• Sect, The

    Released by: Scorpion Releasing
    Release date: February 27, 2018
    Directed by: Michele Soavi
    Cast: Kelly Curtis, Herbert Lom, Mariangela Giordano, Michel Adatte, Angelika Maria Boeck, Giovanni Lombardo Radici, Niels Gullov, Tomas Arana, Donald O’Brien, Yasmine Ussani, Daria Nicolodi, Michele Soavi
    Year: 1991
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    The Movie:

    Michele Soavi may have begun his professional career as an actor in Italian cinema, but he is best known today as the director of a number of modern horror classics within that same industry. Though he had worked behind the camera with the likes of Lucio Fulci and Aristide Massacessi (aka Joe D’Amato), it was his work and relationship with genre giant Dario Argento that propelled him into the European mainstream. After writing, producing, and directing the documentary The World of Dario Argento in 1985, Soavi made a short and then jumped at the chance to make his own feature-length film, the critically acclaimed and much-lauded Stage Fright (1987), which actually garnered a U.S. theatrical release. He followed it up with another hit, The Church, in 1989 before being offered the film that became The Sect.

    The Sect begins with a series of gruesome set pieces akin to an issue of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comic book, first with the members of a Mansonesque cult slaughtering a group of partying hippies in the California desert in 1970, followed by the murder of a young woman and the suicide of her assailant twenty years later. Around the same time, a pretty young schoolteacher, Miriam Kreisl (Kelly Curtis, perhaps best known up until this time for a breast cancer awareness commercial she had filmed with her sister, Jamie Lee Curtis, and her mother, Janet Leigh, for Lifetime), almost runs down an apparent itinerant, Mobius Kelly (Herbert Lom). Fearing for his well-being and feeling guilty, she takes him back to her home, where strange things begin to happen. He appears to have some sort of attack, which results in Miriam calling on a local doctor (Michel Hans Adatte) for assistance, but while she’s out he makes his way to a secret room below her house. There he appears to die, but not until after he has done something to the water in Miriam’s house, which becomes infected with bluish tendrils that kill her fish. Other strange incidents ensue, along with some gory murders and supernatural occurrences, with little apparent connection until the unusually grim but effective denouement.

    The film cleverly pays homage to its antecedents, both in the names of various characters (Mary Crane, Martin Romero, Miriam Kreisl, Mark, Damon, and so on) and in the way it delivers its horror bona fides. It’s a fairly lengthy film, running a few minutes shy of two hours, yet director Soavi and co-writer Argento keep the incidents coming at such a rapid pace that there’s little time for boredom. Some scenes, such as the one in which Pernath wends his way into the sinister aqueducts below Kreisl’s country home, are nail biters. Other than a surprisingly ineffective moment in which a sacrificial victim’s face is ripped off, the makeup and special effects are surprisingly efficient, and the final revelations bring together what had, up until that time, felt largely disconnected, resolving plot holes with considerable aplomb.

    While it may owe some debt to the religious horror films of the 1970s, The Sect retains its own voice and offers something fresh and original at a time when the slasher subgenre was just winding down and the Elm Street series was growing stale. Soavi’s direction is assured, much as it was with his previous offerings, and had he continued to make horror films past the ‘90s, he would likely be considered today on par with Argento, Fulci, and Bava as one of the greats of Italian fantasy cinema.


    The Sect comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Scorpion Releasing in both two-disc and single-disc editions. This review is for the single-disc edition only. Placed on a BD50 (this is a long film for the horror genre, relatively speaking) with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition, the film is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. A note in the Special Features section on the back of the box states, “Brand new 2K scan of the original negatives, with over 45 hours of color correction done in America, exclusive to this release.” It’s a bold statement, but the finished product certainly bears that claim out: The film looks terrific in hi-def, with an excess of detail in most shots (look at the wrinkles on Herbert Lom’s aging face or the delicate hairs on Kelly Curtis’s countenance). Whether the shots are internal or external (the main sitting is a country house situated in a copse), the image looks resplendent. There’s a mild grain structure to complement the filmic look, and colors are stable and realistic except in those situations where it’s intended to be heightened (note the use of the color blue, whether in the water that infects the house from infernal depths or the blue lighting that accentuates some of the hospital and nighttime sequences). There are a few shots in which a soft focus slightly dulls the detail, but these are intentional and in no way detracts from the overall presentation, one free of edge-enhancement or digital noise reduction tampering. There is no serious print damage, and dirt and debris are kept to a minimum. In all, this is a sharp transfer deserving of praise, one that should please the film’s longtime fans while winning over new ones.

    Audio is as solid as the visuals. The film’s primary track is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and there are no issues to report. Music and dialogue are perfectly mixed, with neither one overpowering the other and both bringing just the right aural resolution to create a pleasant—if such a word can be applied to a film that contains rape by monster bird—experience. There are no defects or hiss. The only drawback is that there are no English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired. For people looking for aural extras, a two-disc special edition, due out later in April, features a commentary from film historian Troy Howarth (and some additional featurettes).

    Extras for the single-disc edition include “a brand new exclusive interview with star Tomas Arana” and an “on camera interview with director Michele Soavi.” The first interview lasts for approximately half an hour, while the second lasts for approximately 20 minutes. Arana discusses how he came to be in The Sect (by way of The Church); having grown up in San Francisco, he went into the picture understanding the attraction that some people have to cults, something fairly common in the West. He correctly elucidates that the power of a cult to captivate is the power of the leader of the cult, an idea he took into his portrayal. He also discusses the ability of the filmmakers and why it resulted in a film that was enchanting and provocative; his physical reaction to having to smoke for one scene; his relationship with the director and how it benefited the final product; advice he gives to other actors on set to save time and money; his excitement at working with Herbert Lom, and so much more.

    The interview with Soavi is in Italian with English subtitles. The director begins by discussing how he became aware of Argento at the age of 12 when The Bird with the Crystal Plumage played in a local theater and describes how the house he lived in as a child was built on an antique Roman villa with a deep shaft, an idea prominent in The Sect. He also explains how he was finally able to meet his idol, Argento, though it didn’t initially work out the way he had hoped. Eventually, Soavi went to work as the famous director’s assistant, which led to the younger man directing a couple of films with Argento as producer. Soavi then moves on to The Sect, which originally began life as an intended adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem. Things didn’t quite pan out the way, but we won’t spoil the entire interview for you.

    Rounding out the list of extras are a collection of Soavi and Argento trailers (with one exception) that include: The Sect (La Setta, 1.35), The Church (2:05), Sleepless (1:11), Terror at the Opera (Opera, 1:48), Etoile (2:16), and The Card Player (1:59).

    The Final Word:

    The Sect is a fascinating work of horror art from a period when Italian genre films were on the wane. Beautifully filmed and (mostly) well-acted, it operates as a sort of return to the profligate religious horrors of the 1970s, to which it pays homage in its opening and ending scenes. Newbies are welcome to give its occult terrors a try if they so dare, while longtime fans should rest assured that the film has never looked better and likely won’t for a long time to come.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

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