Aenigma [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (26th December 2020).
The Film

Stretching well into the third decade of a notorious career, Lucio Fulci’s output began to wane considerably past the late 80's and although the quality of those productions saw a noticeable decline the films themselves remained interesting, if nothing else. For 1988’s "Aenigma" Fulci and co-screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo took influence from "Carrie" (1976) to craft a story involving psychic possession and revenge from beyond the hospital bed – this in the same year when Jason Voorhees took on a Carrie clone; strange coincidence, especially considering director Brian De Palma’s film was released twelve years earlier and not exactly a still-hot property. I can’t claim this is a great film but Fulci proves he still knows how to stage scenes and jolt his viewers with unexpected shocks. I mean, there’s a frigging snail attack in here and as laughable as it sounds Fulci shoots it with the same level of conviction as a splinter going into an eye. His craftsmanship is a saving grace and even if the film can’t reach the highs of his best works it’s a late-career entry worth watching.

A group of popular, attractive, asshole students decide the only fun they can have at St. Mary’s College is tormenting Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), an awkward and “ugly” classmate, so they set her up on a faux date with Fred Vernon (Riccardo Acerbi), the school’s… gym teacher? Ok, that doesn’t seem like a creepy conflict at all… Regardless, the “date” goes awry when everyone jumps out to taunt her and when Kathy tries to run away she winds up getting hit by a car, leaving her comatose. Soon after a new girl, Eva (Lara Naszinski), arrives on campus and takes up residence in Kathy’s old room. Kathy’s protective mother Mary (Dusica Zegarac) is in the mix, too, watching over her daughter at the nearby hospital while also continuing to perform her duties as the dorm janitor. Truthfully, that woman set a high bar for weirdness in the family; it’s no wonder Kathy couldn’t adjust.

Anyway, with Eva’s arrival comes a wave of retribution against those who caused Kathy’s coma – death by doppelgänger, persistent mental torment causing unintended suicide, crushed by a marble statue, and of course the greatest moment of all: snail attack. Seriously, someone dies under a bed of snails. Dr. Anderson (Jared Martin), Kathy’s physician, notices her vitals have been spiking sporadically… could it be related to the murders on campus? Of course they are, because Kathy has been controlling Eva this entire time via mind control, exacting her revenge from an isolated hospital room.

I still can’t get over that snail death. It is the most absurd thing in a film bound by insanity but it honestly takes a master like Fulci to block and shoot something so ludicrous - ridiculous, sure, but a striking visual that resonates in some strange way. Fulci had a knack for inventive kill scenes and there isn’t a dull death in the bunch. This isn’t a blood-soaked affair, even with plenty of red stuff being shed, and I was more intrigued by the creativity with which the killer dispatches victims than seeing arterial gushing – there are numerous films in Fulci’s library if that’s what you seek.

While “Carrie” is a stated influence it’s easy to see some of "Patrick" (1978) in here, too, since Kathy is tethered to her hospital bed and is able to perform some kind of astral/mental projection to autonomously control Eva. Speaking of which, what’s her deal? Eva is a capable surrogate for Kathy but her origins remain a mystery. I wish the film had explored more of the Kathy/Eva/Mary dynamic because it feels like there’s more meat to that story but this is still an Italian horror movie and story is rarely given top priority in these pictures. Like the title itself, Fulci keeps certain elements enigmatic and, if anything, it’s to the film’s benefit because explanation is often the enemy of intrigue in horror.

Video

Sporting a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, the film’s 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps image is acceptable mastered with AVC MPEG-4 compression, with a handful of solid moments, with the overall picture looking good-not-great. Severin Films often does a fine job of remastering films back to a watchable state, likely as good as they looked in theaters, while still retaining a taste of that grindhouse flavor. Film grain is moderate-to-heavy, though often the former. Soft shots galore, which are likely an issue inherent to the source, so don’t expect to see many crisp lines and sharp delineation. Black levels are often rich and consistent but detail does get lost within those shadows. Seeing how bad some of the makeup looks in HD reminded me these films look best when cleaned up JUST ENOUGH but not so well all of the seams are showing.

Audio

Audio tracks are available in either English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Let’s talk about the main theme because what the hell have I just heard? “Head Over Heels” is a cheesy pop song that sounds like it should be the theme to a sitcom, not the opening titles for a Fulci film - but in a weird way it certainly sets a bizarre tone which portends the next 90-something minutes of oddness. Corny composition aside, the score by Carlo Maria Cordio is actually a strong effort with some killer pop-ish keyboard cues and a potent atmosphere of ambient horrors. The English dub track sounds rather thin, while the Italian track is positively booming by comparison. I stuck with the English option and just cranked up my volume a couple notches. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired on the English dub and English for the Italian dub.

Extras

An audio commentary is available with film historian Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson.

“Italian Aenigma – Appraising Late Day Fulci” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 38 minutes and 26 seconds.

“Writing Nightmares – Interview with Screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo” (1080p) featurette runs for 14 minutes and 21 seconds.

Theatrical trailers in both English and Italian (1080p) run for 3 minutes each.

The "Italian" opening and closing credits are included (1080p), running for 6 minutes and 50 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard black Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

What Fulci’s late-era films lack in cult value they make up for with his trademark visceral visuals and haunting atmosphere. I had expected very little out of Aenigma and was pleasantly surprised by the pacing and panache of this possession picture. Severin Films has done a commendable job bringing this to HD for the first time.

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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