The Film (5/5)
When you pick up your copy of the Symptoms Blu-ray, no matter how you get your hands on it, you are not just holding another horror Blu-ray to be simply added to your collection. Symptoms might possibly be the most important release of a genre film that will occur anytime in the next few years. The release of Symptoms by Mondo Macabro in the U.S. (U.K. and European duties handled by the BFI) is a release of a film long though to be lost and for which a Blu-ray was thought to be impossible, and now in May 2016 it exist.
Symptoms, to give a little background is one of two films Jose Ramon Larraz's films made in 1974. The other was the more exploitive, and more popular Vampyres. It was also England's entry into the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. The film certainly played out, but after that it disappeared except for the odd TV viewing. DVD and VHS releases were based upon a single TV print made sometime early in the 80's. All prints and negatives for Symptoms were thought to have been lost, and the film has been on the list of top 75 British lost films for years. A tattered print of Symptoms was thought to have played at a German film festival a few years back. Aside from that there has been no reason to think Symptoms would ever be found and restored, and the best we could hope for was a DVD from that old print. That all changed a few months ago when the BFI alongside Mondo Macabro announced a Blu-ray from a recently unearthed negative of the film.
Symptoms stars Angela Pleasence as Helen and Lorna Heilbron as Ann. Helen is a quiet aristocratic young woman who lives in rural England, and spends much of her time traveling abroad. During one of her more recent trips she meets Ann, a woman who is in an unhappy relationship, and takes her back to her home for a trip. Of course, things are not what they seem on the surface from the house to Helen herself.
Symptoms plays in the same psychological horror sandbox as Polanski's Repulsion and Altman's Images. The film is a subtle and intentionally paced affair that creates a certain creepy atmosphere around the house, and the various characters that surround the area. The film is anchored by a truly powerful performance by Angela Pleasence as Helen who offers a serene and calm exterior, but unleashes flashes of madness as the film plays out.
The direction by Larraz shows the director at the peak of his powers as he crawls through the house with his omnipresent eye making the house a character itself. So much so that the viewer can't help but suspect if the film is psychological or supernatural horror, and the house is influencing Helen's actions. The imagery Larraz presents throughout Symptoms carries a subtle melancholy quality to it, and is gorgeous in it’s simplicity.
Mondo Macabro in conjunction with the BFI presents Symptoms in a splendid 1:33:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. This transfer looks truly unreal, especially having come from badly compressed bootlegs for decades. The transfer looks quite natural, has excellent fine detail, colors and deep blacks. There is ah healthy level of film grain present throughout.
The audio is presented with an LPCM 1.0 mono track in English and works quite well with dialogue, score, and ambient noise coming through nicely. I did not detect any real issues with the track.
The standard edition Blu-ray edition which ECAV was provided to review (there is a limited edition with extra disc and liner notes) is loaded with a nice amount of extras pertaining to the director and this film. The disc kicks off with Celia Novis' documentary On Vampyres and Other Symptoms, this details the directors 2 most popular films. We also get a Eurotika! documentary about Larraz and his work. This is followed up by 3 on camera interviews one with editor Brian Smedley-Aston, and the other 2 with stars Angela Pleasence and Lorna Heilbron.
The Blu-ray of Symptoms by Mondo Macabro is quite possibly the most important release of a genre film in 2016. Mondo Macabro and the BFI have done a glorious job restoring the film to Blu-ray. The slate of extras is excellent and sure to please fans of the film even at the standard edition level. If you are a fan of Euro-horror films of the 1970's this film belongs in your collection, and you cannot pick this release up soon enough. I really need to create a status above HIGHLY RECOMMENDED because this release earns it.