Released by: Severin Films
Released on: April 11th, 2017.
Director: Mariano Baino
Cast: Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Mariya Kapnist
Year: 1994 Purchase From Amazon
While Mariano Baino's 1994 effort Dark Waters hasn't been impossible to find (it was available via New Yorker Video some years ago and then given a really nice special edition DVD release through No Shame after that back in 2206) it's one of those horror movies that hasn't quite found the audience that it really deserves. This is a shame as Dark Waters is a smart, creepy, and wonderfully made movie that will likely appeal to fans of vintage Italian horror films or Hammer horror. Severin Films now bring Baino’s only feature to date to Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world.
A prologue shows us that years ago a priest and the church he was in care of were destroyed after a massive influx of water came rushing in. When this happened, an amulet that held great occult powers was destroyed. Fast-forward a few decades later and a young woman named Elizabeth (Louise Salter) has recently lost her father. Before he passed on he wanted her to promise that she'd never return to the island where her mother gave birth to her. Of course, Elizabeth is too curious to resist and she wants to know why, for his entire life, he had been sending money to a convent of nuns that live on the island.
Elizabeth takes a boat ride to the island during a rough storm but makes it there in one piece. Upon her arrival she is hoping that a friend of hers who was staying in the convent will be there to greet her. Unfortunately, her friend is nowhere to be seen though she heads to the convent anywhere where the sisters take her in and let her stay. She soon meets a young nun named Sarah (Venera Simmons) who and comes to trust her. She also meets the decrepit old Mother Superior (Mariya Kapnist), a strange woman who speaks through another nun who acts as a translator. Elizabeth and Sarah start snooping around the convent a bit and they discover a strange series of grisly catacombs and macabre paintings underneath the building. It doesn't take the two of them long to realize that these nuns are not at all what they seem to be and they are in fact far more sinister than she ever could have expected.
A very strange film with a rather wandering narrative, Dark Waters is never-the-less a very well made exercise in atmosphere and suspense. The story moves a little slowly at first but once it's all set up the last third of the movie really picks up nicely. It’s in this last stretch that Baino pulls out all the stops and delivers some fantastic scares and memorable images. The art direction for the film is flawless and the cinematography and camerawork do an amazing job of capturing the remote beauty and dark locations of the Ukraine where the movie was shot. At times the film is quite reminiscent of Stuart Gordon's Dagon and there's very definitely a Lovecraftian vibe throughout this whole film, but it still manages to do things quite differently and stand out on its own as a very original piece of work.
In terms of the performers, the movie is in good shape. Louise Salter is quite capable as the female lead. We like her, and as such, we care about what happens to her as her situation becomes more dangerous. Venera Simmons is also very good as Elizabeth’s only friend but the real star of the show is the Russian born Mariya Kapnist as the Mother Superior. Her facial expressions are completely unearthly and she does a great job of bringing her truly evil character to life. Without spoiling the film, there's a scene towards the end of the movie where the camera movements and the icy blue lighting really bring her to the forefront in a very memorable shot that will stick in your brain for some time.
If the movie has one flaw it's that parts of it are a little obscure. While it's usually a good for a movie to make you think and work a little bit to 'get it' there are some scenes in here that might leave some viewers scratching their heads. Watching the film a second time will help clear things up a lot and once you get to this point you’ll realize that the storyline really is tied up quite nicely but it isn't obvious initially. As such, Dark Waters is a picture that rewards repeat viewings – there are a lot of details and nuances that you might not notice the first time around. Those looking for fast, cheap jump scares will probably disappointed but anyone into the 'slow burn' style of gothic horror would do well to invest the time and efforts that Dark Waters deserves as it's an investment that pays off very nicely indeed.
Severin Films brings Dark Water to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a transfer "transferred in HD from the original 35mm negative." This is a tricky movie to evaluate in terms of video quality because it was made on a modest budget in a lot of locations that don’t have the best lighting. There are also some compression artifacts and even minor macroblocking for a few seconds noticeable early in the film (though thankfully this is not a constant) along with some noise. Most of the film takes place in dimly lit interiors with highly stylized lighting and while this does a great job of setting the mood, it sometimes seems to sap away some of the fine detail. Having said that, the picture here offers a nice upgrade over the No Shame DVD, which in hindsight has some pretty serious edge enhancement that the Severin Blu-ray does not. Black levels are pretty solid here and primary colors pop more than on the standard definition presentation. If this isn’t reference quality texture, detail and depth are noticeably improved over what we’ve had before.
