Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE NIGHT OF THE SCORPION BLU-RAY REVIEW

Following hot on the heels of their first, and very praiseworthy Blu-ray of Jess Franco’s Forgotten Films Vol.1, those fine individuals at Dorado Films decided to grace EuroCult fans with yet another rarely seen obscurity on Blu, Alfonso Balcázar’s Spanish/Italian giallo, THE NIGHT OF THE SCORPION (1972).  Released in Spain under the equally illogical title of LA CASA DE LAS MUERTAS VIVIENTES (trans. “The House of the Living Dead”), Dorado’s new 4K transfer, which was taken from the original 35mm film print, definitely adds considerable vigour to an already compelling, Gothic-styled giallo.

As the film opens at a funeral for his wife Helen (Gioia Desideri) on a grey, overcast day, Oliver Bromfield (José Antonio Amor) is plagued by disturbing images concerning her death.  Also attending are Oliver’s youngish mother-in-law Sara (Nuria Torray), who also has a rather ‘unnatural’ attraction to him and his sister Jenny (Teresa Gimpera).  In the wake of this tragic event, Oliver decides to leave his familial estate, and during his time away, he meets Ruth (Daniela Giordano) – their courtship effectively and efficiently portrayed over the opening credits – and eventually marries her, after which he returns to his family home; a large, foreboding castle situated high atop a mountain, where Sara and Jenny still reside.  As expected, Ruth is met with hostility upon her arrival, which eventually prompts her to begin her very own investigation, but which also sets in motion a black-gloved killer…


At the time, Italy reigned supreme with this particular brand of cinema, but Spain also produced its fair share of similar films – many of which were co-productions with Italy – such as Juan Bosch’s THE KILLER WORE GLOVES (1974) and THE KILLER WITH A THOUSAND EYES (a.k.a. ON THE EDGE, 1974) and Javier Aguirre’s lone Spanish production, EL ASESINO ESTÁ ENTRE LOS TRECE (1973).  Much like Bosch’s efforts, THE NIGHT OF THE SCORPION was also a Spanish/Italian production, this time between Balcázar’s own Producciones Balcázar S.A. and International Apollo Films, who scored a sizable hit with Lucio Fulci’s A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971) a year earlier. 


Simplistic in its execution, with a passing resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA (1940), a similarity which author Troy Howarth also points out in his insightful and detailed commentary, Balcázar’s film utilizes the Baroque-styled castle to excellent effect with its isolated locale and spacious, empty rooms, wherein any number of secrets might be hiding or kept hidden.  In spite of the film’s leisurely pace, Balcázar continually draws our attention to the untwining story, successfully balancing the past and the present and slowly unravelling each character’s deeper, darker secrets and possible motives. Adding to the film immeasurably, is the relatively unknown but insatiably adulterous cast – especially in this uncut version, where just about the entire female cast drops their tops – whose suspicions and general mistrust propel the action forward.  Everyone is harbouring dirty secrets, and even Oliver is completely unsure of himself as he wanders the castle in apathy, while Ruth, the feisty newcomer, eventually hires Uncle Edward (Osvaldo Genazzani), a private detective, to try and keep her own – and very genuine – suspicions at bay.


Difficult to see, let alone uncut, fully-scoped and in English, Dorado’s Blu-ray of this nearly forgotten Spanish-lensed giallo looks fantastic.  Although awash in a rather restrained colour scheme with lots of browns, burgundies and moldy blues, Dorado’s new 4K transfer is sharp and very film-like, plus it’s also great to finally get to see it in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The English 2.0 audio sounds clear and free of distortion, and Dorado have also included optional English, Spanish and Italian subtitle options.  The biggest extra here is a feature-length audio commentary from SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE author and film historian Troy Howarth.  He discusses numerous topics, including the development and history of the giallo and the differences between the Italian and Spanish varieties, and also remarks that Spanish gialli (quote) “tend to have an overtly misogynist bent.”  Other topics discussed include background information on many of the principal actors (including English-language dubbing artist Edward Mannix, who dubbed Uncle Edward), director Balcázar, and even famed composer Piero Piccioni, who provides the moodily-melancholic score.  The disc also includes a trailer-reel (53m) of sorts with many of Dorado’s acquisitions, including a Spanish-language trailer for Jess Franco’s CAMINO SOLITARIO (1984), which is also coming soon to Blu-ray from Dorado Films; an excellent trailer for Massimo Pirri’s TUNNEL (a.k.a. FATAL FIX, 1980); numerous rarely-seen and mouth-watering Sergio Bergonzelli films, and many more rarities, which won’t be revealed here and are best left as a surprise. Dorado have also included a couple of nicely illustrated liner booklets with writing from Bryan Martinez of The Giallo Room and EuroCult genre expert, Robert Monell.

Although never regarded as a top-tier giallo, THE NIGHT OF THE SCORPION still remains an engaging whodunit, which is made all the more watchable thanks to Dorado Films’ excellent presentation.  Order it from Diabolik DVD.

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