Monday, November 2, 2009

nuns on the rum.

Mr and Mrs Dissolved love this movie and I love them, so here's a specially dedicated review as way of a (very cheap) wedding present.

For those of you who've never seen it I'll try to be kind and not give too much away.

And for those of you who have, just skip the review and see how many different words you can make up out of the casts almost Scrabble-like names.

Dark Waters (AKA Dead Waters. 1993)
Dir: Mariano Baino.
Cast: Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Mariya Kapnist, Valeriy Bassel, Anna Rose Phipps and Alvina Skarga (yes, THE Alvina Skarga).

"Don't mind him, he keeps the other freaks away!"

Somewhere on a cold, rocky coastline (must be the isle of Lewis by the look of the people living there) lies an imposing looking convent high on a cliff top overlooking the sea (and by the state of the curtains the rent too).

Inside a young(ish) nun is happily going about her daily nun type business (prayers and such like - I'm not a bride of Christ so I've no idea, sorry) when a young urchin bursts in and hands her a huge cardboard medallion with a picture of a scary monster carved on the front.

Suddenly a raging storm starts to brew and the local vicar notices his roof is leaking.

Grabbing the strange object from the child's filthy mitts the nun bounds out of the convent and heads towards the nearest cliff as the angry sea swells around her like a big swelling wet thing first engulfing the rocks below then completely flooding the church causing an unfortunate vicar/neck/big crucifix interface.

The storm subsiding, the nun is left perched above the island like a big black crow gazing wistfully toward the dawn as she clutches the medallion to her (probably) ample bosom.

Suddenly she finds herself under attack from a rampaging camera POV sending both her and the stone thing crashing onto the rocks below.

The remaining nuns (who were obviously hiding in a secret underground lair as nuns do) hurry out to the rocks in a bid to collect the lumps of broken badge before hiding them in tiny boxes in a cave.

"Shite in mah demonic mooth!"

We (I saw 'we' but I mean the movie, it's not like I suddenly found myself waking up an old man or anything) suddenly flash forward twenty years to find posh British tottie Elizabeth (Salter from Our Friends in The North) has returned to this strange land in the hope of visiting the island to discover why her late (as in dead, not lousy at time keeping) dad had been making monthly payments to the convent for the last decade or so.

Luckily for her (and the plot) her best friend Teresa (Phipps, never to be heard of again) is actually a real life nun living on the island so has been writing to Elizabeth to give her all the Godly gossip regarding her dads cash and the like.

Teresa, we discover enjoys nothing better than a good nosy around on her days off and one day, whilst exploring the spooky catacombs below the convent stumbles upon part of the monster-headed medallion.

Unfortunately before she can tell anyone she's stabbed to death in a frenzied attack by another nun.

Isn't that just typical?

Meanwhile Elizabeth is amusing herself by staring at the locals who, it must be said make Glasgow on a methadone day look normal by comparison. There's a man breasted freak trying to get a light from her on the bus (whose best pal is a buck toothed, giggling midget), an old lady with wooden teeth and a half naked fisherman who enjoys nothing better than scoffing live cod he finds washed up on the beach.

And that's just the posh folk.

Innsmouth? Shite mooth more like.

Chartering a boat from the mainland (whilst dodging the sick in the streets and the track suited neds wandering about - probably) from a big bearded man who smells of peat, Elizabeth is informed that the ferry service only runs once a week, so she'll have to speak nicely to the nuns if she hopes to have a roof over her head seeing as the only other option is a damp cave on the seafront surrounded by seagull shit.

Sounds more and more like the west of Scotland by the minute.

Luckily the Mother Superior is actually quite friendly (which makes up for her lack of teeth and scary, parchment like skin), not only offering Elizabeth a room but also assigning a fresh faced (and curvaceously arsed) novice named Sarah (Simmons) to be her guide during her stay.

No sooner has she unpacked that she starts questioning her new pal, hoping to learn more about her mother, a native of the island who died giving birth to Elizabeth and Sarah, not wanting to let her charge down heads to the library to see what she can find out.

