Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.
Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.
This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.
Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.
As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered. In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.
Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet
When it comes to my favourite Dario Argento films, in my cinematic eye, two stand out as supreme masterpieces: Suspiria, a bewitching blend of the surreal and the fantastique, and Deep Red, which must be THE quintessential giallo. But what makes the thriller so gripping to revisit time and time again – aside from the fact that it keeps getting re-released?
Murder, mayhem and black-gloved killers were central to Argento’s early gialli, and it was with Bird, Cat and Flies, (aka the Animal Trilogy) that he brought stark terror to the genre and introduced the killer’s PoV stylistic device (which Carpenter copied in Halloween). But in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso), he did so much more. He fused his thriller with an arthouse kink and a surreal theatricality, with the highlight being an inspired homage to film noir in the recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner in a neon-lit Rome street where the first murder takes place (actually Turin’s Piazza CLN).
David Hemmings (who got the part because of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is Marcus Daly, an English jazz pianist based in Rome who witnesses the brutal slaying of a visiting European psychic. After he becomes front-page news thanks to Daria Nicolodi’s over-eager reporter Gianna, Daly starts his own investigation. But when incriminating evidence is left at the scene of another murder, Daly realises the killer is hot on his trail. It’s then a race against time to solve the mystery, which has links to a children’s lullaby and a deserted old mansion, before the killer strikes again…
Deep Red also saw Argento embracing elements horror and the supernatural for the first time, with the film’s most evocative scenes taking place inside a crumbling grand art nouveau mansion (actually the 1902 Villa Scott in Turin), set to the pulsating beats of Goblin’s landmark prog rock soundtrack, which became the benchmark for many of Argento’s subsequent film scores. Topping it all were the imaginatively staged murder set pieces, involving stabbing, scalding and being and bashed to a pulp, all domestic terrors that set the nerves on edge and made your skin crawl.
Now, while Argento certainly must be praised for the film’s visual style (and style is certainly the substance of Deep Red, which was the whole point), it’s the film’s script that brings it all together. And that’s down to Bernardino Zapponi, who was hired on the back of his work on Federico Fellini’s phantasmal Toby Dammit segment in Spirits of the Dead. One can only wonder what kind of film Deep Red would have been without Zapponi’s involvement as he is key to Argento’s ‘truly terrifying magnum opus’ (to borrow a quote from Argento expert Alan Jones).
THE ARROW 4K RELEASE
It was only back in 2011 that Arrow brought out a bloody gorgeous 2k restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, which blew my mind with its sharp picture and excellent sound. Now comes the 4k restoration, which totally trumps that release, ironing out much of the grain that I never knew was apparent in the earlier version until I did a comparison.
The 2011 release came with two uncut versions of the film; interviews with Argento, Nicolodi and Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti; and a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock. These have all been replicated here, but with brand-new transfers of the directors cut and the export version. Another bonus is the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack featuring all 28 tracks that originally appeared on the 1996 Cinevox CD. Newly commissioned artwork has also been for the packaging, this time from Belgium artist Gilles Vranckx.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT AUDIO
There’s a choice of Italian with English subtitles or a hybrid English/Italian audio track on the director’s cut, but my preference is for the hybrid version, as you get to hear David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in English. But the reinserted scenes that were originally left out of the export cut only have Italian audio. While this might make for a disconcerting experience, you do get more battle of the sexes interplay between Marcus and Gianna.
This must be one of Arrow’s fastest-selling releases ever, as it’s already sold out on their website and is currently changing hands for up to £90 online. So, if you are lucky to bag yourself a copy, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and let the screaming begin.
George A Romero is legendary because of his popular Living Dead horror cycle, but his 1977-released arthouse shocker Martin remains one of my favourites among the director’s films. Too disturbing, bleak and personal to have been a hit at the time of its release, it is now considered a modern horror classic.
