• Spider



    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: September 12th, 2017.
    Director: Vasili Mass
    Cast: Romualds Ancans, Aurelia Anuzhite, Saulius Balandis, Liubomiras Lauciavicius
    Year: 1991
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    The Movie:

    A priest (Algirdas Paulavicius) overseeing the opening of a homeless shelter hires a controversial artist named Albert (Liubomiras Laucevicius) to paint a mural featuring the Virgin Mary to decorate the building. Hired to pose for the painting is a beautiful young woman named Vita (Aurelija Anuzhite), not yet deflowered by a man. As she visits Albert in his studio, she soon finds that he and his art scene friends are more than a little bit unorthodox.

    It almost seems like Vita has a mild case of Stendhal Syndrome, in that when she views religiously themed artwork that deals with stronger themes she becomes easily enthralled, almost obsessed with the paintings. As she spends more and more time in Albert’s studio she starts to see some of his paintings come to life, so to speak. When Albert tries to rape her, she manages to flee and escape but shortly after she starts dreaming of him taking her, not as a human, but as a spider (which leads to the film’s infamous ‘spider has sex with beautiful girl set piece!). Imagine her surprise when she wakes up with what look like spider bites on her body the next morning…

    Vita's mother (Mirdza Martinsone), remains blissfully unaware of her daughter’s modelling job, starts to worry about Vita’s recent spate of unusual behavior and so she asks the priest to keep an eye on things for her. When he realizes how Albert has been behaving he cancels the job in hopes that the painter will leave Vita alone, but of course, that’s not what Albert wants nor is it what he intends to do. The doctor who examined Vita after the bites showed up recommends that she get a change of scenery, and so she heads off to spend some time with her aunt, uncle and cousin Juris (Saulius Balandis) at their sprawling island home – but whatever it is that is haunting Vita seems to be following her and her strange dreams only seem to be getting more intense…

    A truly bizarre blend of Freudian themes and dark fantasy stylings, Spider is unlike anything else this writer can think of. At times it feels like Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome by way of Jaromil Jires’ Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (it has a similar dark fairy tale vibe and was shot in nearby Czechoslovakia) with maybe a dash of Jan Svanmeijer (his take on Alice, specifically) thrown in for good measure and maybe a little bit of Cronenberg tossed in just for kicks. That said, Vasili Mass’ film never feels like its borrowing even if some of the themes are ones we’ve seen explore. Vita is clearly dealing with her own budding sexuality, a sexuality that is quite obviously repressed, but the film can’t be bothered with sexual mechanics or psychologically oriented soliloquies – Mass seems far too obsessed with visuals, tone and atmosphere to bother.

    Don’t let that sound like it’s a slight against the film – it’s not meant to be. Spider is pretty engrossing stuff. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, employing plenty of interesting in-camera tricks to create a soft, dream-like atmosphere that’s pretty much spot on for the vibe given off by the story. If the rubber suit effects conjured up for the spider itself aren’t the most convincing, it doesn’t matter, in fact, it actually works quite well given that this is happening in Vita’s subconscious (or is it?). The locations that were used for the shoot (handled by a Latvian director and his crew just across the border in Russia) couldn’t be more appropriate and the score used in the picture just feels ‘right’ for all of this.

    As to the performances, Liubomiras Laucevicius is excellent as the predatory painter. We know early on he’s the libidinous type, a bit of bacchanalian rogue with a taste for young flesh. It’s questionable why the priest would hire someone like this for the job in the first place, but once you see his art, you can at least understand that the talent is there. He plays the part really well, giving off a fairly creepy vibe but careful not overdo it. Likewise, Aurelija Anuzhite is great here too. Not only is she a truly beautiful looking woman in the classical and true sense of the word, but she’s a good actress as well. She plays Vita as a little naïve, yet understandably curious as to why she’s experiencing these feelings. Her experiences frighten her, but so too do they capture her imagination and her curiosity.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Mondo Macabro gives Spider its Blu-ray debut on a 25GB disc framed at 1.33.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Taken from a 4k scan of the 35mm negative, the picture quality here is really solid, though it’s worth pointing out how soft and filtered the image is supposed to look when discussing it. Intentional exposure tweaks and various filters do result in a softer looking picture than you might expect from your typical film sourced Blu-ray release, but it’s all in keeping with the picture’s bizarre, dream-like aesthetic. The picture itself is quite clean and there isn’t much in the way of print damage at all. Likewise, there are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction.

    The Latvian LPCM 2.0 Stereo track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is fine. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, levels are properly balanced and there’s decent range evident throughout playback.

    The main extra on the disc is a thirty-two minute long interview with director Vasili Mass. Here he speaks about getting his start in the local film industry as a production designer before then making the shift over to the director’s chair. He also offers up some insight into what it was like working on the film scene in Latvia and Russia during these years, socio-political changes that led to more interesting moviemaking happening behind the ‘iron curtain’ and then of course how he came to make this particular film. He also discusses some of the tricks involved in getting certain content past the mandatory state censorship boards before then talking about how Spider was received once it was released.

    Also included on the disc is a three minute set report taken from a Latvian TV broadcast that shows off some behind the scenes footage, and the mandatory Mondo Macabro promo reel. Menus and chapter selection are also included.

    The Final Word:

    Spider isn’t heavy on plot but it’s no less captivating for it. A beautifully shot and genuinely odd film made with a strong cast and ripe with stirring visuals, it’s more of an art picture than a genre film, though there’s enough sex and horror on display throughout to cater to both crowds. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray is of excellent quality, offering up the film in great shape and featuring an illuminating interview with the movie’s director as its principal extra feature.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






























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