Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 5th, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, November 30th, 1972
Director: Romano Scavolini
Writers: Remigio Del Grosso, Giuseppe Mangione
Cast: Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov, Luigi Pistilli, Pilar Velázquez, Ezio Marano, Giancarlo Bonuglia, Gianni Dei
DVD released: June, 2013
Approximate running time: 85 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Italian
Subtitles: English, German
DVD Release: Camera Obscura
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: 26.99 EUR
Synopsis: A mentally unbalanced woman invites childhood friends over to her remote family estate for the weekend. What should have been a joyous reunion quickly turns deadly when a childhood trauma reemerges.
Spirits of Death was directed by Romano Scavolini, who is most remembered for directing the 1980’s Slasher film Nightmare. He would also serve as the cinematographer on Spirits of Death. Key collaborators on Spirits of Death include editor Francesco Bertuccioli (Strip Nude for Your Killer, Beast With a Gun) and composers Fiorenzo Carpi (The Howl, Salon Kitty) and Bruno Nicolai (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times).
There are two genres that Spirits of Death draws inspiration from: the Italian thriller which was already in decline by 1972 and the Gothic horror that all but launched horror cinema in Italy in the early 1960′s. One thing that the most durable Italian thrillers all have going for them are memorable opening sequences which set the tone and these are sure to knock the wind out of even the most diehard Italian thriller fan.
The plot contains many themes that Scavolini would revisit throughout his career, most notably the everlasting effects of a childhood trauma. Perhaps due to his documentary background, he presents the horrific events that unfold on the screen in a voyeuristic manner that not only involves the viewers but makes them unwitting participants. There is no shortage of atmosphere or picturesque moments of carnage in this film.
The remarkable score was composed by Bruno Nicolai, a frequent collaborator of the legendary Ennio Morricone. In his own right Bruno Nicolai was a very accomplished composer who frequently worked with Jess Franco in the later part of the 1960′s and the first half of the 1970′s. One criticism that has often followed Bruno Nicolai is how similar many of his scores sound. This is not the case with Spirits of Death which is arguably the most accomplished of his career, especially the main theme.
When it comes to casting. Italian cinema always somehow assembles a wide variety of recognizable faces. The cast for Spirits of Death is anchored by performances from Ida Galli (The Weekend Murders, The Case of the Scorpions Tale) in the role of this film’s protagonist, a woman named Mariale and Ivan Rassimov (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Spasmo) in the role of Massimo, one of two men who are vying for her affection. One performance of note is Luigi Pistilli (The Sweet Body of Deborah, Bay of Blood) in the role of Paolo, the other man in Mariale’s life. Ultimately Spirits of Death is a haunting exploration about the dangers of not coming to terms with ones past.
Camera Obscura presents Spirits of Death in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 ‘scope’ aspect ratio. For this new release Camera Obscura has created a new transfer that looks stunning throughout. It is safe to say that this film has not looked this good, since it’s original theatrical releases.
This release comes with one audio, a Dolby Digital mono mix in Italian. The audio sounds very good, dialog comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced throughout. Range wise, though this do tend to sound rather limited at times. The more ambient aspects of the soundtrack are well represented and the soundtrack sounds appropriately robust. Also included with this release are two subtitle options, English and German.
Extras for this release include Italian and French language trailers, a image gallery, 3 deleted scenes (4 minutes 42 seconds – anamorphic widescreen) – it should be noted that before these deleted moments that there is a disclaimer about the audio for these deleted scenes no longer existing, a featurette / interview with director Romano Scavolini titled ‘Esoteric & Cryptic’ (36 minutes 42 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Italian with English and German subtitles), who discusses how he got into cinema, reversible film stock, the documentaries that formed the early part of his career, working as a photographer in the Vietnam war, his experiences working as a cinematographer, how his production companies debt got him involved in directing Spirits of Death, the look of the film and shooting in the Technoscope format, casting, the script and changes he made to the final product, the film’s score, he briefly touches upon Nightmare and what he has been up to in recent years.
Other extras include an audio commentary with film historians, Christian KeBler and Marcus Stiglegger, in German with English subtitles. Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, how psychoanalysis plays a major role in many of Romano Scavolini’s films, the look of the film, the cast, the Italian thriller and Gothic horror genres influence on this film, the difference between political and paranoia themed thrillers and so much more. This is a fast paced and highly informative track that is a must listen for fans of Romano Scavolini and this film.
Also included with this release is a DVD booklet that includes a informative essay about the film and those involved in this production. This essay is presented in dual text, English and German. This release also comes with multi-lingual menus, English and German.
When it comes to Italian genre cinema. When things were going good there was an influx of films within said genre being rushed out to audiences craving more of the same. In regards to the Italian thriller genre the surface has only been ever so lightly scratched in what titles have found their way onto DVD. And though there are some Italian thrillers that have made their way to DVD, albeit in non English language friendly options. It is always a cause for celebration when another film finally arrives with a English language option. And in this instance this release from Camera Obscura, it is a film that up until this point has all but languished in relative obscurity.
One would be hard pressed to name a boutique label that takes more chances and lavishes each and every one of its releases with the utmost care that Camera Obscura does. Currently we live in a time when the majority of boutique labels are playing safe with constant re-releases and releasing titles from already existing masters. Overall this is yet another exceptional release from Camera Obscura who time and again put out releases that are head and shoulders above the work of their peers.