Fireman Sam's secret identity revealed!

Surprisingly there's sod all about Elizabeth's mum but loads about a scarily multi-breasted she-demon (know as She who was, and is not, and yet is, or Margaret to her friends) who allegedly inhabited the island centuries past....

But what has this got to do with Elizabeth's birth and her fathers links to the convent?

why is a hefty, sightless old woman following our heroine around?

And why (no really, why) do the nuns keep a blind skinny monk (who appears to paint using a spooky sixth sense) locked in a pit?

Some (if not all) of these questions will probably be answered by the films climax.

But to be honest it's more about the ride than the final destination.

Which, in this case isn't a bad thing.

Our house yesterday.

Director Mariano Baino's one and only (so far) full length feature is a lushly shot and absolutely mesmerising love letter to the dream-scapes and writings of HP Lovecraft, taking the symbolism and images from the masters work and moulding them into a surreal, almost fairytale like scenario where logic plays second fiddle to feelings of otherworldliness and nightmare inducing visuals.

Everyone (and everything) can be perceived as a threat to Elizabeth, whose rain jacket makes her appear as some kind of Red Riding Hood figure, only this time surrounded by an entire island of wolves (and there's even an appearance of sorts by Grandma, bringing further comparisons between the two characters).

And like that story there are the running motifs of huge eyes and mouths. From the gaping maw and wild eyed gaze of the carved demon to the films unusually large amount of blind characters (the aforementioned old woman, the artistically minded mental monk in the cellar and the Mother Superior are all sightless) via the toothy grins of the local inhabitants, misheard dialogue and impenetrable accents adding to Elizabeth's (and our) sense of being lost and alone.

Ripe with dark and dream-like imagary ranging from scenes of silhouetted nuns, crosses burning in the sunset marching purposely across the landscape to dreams of small girls leading an undead, crucified Nun thru' candle filled catacombs, Dark Waters is one of those rare movies that linger in the mind long after you've finished watching.

We just need everyone who's seen it to bombard Baino with emails now demanding he make something else.

Let's see how many we can get before Christmas.


The Vicar of VHS said...

Excellent write-up! I saw this one earlier this year and was also impressed with the visuals and the Lovecraftian vibe, not to mention all the saucy nunnage--which you know the Duke and I enjoy like little else.

>>an unfortunate vicar/neck/big crucifix interface

If I had a pound for every time *that* happened at the Vicarage!

(I'd have five pounds.)

Dissolved said...

Superb review Mr.Lamont, I adore this underrated modern Italian gem as you know and you've got the balance dead on here with a nice mix of humour and appreciative descriptions. I particularly like your noting of the Red Riding hood angle which I hadn't picked up on before actually.

The dream like quality of this film affected me when I first saw it back in the 90's and the way Elizabeth struggles to remember her Childhood always made me wish I could clearly remember my years spent as a kid running around the west coast of Scotland at age 5.

The slightly ropey ending/monster is easily forgivable with the budget constraints and as you point out, the thing that stays with you long after are the long atmospheric Island sequences of dark nuns, lashing rain, creepy kids and demonic dreams, the ominous music score helping tremendously.

The 2 Disc Region 1 No Shame release of this is an essential purchase as it has a brand new lavish widescreen transfer, a nuns bag full of extra's and on the point of Baino's output, a brand new unfinished short he has been working on (never ever after) which looks very weird and promising and also 2 early short film by him too (Dream Car and Carucula) and a replica Stone Amulet from the film! Woo.

The only down side for me was that it contains a "directors cut" of the film which changes some bits of the score and has minor trims throughout for pacing (all the edits are on the disc though) but I do prefer Baino's original version of this which was available on VHS on the Tartan/HighFliers label in the 90's which had a great print and all the original music, far superior to the dreadful eventual early DVD release on the York Home video label. I really hope Baino does release another full length movie soon, he along with Italian/American horror director Dante Tomaselli have put out the most promising and original films I've seen this decade. Tomaselli's "Horror" and "Desecration" work strangely well along side Dark Waters on a Triple Bill. Thanks a lot for the review! : )