Nicolas Roeg (director)
29 July 2019 (released)
29 July 2019
Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 masterpiece still is as fresh today as it was upon its original release. An intriguing blend of psychological drama and occult horror, the new 4K Restoration will do the movie proud and rest assured, Venice has seldom looked so eerie and atmospheric!
Bases upon a short story by Daphne du Maurier, the film focuses on married couple Laura (Julie Christie) and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), a professional conservator and their traumatic ordeal when their daughter Christina drowns in a pond close to their English country estate. Minutes before the accident John was looking at a slide of an old church in Italy (we can see a hooded figure in red to the right side of the picture) when he accidentally drops a glass filled with liquid over the slide… and the red-hooded figure in the picture seems to dissolve in psychedelic pattern with blood-red puddles running across the image. Sensing something terrible has happened he runs out of the house and direction pond, although he doesn’t quite know why… when he arrives at the pond it’s too late as his daughter floats dead in the water. This harrowing opening still sends shivers down ones spine and it’s thanks to Roeg’s direction and Graeme Clifford’s editing that the scene is an exercise in terrifying tension.
In order to overcome their grief, John accepts a commission from a Venetian Bishop Barbarrigo (Massimo Serato) to restore an old church and both he and Laura pack up for Venice while their young son is packed off to an English boarding school. During lunch in a local Venice restaurant, the couple encounter two elderly women sitting at the table next to them – they are sisters Wendy (Clelia Matania) and her blind sister Heather (Hilary Mason) who has psychic powers. When a speck of dust makes its way into Wendy’s eye and Wendy is unable to retrieve it, Laura offers her help. In the restaurant’s rest room Heather reveals to Laura that she is able to ‘see’ her dead daughter and that she is happy on the other side. Laura – disturbed and fascinated in equal measure – breaks the news to John who is highly sceptical of Hilary’s revelation but when he senses that it seems to calm Laura he initially plays along. Later that evening the couple indulge in certain acts that years ago would have given this DVD release an 18 Cert but hey – the times are a changing. After their passionate love-making they hit town for dinner when they get lost amid the arrow medieval lanes. At the other side of the canal John catches the figure of what appears to be a small child dressed in a red raincoat – the same his daughter wore when she drowned. Brushing it off as imagining things, the couple soon find their way out of the labyrinth again to one of the main streets where a commotion seems to take place – the couple are informed that a serial killer is on the loose that that another one of his victims has just been fished out of the canal.
The following day Laura visits the two sisters in their room and a séance takes place during which psychic Heather tries to contact the Laura’s dead daughter Christine. Apparently succeeding, Heather explains that Christine has warned her of a terrible danger that will befall her dad and he must leave Venice immediately. After Laura tells John what has occurred during the séance he loses his cool completely and forbids his wife from seeing the two strange sisters again. Around the same time the couple receive a phone call informing them that back in England, their son was involved in an accident at the boarding school and Laura makes preparations to return home straight away. Believing his wife to have returned, John is shocked when sometimes later he sports her on a passing funeral gondola with the two sisters standing behind her. Baffled by what he just witnessed he and fearing for her sanity he informs Inspector Longhi (Renato Scarpa) who in turn is deeply suspicious of John… who proceeds to look for Laura and the two sisters on his own. The next day John has a near fatal accident while restoring an ancient fresco in the church and believes that this is the danger that Heather (via Christine) tried to warn him about.
After and extensive search the police can neither find Laura nor the sisters and it is only then that it occurs to John a phone call to the English boarding school and the local hospital might shed light on the matter! Sure enough Laura really is in England to look after their son while an increasingly bewildered John has no explanation when an irritated Inspector Longhi confronts him about having wasted police time. John also apologizes to Heather for falsely accusing her of abducting his wife and leaves the hotel in an embarrassed state to wander along the cobblestoned lanes in the canal area. Back in the hotel room Heather slips into a trance during which she sees imminent danger for John and sends her sister to follow John and bring him back but he is already lost in the myriad of lanes. Suddenly John spots the mysterious small figure dressed in a red raincoat again and approaches her – a decision that leads up to the film’s shocking and deeply disturbing conclusion…
Anthony B. Richmond’s expert cinematography depicts a Venice seemingly forever shrouded in mist and mystery, thus heightening the suspense. The main actors deliver flawlessly and yes, you will never look at the colour red in the same way again!
This stunning 4K restored classic movie is available on Est, on DVD, on Blu-ray and as a Collector’s Edition with Special Features.