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Eurohorror Extravaganza Vol. 2: August 2017
 

The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (Shameless), Beyond the Darkness (Severin), The Stendhal Syndrome (Blue Underground)

strangeViceShameless

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The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

Director- Sergio Martino

Cast- Edwige Fenech, George Hilton

Country of Origin- Italy

Distributor - Shameless Films

Writer - Scott MacDonald

Sergio Martino could be considered one of the finest directors in giallo just under the names Fulci, Argento, and Bava. Over his decades long career, and especially in the beginning Martino made a long string of gialli, which could be considered among both his most popular films, and some of the greatest overall contributions to the genre as a whole. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh which is the 2nd release by Shameless of Martino's on Blu-ray is actually his first contribution to this lurid and violent genre and his first collaboration with giallo goddess Edwige Fench.

   The film stars Fenech as the titular Mrs. Julie Wardh, a young woman who has been married to an ambassador to Austria within the last year, not so much out of love, but out of opportunity. The opportunity being the chance to evade her sadomasochistic boyfriend Jean, who not quite conveniently for Julie turns up in Austria. One night at a party Julie also meets a new friend in George, of course, this friendship blooms into something more than friendly and Julie now finds herself the target of 3 men's obsession. Into the middle of this there is a maniac murdering people violently throughout the city, and  Julie's best friend was the most recent victim.

    The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is basically one of the most perfect examples of the giallo genre. We have a black gloved killer taking out people with a razor, a psychedelic soundtrack provided by Nora Orlandi, and plenty of nude/sex scenes. The film also has loads of weird and wild twist and turns to the point you can pretty much give us guessing what's happening by the end. The performances are solid from the main cast including Rasimov, Hilton, and especially Fenech, who proves here why she went on to the queen of this particular genre.

    Shameless brings The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh to Blu-ray in a 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving the original OAR.  Everything here looks quite solid and film like with nice detail. It has nice natural grain, and stable colors and aside from softer moments and the occasional bit of damage nothing to really complain about. Audio chores are in Italian and English LPCM mono tracks, both are quite solid with dialogue and score coming through nicely. Extras include an introduction by the director, an interview with Fenech and Martino, a 2nd interview with just Martino, a fact tract with Justin Harries, and a bio of Fenech.

 

The Film (4/5)

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

Extras (2.5/5)

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Beyond the Darkness (Buio Omega)

Director- Joe D'Amato

Cast- Kieran Canter, Cinzia Monreale

Country of Origin- Italy

Distributor - Severin Films

Writer - Scott MacDonald

   

    Joe D'Amato was not known as a horror film director throughout his career in film, having preferred to work in various shades of pornography. That being said he helped many directors in the genre get their start (like Michele Soavi), while taking the occasional dive into genre waters himself. While some of D'Amato's genre efforts could be considered abysmal by any cinematic standard (Porno Holocaust and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead). There are a few that that he did that offer some interesting takes on the genre like his Anthropophagus and this month's Severin Films Blu-ray release Beyond the Darkness (Buio Omega).

    Beyond the Darkness follows the escapades of Frank Wyler, a taxidermist who inherited a fortune from somewhere. He is engaged to the sickly Anna (Cinzia Monreale, The Beyond) who is dying in a hospital bed. As it turns out her illness is part of a voodoo ritual undertaken by his longtime (since childhood) caretaker Iris (Franca Stoppi, The Other Hell), so that she could replace Anna in his life. Anna, of course dies, but being obsessed with her Frank steals her body post-burial, and like the good taxidermist that he is, goes through the process of preserving it.

    Unfortunately, he is caught by a hitchhiker, who, of course, must die. This sets off a series of bizarre and violent murders as Frank begins to seemingly try and find a replacement for his Anna, all the while refusing to let his love for her die (her preserved body remains in his bed). Iris, being obsessed with Frank, not only helps him dispose of the newly dead, but tries to remain unnaturally close to Frank allowing him to do things like nurse off of her breasts when he is feeling desperate and sad.

