen in Dark Water. All contain an optional director's commentary, plus Never Ever After includes both a making-of featurette and a DVD-ROM version of the screenplay. There's a brief gallery of stills and artwork for these short films and a music video, The Face and the Body by Cecily Fay, directed by Baino, that continues the theme of dissociation and body image explored in Never Ever After. The crowning touch for the collector is a hefty reproduction of the demon's stone amulet (all in one piece, so beware!) at about half the size it appears in the film. An overwhelming package of goodies, mysteriously omitting only the theatrical trailer.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

An impressive horror debut that makes one want to leave the light on, in a lavish special edition, with a superb transfer.

 


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