• Aenigma (Severin Films, Standard Edition) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: August 25th, 2020.
    Director: Lucio Fulci
    Cast: Jared Martin, Lara Lamberti, Ulli Reinthaler, Sophie d'Aulan, Jennifer Naud, Riccardo Acerbi
    Year: 1987
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    Aenigma – Movie Review:

    Lucio Fulci’s 1987 film Aenigma starts off with a scene where a young college girl named Kathy (Mijlijana Zirojevic) is putting on her red dress and her makeup to the sounds of the film’s theme song, Head Over Heels (or, if the opening credits are to be believed, Head Over Meels!). The reason? This awkward, shy nerdy girl - the daughter of the Mary, the maid at St. Mary’s College where she’s enrolled - has a hot date. It turns out that date is with Fred (Riccardo Acerbi), the college’s gym teacher. They go park, start to make out and she gets… into it. What she doesn’t know is that Fred is an asshole and that he’s put a microphone in the car, broadcasting her pillow talk to her fellow students, all listening in their own cars nearby. Kathy gets out of the car and runs, the others chasing her slowly and shining lights at her to further her humiliation – and then BAM! Another car comes out of nowhere and flattens her. These days, Kathy is basically brain dead and sits in a nearby hospital on life support.

    Enter foxy new student Eva Gordon (Lara Lamberti). The school doesn’t normally accept new students half way through the school year, but since they’ve got an opening, why not. Eva hits it off with the rest of the girls easily enough, telling her new roommate that success, to her at least, is making out with all the hot boys! When she catches Fred’s eye at gym class the next day they agree to meet up later that night under cover of the darkness, but when Eva shows up, the door is locked. She can hear noises inside but Fred won’t let her in. The next day word gets out that Fred is dead! The last person to see him alive? Mary (Dusica Zegarac), the caretaker and Kathy’s mother. As time goes on, Eva’s mental state seems to be eroding. She has memories of growing up in New Orleans, only she grew up in Boston. She gets confused easily and tends to stare off into space now and then. Enter Doctor Robert Anderson (Jared Martin), a dream neurologist who knows what she needs – hot loving! As they get entwined in a wonky relationship some more murders take place – one coed is killed by snails (!?), another by a statue that has come to life. Is Eva up to no good? Is Kathy’s body somehow controlling her and using her as an instrument of vengeance? Or is Mary the one behind all of this?

    Aenigma might not always make sense but it is at least always entertaining. Very much a product of when it was made (there are eighties era posters all over the girls’ rooms, look for Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, David Bowie, Snoopy and Yoda!), the fashions are garish and tacky but Fulci still manages to make this feel like a Fulci movie. That means we get some really strange murder set pieces, a decent amount of gore and a whole lot of dream logic. The movie borrows bits and pieces from Patrick, from Carrie and from Susperia but never feels like a direct copy of any of those films. Rather, it goes into stranger, more nonsensical territory, less interested in properly explaining things than in simply being weird for the sake of being weird.

    Performances are alright. Jared Martin (who just passed away earlier this month and who had an extensive career on American television including a long run on Dallas) is probably the best of the bunch, playing his doctor with the right mix of brains and cunning. At the same time, he’s clearly got a weak spot for college girls – tisk, tisk! Dusica Zegarac is kind of great as the maid. She has very little dialogue here, just a couple of lines, but she’s got that crazed look in her eyes, kind of looking like a low rent Susanne Sarandon if she’d just come off of a two week pills and booze bender. Mijlijana Zirojevic doesn’t get much screen time but she’s sympathetic enough in the opening scene that we feel bad for her when what happens to her happens to her. She’s got big expressive eyes, which helps in this instance. Lara Lamberti makes for a perfectly fine lead here. She’s attractive and handles the material given to her with no trouble at all, even if that material is fairly goofy.

    Notorious for that ‘death by snails’ scene (and rightly so – it’s not right for there to be snails on boobs like that) and maybe less so for the terrible theme song, Aenigma lacks the atmosphere and nightmarish qualities of the director’s best work, but it is entertaining in its own strange, goofy way.