John Amplas made his film debut as Martin, a confused teenager who thinks he is an 84-year-old vampire. His grand-uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) – who believes a family curse is responsible for Martin being the reincarnation of the Transylvanian vampire, Nosferatu – only reinforces this. Cuda takes the lad in, but warns Martin that if he tries to harm anyone, he will be destroyed. But Cuda’s old world attempts to rid Martin of his malediction with crosses, garlic and a trip to church merely irritates the boy – who is, in fact, a strictly modern sexual psycho who uses razor blades to drain the blood from his female victims…
The 2010 DVD release from Arrow Video is a dream come true to fans like me as it also includes the Italian-version of the film, Wampyr, a totally-different edit which excels because of the heart-pounding soundtrack by Goblin – the wizards behind many of director Dario Argento’s horror film scores. The English-language version begins with a ferocious account of Martin’s bloodlust in a railway compartment, but this happens mid-way in the Italian version, where the Goblin score makes this scene a standout. Also memorable is a scene set in a swish modernist house where Martin plays cat and mouse with his victims. Martin is certainly tough and ready around the edges, but Romero’s inventive hand-held camerawork, naturalistic lighting and creative editing gives the film a gritty, experimental look, which is quite an achievement considering its low budget.
A true original, Martin was amongt the first features to present the vampire as a supernatural being trying to exist among humans in the modern world (with all the human problems that comes with it like finding love, a job and acceptance). If you think about it, today’s teen-friendly supernatural TV shows just wouldn’t exist without the likes of Martin. It was also one of the first to equate the vampire’s blood thirst with addiction. Something that maverick director Bill Gunn explored in his 1973 indie African-American horror Ganja & Hess, which gets a UK dual format release this month from Eureka! Entertainment.
The special features included in the Arrow UK DVD release also include the documentary Making Martin: A Recounting, TV and radio spots, theatrical trailer, photo gallery, four sleeve art options, double-sided poster, collector’s booklet, and six original poster art postcards. What more could a fan ask for?
Martin is released by Arrow Video in the UK (click here for more info on Amazon)
Tenebrae (1982) | Dario Argento’s visceral visual feast gets a shiny new remastered release from Arrow
After his shockfest masterpieces Suspiria and Inferno in 1977 and 1980, Dario Argento returned to his beloved giallo genre for 1982’s Tenebrae, a disturbing psychosexual murder mystery about the horrors of unexplained violence.
On a book signing tour in Rome, famed crime novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) learns a razor-wielding psychopath is turning the fictional homicides in his latest chiller into sadistic, blood-drenched reality. But while helping the police, Neal and his closest associates soon find themselves next for the maniac’s slashing blade…
Argento is in top form here, giving fans all those trademark stylistic touches that he is famous for: the black-gloved assassin (using his own arm à la Hitchcock); the outsider trapped in a foreign city; flashback clues; inspired set-pieces – all combined with Luciano Tovoli’s dazzling, purposely clinical, cinematography, and an electrifying score from three members of Goblin.
But it’s Argento’s fast and furious murder sequences that fans crave and Tenebrae has one of the best; a four-minute sequence in which the killer scales the walls of a gorgeous modernist house to hunt down his prey to the pounding strains of Simonetti’s rock music (which the victims are actually listening too). It is the film’s most memorable sequence and one which forces the viewer to become the ultimate voyeur – just as Hitchcock did in the opening scene of Psycho. Argento also adds a touch of surrealism to the mix with some Suddenly Last Summer inspired flashbacks involving transgender actress Eva Robins, who plays the murderer’s first victim.
THE ARROW LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK
For their UK SteelBook edition, Arrow Video presents a brand new edition of Tenebrae, remastered from original print materials by Wild Side Films in France, which improves on the 2011 slipox Blu-ray release (which was a tad grainy in parts). The extras are the same that appeared on that earlier release, although Daria Nicolodi’s introduction and ending has been omitted, with the highlight being Goblin (who return to the UK early in 2014) performing two tracks at a 2011 gig in Glasgow. New, however, is an informative analysis of the film from Maitland McDonagh (which contains spoilers, so be warned).
- Limited Edition SteelBook packaging featuring original artwork
- Remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film NEW
- Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
- Optional original English & Italian Mono Audio tracks (uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and separate English subtitles for English audio
- Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by Daria Nicolodi
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with director Dario Argento
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae
- A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae
- Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena live from the Glasgow Arches
- Interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento NEW
- Original Trailer
- Collector’s booklet featuring writings by Alan Jones (Profondo Argento), cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and director Peter Strickland.