Sunday, March 19, 2017

ÆNIGMA – BLU-RAY REVIEW

Following a flurry of activity in the early-to-mid-’80s, Lucio Fulci continued to endure – at least, to some extent – even as the once-prosperous, by-then-financially-floundering Italian film industry began to implode in on itself, with ever-dwindling budgets and fewer productions being made.  Produced in conjunction with Sutjeska Film (from the former Yugoslavia) and Ettore Spagnuolo’s A.M. Trading International, ÆNIGMA was an attempt (for what it’s worth!) at recreating some of Fulci’s earlier gory glory, but unfortunately, it’s a desperately derivative effort, which, if it hadn’t been directed by Fulci, would have surely been forgotten in no time at all.  Yet, as with their current spate of Italian Film Collection Blu-rays, 88 Films presents still another impressive release – even if it is minor Fulci, without a doubt – boasting vastly-improved picture quality, along with some solid extras.

A victim of a school prank gone horribly wrong, Kathy (Mijlijana Zirojevic’) lies in a coma at the nearby hospital as she plots her telepathic revenge on the many spoiled, entitled rich kids at St. Mary’s College, an affluent all-girls school.  Through the use of Eva Gordon (Lara Naszinski), the new arrival, Kathy uses her as a sort of conduit through whom to exact her own personal vendetta, but Dr. Anderson (Jared Martin), Kathy’s doctor, begins to notice parallels between the deaths at the school and Kathy’s sudden (quote) “violent emotions”, even though she is in a constant clearly comatose state.

The story (such that it is) was penned by Fulci in collaboration with Giorgio Mariuzzo – who also scripted Fulci’s much-beloved THE BEYOND (1981) – and is, most unfortunately, a feeble, unoriginal copy of those far better films, such as Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) and Richard Franklin’s PATRICK (1978).  Of course, this particular plot derivation is fine in and of itself – for proof, check out Mario Landi’s similarly-plotted PATRICK STILL LIVES (1980), an unabashedly sleazy, gory take on the aforesaid Franklin film – but not only is ÆNIGMA decidedly ‘well past its sell-by date’, it’s also – much like the comatose Kathy herself – a lifelessly listless endeavour, which strives (however half-heartedly) to emulate Fulci’s past successes.  Taking further liberties from some of Dario Argento’s work – in particular SUSPIRIA (1977) – with its candy-coloured lighting scheme and all-girls boarding school setting, ÆNIGMA in addition borrows significantly from Argento’s admittedly silly PHENOMENA (1984), which also utilized some hoary telekinesis angles, which allowed its protagonist (played by Jennifer Connelly) to communicate with insects.


It’s now well-known that Fulci wasn’t in good health when he worked on both this and his troubled ZOMBI 3 (1988), and according to actor Jared Martin, as told to interviewer Dean Galanis in issue #19 of Steve Puchalski’s SHOCK CINEMA, he “got the feeling of a sadness about the man”; which arguably, permeates the entire production.  But despite the somewhat melancholic aura, like most of Fulci’s work from the period, he nevertheless succeeds in creating a few interesting scenes, but still, even these few-and-far-between highlights are derivative of other, better films.  In what is among the present one’s most memorable (but equally silly) set-pieces – itself an “homage” to the spider attack scene in Fulci’s aforementioned own THE BEYOND, involves a girl who is, quite literally, ‘slimed’ to death by voracious snails (!).  This sequence involving the “ghastly gastropods” is certainly a ‘unique’ one to be sure, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the ‘bite’ as was evidently intended.  However, in spite of ÆNIGMA’s utter unoriginality, the inherent premise still has limited potential to deliver some mindless fun, which it periodically does, but the film quickly runs out of ideas, even stooping so low and resorting to trashy daytime TV-style dramatics when Dr. Anderson and Eva begin an illicit affair while she is in the process of convalescing at a psychiatric clinic.  Even some of the more interesting ideas, such as the school’s creepy custodian – and Kathy’s mom – rapidly go nowhere despite their intrinsic ‘connection’, which is comically rendered (the focal point being a pair of superimposed glowing red eyes [guess whose!]).

Previously available on DVD as part of Image’s “Euroshock Collection”, this was a bare-bones affair for sure, and that edition wasn’t even 16x9 enhanced.  Like so many of Fulci’s films, due to his international fanbase, ÆNIGMA has also seen releases overseas on both DVD and Blu-ray since the VHS/Beta era, but none of them can compare to 88 Films’ superb Blu-ray; which, like Michele Massimo Tarantini’s MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985) and Joe D’Amato’s ABSURD (1981) and BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979), was also part of a highly successful Indiegogo funding campaign.  Restored in 2K from the original camera negative, Luigi Ciccarese’s efficient and colourful cinematography looks splendid here and, at the same time, the film’s new transfer successfully retains the original natural grain structure of the celluloid stock.  The LPCM 2.0 audio is also presented in both English and Italian. As an added bonus, newly-translated English subtitles are provided, which give the film a somewhat classier feel, although most viewers will undoubtedly prefer the Anglo dubbing track, featuring the voice talents of Pat Starke and Ted Rusoff, et cetera. 


The biggest extra is Aenigma: Fulci and the 80s (sic), a (quote) “feature length documentary looking at the twilight period of Lucio Fulci’s legendary career”, which features on-camera interviews with many of his collaborators of the time.  Interviews include: production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, composer Carlo Maria Cordio - who assures us of Fulci’s “musical competence” – and screenwriter / director Claudio Fragasso talks about Fulci’s (quote) “terrible experience in the Philippines” working on ZOMBI 3 and his admiration for Fulci’s DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972), which he considers his best film. Other interviews include actor Marco Di Stefano, assistant director Michele De Angelis and director Gianni Martucci who believed Fulci was a “slave to his condition” while author and writer Antonio Tentori thought of his working relationship with Fulci as a “surreal” experience.  Rounding out the doc are interviews with cinematographer Alessandro Grossi - he shot Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN (a.k.a. NIGHTMARE CONCERT, 1990) – and director Antonio Bido who recalls Fulci’s appreciation of his late-entry action flick, BLUE TORNADO (1991) with warm nostalgia.  Other extras include an original trailer, the Italian opening and closing credit sequences and a reversible sleeve featuring uncensored artwork.  All campaign supporters also received a limited slipcover highlighting the original uncensored artwork.  

Most casual viewers will quickly dismiss ÆNIGMA as marginal Fulci – which it is – but to be fair, it does contain a few ‘unforgettable’ moments interspersed amongst the tedium.  Regardless of the film itself, 88 Films delivers another terrific Blu-ray, which most Fulci connoisseurs will not hesitate to pick up.  Order ÆNIGMA from DiabolikDVD or 88 Films directly.