There are two films, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE and DARK WATERS< both released in 1994, which sum up and bring to a close the great period of Italian fanta-horror which began in 1957 with Riccardo Freda's I VAMPIRI, which was co-directed and shot by the great Mario Bava, the man who made the iconic film of the Golden Age of Italian horror, MASK OF SATAN/BLACK SUNDAY (1960). I've always maintained the so-called Golden Era did not end in the mid 1960s, with Mario Bava's OPERAZIONE PAURA [KILL, BABY, KILL], but received an often under-examined reprieve that lasted for a good quarter century.
There's a lot of MASK OF SATAN's Gothic atmosphere and visual elan in both DARK WATERS and Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) Michele Soavi's elegant and wistful zombie film . But both also illustrate the evolution of Italian horror over the economic and cultural vicissitudes of four tumultuous decades. Set on a remote Crimean island, DARK WATERS follows its young female protagonist (Louise Salter) as she embarks on an investigative journey from modern London to the centuries old terrors of the lost-in-time islanders, which include several terrified beyond words locals and a Convent of sinister nuns who have gone beyond sinning into.... let's just say The Beyond, the title of a Lucio Fulci film which is often visually and thematically referenced by Baino.
The island is a smoky, Hellish world occupied by seemingly crazy, obsessed creatures who have given up their humanity long ago. The dark side of Russian Orthodox. The nuns range in age from young novices to the ancient, blind Mother Superior. And there's a black clad nun killer loose on the island, but this is Not a Giallo. This is a stark, candle lit, primeval world in which all the natural elements, water, fire, sunlight, become threats to survival of anyone caught in this end-of-the-world environment. The fact that the main character is a nervous Englishwoman rather than a male investigator links this to the worlds of Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA, INFERNO) and Lucio Fulci (THE BEYOND, DEMONIA) in which the investigating females have the nerve to go to dangerous places the alpha males around them don't believe in. One of the novices here befriends our heroine by becoming her "Sherlock Holmes" the ultimate symbol of Victorian England male rationalism. The horror discovered behind the sculpted medieval icons of saints and demons, beyond the crumbling, blood stained walls of this dangerous underworld, is the horror of lost childhood where half forgotten memories of hideous monsters carry the day. The Lovecraftian creature here is only a briefly glimpsed orange blob (with a memorable claw) which lives behind another ancient barrier.
The images I'll take out of this are the processions of believers carrying crucifix shaped torches along the grim beaches brimming with dead fish as ice cold waves crash ashore and the labyrinthe, candlelit nooks and crannies of the catacombs. Everything and everyone in this film seems in perpetual danger of being burned alive on the demand of the monstrous entity. I would say that in terms of pure audio/visual atmosphere and thematic quality this is equal to the best of the aforementioned Freda, Bava as well as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Just watch this back to back with the somewhat similar DEMONIA and consider which one is the more accomplished film. The final image also shot me back to the underappreciated brownstone horror of Micheal Winner's THE SENTINEL, itself an obvious influence on Fulci early 1980s Gothics (cf CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD).
Driven by an anxiety inducing score by Igor Clark, illuminated by eye piercing, sometimes consciousness shredding imagery, DARK WATERS takes its place as a culmination of the best of the Golden Age of Italian Horror, the legacy of which is alive and well in this film.
The Severin Blu-ray contains a glittering 1080p Full HD transfer from the original 35mm negative. This is not the first disc presentation, NoShame produced a two disc edition in 2006, but it may be the definitive one in terms of audio-visual quality. This transfer allows a complete immersion into the film's toxic atmosphere.
The disc is fully loaded with special features including an audio commentary by Mariano Baino, three new featurettes on the film's conception, making and alternate scenes. Best of all is DEEP INTO THE DARK WATERS, a 50m short feature presented by Baino in which he, Louise Salter, the DP and other technicians talk at fascinating length on the extremely difficult shoot on forbidding locations in the Ukraine and Russian.
Also included are a Director's Intro, Deleted scenes, a silent blooper reel with audio commentary by Baino and 5 of the director's short films.
English Mono only with removable English subtitles.
An important addition to the library of Italian Gothic Horror Cinema of the 20th Century is now available on this excellent Blu-ray presentation.