Two years before his international, Oscar-winning sensation INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), director Elio Petri directed this very offbeat horror effort, a strange amalgam of experimental film, arthouse aesthetics and wacked-out gothic chiller, which could only have been made at the tail-end of the ’60s (i.e., at the height of the so-called “Psychedelic Era”). In their continuing forays into the MGM vaults, Scream Factory have now decided to revisit this riveting film on Blu-ray, in an edition which also includes some illuminating extras.
Franco Nero stars as Leonardo Ferri, a talented avant-garde painter who is, quite clearly, going through a mental breakdown and is suffering from a number of nightmares, usually revolving around his lover and manager, Flavia (played by Vanessa Redgrave, his long-time real-life main squeeze). On her half-hearted and rather deceitful recommendation, Leonardo leaves the hustle’n’bustle of big city life to set up shop out in the idyllic countryside at a rundown villa, a place which he finds himself inexorably drawn too. However, instead of focusing on his work here, he instead obsesses over the villa’s previous owner—as well as a potentially spectral apparition on the premises—as his dreams and reality collide and coalesce into a living nightmare…
The opening credits set the quirky, unconventional tone by immediately drawing the viewer into the film’s skewed version of reality. Jump-cuts, scratches on the emulsion, erotic artwork and random bits of film leader unspool against one of Ennio Morricone’s more outlandish film scores; as Troy Howarth points out in his excellent commentary, anyone expecting a conventional horror film will surely be disappointed. Petri’s film is filled with enigmas, which may—and probably will—confound many viewers who are searching for a more standardly linear and coherent narrative. Particularly perplexing is the first act, in which Nero’s character lapses into and out of his various dream states, hallucinations and other inexplicable situations (“I don’t know what’s happened to me! I’ve got to get away!”). There’s an interesting dynamic going on between Nero and Redgrave as well, with Nero as the tortured, mentally-unstable artist and Redgrave as the somewhat unscrupulous capitalist who doesn’t seem all that concerned with her client’s / lover’s increasingly unhinged condition, just so long as he keeps on painting. Although usually regarded as a ‘horror’ film—there is a spooky séance which amps-up the horror aspect considerably—Petri’s unique take on the material (based on British author George Oliver Onions’ 1911 novel The Beckoning Fair One) is quite unusual, almost experimental in nature and quite chaotic at times, qualities which definitely augment the potency of Nero’s unbalanced character.
A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (1968) first appeared on DVD in 2007 through the Italian label Eagle Pictures, but as expected, the disc only had an Italian language option. In 2011, MGM (through their “Made-On-Demand” program) released it as a DVD-R, containing a very handsome 16x9 transfer which retained the film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Said disc also featured the English-dubbed version (whereon both Nero and Redgrave each provided their own post-synched voices), as well as an Italian-language version with English subtitles too. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is a welcome upgrade from MGM’s now-obsolescent DVD-R edition, and the jump to HD is a noticeable improvement. In spite of some speckles and instances of dirt here and there, it’s difficult to gauge the immediate improvement during the film’s distinctive opening credits, but it’s definitely sharper, with punchier colours. The DTS-HD MA mono audio also sounds clear and free of distortion, and it only enhances Morricone’s highly unconventional if wholly appropriate score.
Extras include the aforementioned feature-length audio commentary courtesy of author and film historian Troy Howarth, who discusses all sorts of details about the cast and personnel, as well as aspects of the film itself. He talks about Onions’ novel (“a classic of its kind”) and how director Mario Bava also expressed interest in adapting it for the screen, but as Howarth points out, Bava thought that Petri’s film (quote) “was quite beautiful” even though it bears little to Onions’ original story. He goes on to discuss the characters’ various motivations, including Nero’s (quote) “mental anguish” and Redgrave’s (quote) “real and selfless” character motivations. It’s another excellent fact-filled commentary, and an essential listen to help unravel the film’s rather labyrinthine structure. In Journey into Madness (32m07s), an on-camera interview produced by Freak-O-Rama and directed by Federico Caddeo, Franco Nero discusses his early years in the business and how he was persuaded to star in Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO (1966) at the insistence of Petri; plus how shooting with Petri was (quote) “a great experience” and how each of his films differ distinctly from one another. He also speaks warmly about his long off-and-on relationship with Redgrave; relates some funny anecdotes about painter Jim Dine, who was hired as a consultant to help Nero learn how to paint; and Sergio Corbucci’s THE MERCENARY (1968), which was originally slated for direction by Gillo Pontecorvo and was due to star James Coburn in a role which ultimately went to Tony Musante. The interview concludes with Nero’s expressing his reverence for Petri, including saying that “his movies will stay [i.e., be around] forever”.
Even if A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY may be a disorienting and baffling viewing experience for some, it’s great to see most of Elio Petri’s eccentric filmography finally making its way to U.S. shores with the respect his films so thoroughly deserve, of which Scream Factory’s newest Blu-ray is no exception. Order it from DiabolikDVD or Amazon.