   Beyond the Darkness is a real love story for the ages, one that is not stopped even by death. The whole film carries an odd melancholy tone to it even in it's most violent and grotesque moments. Frank never once lets his obsession with Anna wane, even as he later agrees to reluctantly marry Iris. The film is violent and disturbing and sure to upset viewers that are unprepared for what is in the movie, and yet it never feels exploitive (maybe that’s just me), it just fits in the overall context and tone of the piece like a psychotic over the top Rebecca. The performances throughout are quite solid, and add to the overall strangeness of the film. The Goblin score is predictably fantastic, and helps add another level to the twisted atmospherics of the film.

    Beyond the Darkness is presented by Severin Film in a splendid natural looking 1:67:1 1080p transfer. The film was shot on Super 16mm so it is very grainy in spots, but everything looks natural and well detailed, what color there is, is quite stable. Audio is handled by a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track both in English and Italian both tracks are quite serviceable with dialogue and Goblin score coming through nicely. Extras include a Goblin CD soundtrack, interview with D'Amato, interview with Stoppi, interview with Monreale, a live Goblin performance of the score, the locations revisited, and a trailer.

The Film (4.5/5)

Audio/Video (4/5)

Extras (4/5)

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The Stendhal Syndrome

Director- Dario Argento

Cast- Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann

Country of Origin- Italy

Distributor - Blue Underground

Writer - Scott MacDonald

 

    It has been a long damn time since Dario Argento made a good movie. As long as I've been a fan (probably the late 90's) I do not think I have seen the maestro make one film that could be accused of living up to the quality standard of his earlier output. The general consensus has been for some time, and my rewatch seems to confirm this is that Argento's 1994 film the Stendhal Syndrome would be his last true masterpiece. It could also qualify along side his 4th film The Five Days of Milan as his most tonally different film out of his films. For while it does have elements of giallo, it is more inline with the rape/revenge films popularized throughout the 1970's, and police procedurals.

   The film stars Asia Argento as police detective Anna Manni, who is assigned to a case that takes her to Florence, Italy to track a rapist/murderer. While in an art museum she is overwhelmed by a painting and becomes unconscious. She goes back to her hotel room, where she finds herself falling again unconscious to the influence of the art (The titular Stendhal Syndrome). While unconscious the 2nd  time she falls prey to the rapist she was stalking Alfredo who takes her to a subterranean location to rape and torture her. While he is away, she frees herself, but doesn’t leave, and ends up killing him to save herself. This event leaves Anna emotional scarred, and she begins to change herself physically and mentally. She begins to see a counselor, but unfortunately, cannot escape the darkness Alfredo has left her in.

   The Stendhal Syndrome is one of Argento's most unique films, and a masterpiece of twisted, dark, revenge cinema.  It is certainly not for all audiences, and not all Argento fans, but it is quite the ride. Asia Argento offers a truly deep, haunting, and dynamic performance in Manni that is a career highlight for the actress, and the numerous twists that the film offers are sure to please fans watching for the first time. 

    Blue Underground presents the Stendhal Syndrome in a 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. So right out of the gate, I have to say there are compression issues, Blue Underground is aware, and will be replacing discs, and this review will be updated to reflect that fix later. However, the transfer in motion has very nice colors and detail present, grain is there, but kept at a minimum. Audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD and 5.1 DTS-HD tracks and also a 2.0 track all in English and Italian. Everything sounds very solid here. Extras include an informative commentary by Troy Howarth and interviews with Asia Argento, writer Franco Ferrini and also makeup artist Franco Casagni. There are also multiple other featurettes and interviews with cast, crew, and beyond as well as trailers, and galleries. There is also an excellent booklet of liner notes by former Fangoria writer Michael Gingold.

The Film (4.5/5)

Audio/Video (3/5)

Extras (5/5)