    Aenigma – Blu-ray Review:

    Aenigma is presented on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen, touted on the packaging as being ‘scanned in 4k from the original camera negative for the first time in America.’ This looks to have been taken from the same source as the 88 Films Blu-ray release but has had some color correction applied to it, the most noticeable being a blue tint on some of the night scenes that was missing on the 88 release. Taking up 24GBs of space on the 50GB disc, the grain in the opening credits is heavy but that calms down a few minutes in to the movie. Colors here look really good, quite a bit stronger and bolder than the UK release. Blacks are nice and deep and detail is pretty strong throughout hte duration of the picture. Mild print damage pops up here and there, the odd scratch or speck, but for the most part the transfer is quite clean in that regard.

    Italian and English language audio options are provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with proper subtitles provided in English for both tracks. Audio quality is also quite good – there are no discernable problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced throughout playback. For older mono mixes the audio here sounds just fine. For what it’s worth, the English track matches the performers’ lip movements more often than not, but it’s clear that both tracks are dubbed.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions – Lucio Fulci & His Films and Mondo-Digital.com’s Nathaniel Thompson. They talk about the deliberate choice of the hokey Head Over Heels track that opens the film and some of his other credits, the film’s liberal borrowing from Carrie, how a lot of the film is made up for people being nasty to one another for no apparent reason, the film’s noticeable lack of character development and back story, Fulci’s fascination with death particularly during this later period of his career and how the quality of the lighting really varies from scene to scene in this picture. They cover the cinematography in the film, the use of stretched plastic to double for a mirror, the way that drug use is portrayed in the film, how it’s likely that Fulci’s health affected this and other films from the era, the infamous slug scene in the film, the quality of some of the performances in the film and how certain cast members got along with the director better than others. The cover the shifts in tone that are common in his films, Fulci’s willingness to ‘go there’ rather than cut away from certain scenes of strong violence, the way that Fulci portrays sex compared to violence in his films and quite a bit more. It’s a fun, conversational track with a good mix of analysis, trivia and fun banter between the two participants.

    Writing Nightmares is a fourteen-minute interview with Screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo, who speaks about getting his start in Stockhom where he made some connections with some men involved in the Italian film industry that led to him getting some work as an assistant director. He then speaks about how he got into writing, how he was really into getting his scenes re-written over and over again to get them perfect, learning as he progressed into the business, how he came to work with Fulci, some amusing memories of working with the man, how it wasn't easy for Fulci to 'get near women' as hygiene wasn't his forte, what it was like on set and the way that he tended to be quite informal on sets sometimes, how with The Beyond he created a story without a beginning or ending, some of the other people in the business that he collaborated with and the charm that Fulci was able to bring to even some of his lesser projects.

    An Italian Aenigma: Appraising Late Day Fulci is a thirty-eight-minute featurette that features input from writers/critics/academics Mikel J. Koven, Calum Waddell, John Martin, Kim Newman and Allan Bryce as well as actors Brett Halsey, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. They cover precisely when and where his health and shrinking budgets started to impact the quality of his work and the director's attempts to get as much on the screen as possible. There's also talk about how good his gialli pictures were, the director's abilities to work in pretty much any genre, what it was like working with the director during this period of his career, some of the obvious problems that you really just can't miss in his later films as well as some scenes that work really well, what it was like writing with Fulci and other related topics as they pertain to his later-era work.

    The disc also includes alternate Italian credits sequences, the film’s original theatrical trailer in both English and Italian versions, menus and chapter selection.

    The soundtrack CD and slipcover included with the limited edition have not been carried over to this standard edition.

    Aenigma – The Final Word:

    Aenigma is pretty zany stuff, sort of like Fucli taking on Patrick or even Carrie but putting his own bizarre twist on the proceedings. It’s colorful, it’s quirky and it’s just plain bizarre – never really scary, but then, never boring either. If it isn’t the film he’ll be remembered for it still has enough going for it that the director’s fan base will certainly appreciate seeing it in high definition and on a disc loaded with extras.

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