The only audio option on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track in English. And like the video, it's quite good. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and overall things are nice and clean sounding here with some great use of stereo effects towards the end of the film. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with the dialogue getting buried in the score or the sound effects. The background music is punchy enough but not overbearing and it fits the movie nicely. Optional subtitles are available in English only. It would have been nice to get a lossless option here, as sound design plays a pretty big role in the film’s effectiveness, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen here
Extras are a mix of old and new, starting with audio commentary by writer/director Mariano Baino which is moderated by No Shame Films producer Michele De Angelis and ported over from their aforementioned DVD release (though oddly enough this is in LPCM format for some reason). Baino has got a lot to say about this film and he's obviously very passionate about this project and about filmmaking in general. He gives us plenty of information on the location shooting and why specific places were chosen in addition to casting information and the like. He covers some of the effects set pieces and discusses pre-production planning in a fair bit of detail. Whenever he slows down De Angelis is there to prod him with another question and to keep him talking and the result is a well-paced discussion that covers quite a bit of ground.
Deep Into Dark Waters is an excellent and very comprehensive featurette on the making of Dark Waters that includes interviews with Baino in addition to actress Louise Salter, cameraman Steve Brooke Smith, co-editor Rick Littler and producer Nigel Dali. At just shy of an hour in length, this documentary covers a lot of ground and it's great to hear from the participants about their experiences on set. Additionally, there is a wealth of behind the scenes photographs used throughout this piece, taken from Baino's own collection, that really do a good job of giving us a feel for the conditions under which the movie was made.
Up next are a handful of deleted scenes that didn't make it into the final, finished version of the movie for various reasons. While it's interesting to see this stuff, having it put back into the film wouldn't have really added much and it probably would have slowed the pace down a fair bit. Regardless, there are some extra bits and pieces of characterization and a few expository scenes that are interesting enough to make this worth checking out.
Severin has also carried over a selection of Baino’s short films. The first of these is a sixteen-minute shot on video short film entitled Dream Car which was Mariano Baino's first professional short film project. Dream Car is presented in a decent English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix. This movie was made for Italian television and in a nutshell it's the story of a young man who wants nothing more than a fancy car to call his own. The more he wants it, the more he begins to obsess over it and as his obsession grows stronger and stronger his world starts to spiral out of control and his life takes a very drastic turn.
Caruncula is up next, it's a twenty-minute 16mm production taken from the original materials. Caruncula is presented in a crisp English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix. This is a strange and fairly disturbing movie that deals with a woman and her innate desire to eat human flesh. While the story is quite basic, what makes this one stand out is the cinematography and that atmosphere and the use of color. It's a very lush looking film with plenty of eerie mood to compliment the strange happenings that occur as the story plays out.
The third film is Bain's latest project, Never, Ever After, a thirteen-minute production taken from the original Digital Betacam master. Never, Ever After is presented in a surprisingly strong English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Also made for Italian television, this sort of picks up where Baino left off with Dark Waters in terms of technique and composition. It's a fairy tale of sorts about a woman who cannot be happy with the way she looks no matter how hard she tries. When she learns of a new procedure that will help her change her appearance to the way she wants it to be, she jumps at the chance but of course things don't go quite as she planned or as she'd hoped.
In addition to the films, we also get a featurette entitled The Making Never Ever After which is a twenty-minute look behind the scenes footage of the production. Included in here are interviews with Baino, his cinematographer and his lead actress as well as some on set footage shot during production. Also look for some stills and storyboard artwork scattered throughout here, making this a pretty interesting look at how this short film was put together.
All three of the short films on this disc include optional audio commentary tracks by Baino, once again moderated by No Shame Films producer Michele De Angelis. As with the discussion over the feature, these commentary tracks are quite interesting as Baino tells us where the ideas came from and why each short film was made. He covers casting and working on a low budget and tells us about location shooting and what he was trying to accomplish with each short.
Rounding out the extra on this disc that are carried over from the No Shame disc is a still gallery of production photos and conceptual artwork, a brief silent blooper reel with audio commentary from Baino, a video for Cecily Faye's The Face And The Body that Baino directed and an introduction to the film from Baino who talks in the dark lit only by a candle! Animated menus and chapter stops for the feature are also included.
There are, however, three new featurettes with Baino included on this Blu-ray. The first of these is the ten minutes Lovecraft Made Me Do It segment in which he enthusiastically talks about how his love of comics and pulp fiction as a kid lead to getting into sci-fi and then into Lovecraft’s work. He then discusses the influence of various horror comics and movie magazines on his work and how this shaped him as a filmmaker. Let There Be Water is up next, a seven minute segment where Baino talks about the opening scene where the church floods. Here he shows off some interesting footage from the shoot where he used multiple cameras to capture the event as he could really only do a single take here. It’s interesting stuff. The third and final new featurette is the five minute Controlling The Uncontrollable which finds the director talking about different art installations and exhibitions that he’s been involved with over the years and how he tries to use books and illustrations to keep reign on his ideas.
The Final Word:
Severin’s Blu-ray release of Dark Waters offers a noticeable improvement in video quality over the past DVD releases and carries over pretty much all of the extras from the No Shame special edition and throws in a few new ones too. The movie itself remains an engrossing watch – an atmospheric blend of gothic horror and nunsploitation elements shot with loads of style and a keen eye for striking imagery.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!