Release Date(s)1999 (May 19, 2015)
Studio(s)MGM/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Religiously-themed horror or thriller films have never been big on my interest scale, with only a few exceptions. So you can imagine how reluctant I was to check out Stigmata when it hit first home video. Originally, Stigmata was theatrically released in 1999 to less than favorable reviews while still managing to do almost double its budget at the box office. It went on to be a bit of cult film, but it never managed to capture much of a distinct audience. It’s always been one of those movie oddities that people seem to mention that they remember seeing but not really remembering much about it, and there’s good reason for that.
The film tells the story of Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a young hairdresser whose party lifestyle is interrupted when she begins to suffer the effects of stigmata, a phenomenon wherein a person’s body begins displaying the effects of Jesus Christ’s torture and execution. Following up on this is religious scientific investigator Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), who is sent by the Vatican to investigate once video footage of Frankie’s condition is in their hands. Once Kiernan witnesses the authenticity and seriousness of Frankie’s suffering, Kiernan’s superior Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) will stop at nothing to keep Frankie and her affliction a secret.
In all honesty, Stigmata is a very middle-of-the-road film. Its style over substance approach left me with an overwhelming feeling of mediocrity. The style itself is quite frenetic and interesting to look at, but the story itself feels incomplete at times, and run of the mill in others. It attempts to be frightening in an Exorcist sort of way, but just fails because of a lack of a compelling story or characters. It also attempts to (intentionally or unintentionally) ape the look and style of The Crow, a film that had a heavy influence on films like it at that time. The overall pace is a bit on the dull side as well, and the repeated voice-overs layered on to scenes from previous scenes doesn’t do itself any favors.
The biblical aspects are perhaps the most interesting moments in the film, as is Patricia Arquette’s performance. She seems to be the right person for this role and, at least in my eyes, has always had a very haunted quality about her that filters through in various roles whether she means it to or not. However, in this case, it works just fine. Gabriel Byrne is doing a good enough job, but it’s Jonathan Pryce’s mustache-twirling villain role that really helps to seal the movie’s fate as an unremarkable mystery thriller with little to no substance. Even the score feels humdrum. Despite all of this, there’s still somehow an audience for the film, but Stigmata will likely never become a truly deep cult movie in the way that many less than savory films, or simply movies that don’t do well when released theatrically, eventually do.
Scream Factory’s transfer of Stigmata is, at best, watchable. It’s definitely not a brand-new, crisp presentation. I’m sure that these folks did the best with what they had to work with, and as such, it’s not as good as it could be, even for a film that’s been as aggressively graded as this one has been. Fine detail is limited with an often unresolved grain field, which can be heavy at times and soft at others. Colors are relatively strong while skin tones are pretty much all over the place (a stylistic choice by the filmmakers due to the color grading). Black levels are good but shadow detail leaves a bit to be desired, and contrast levels are quite high. There’s also some leftover film debris on display. So while this presentation isn’t guilty of meddlesome digital tinkery, it’s certainly not overtly sharp or evenly presented. It’s watchable though, and a step up from standard definition at least. Of the soundtracks available, which are English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, the 5.1 presentation is probably the best representation of the film. Dialogue is cleanly separated for the most part, and both score and sound effects have a wide range of speaker activity to play in. The latter sometimes overpowers the soundtrack, but on the whole, it’s a good surround sound experience. Subtitles are also provided in English for those who might need them.
Fans will be pleased to know that all of the previous extras from previous DVD releases of the film have been ported over. However, you won’t find anything brand new here. There’s an audio commentary with director Rupert Wainwright; a set of six deleted scenes, including the film’s alternate ending; the film’s original theatrical trailer; and the music video for the song “Identify” by Natalie Imbruglia. Newly-included from the Region 2 DVD releases of the movie are two documentaries: Divine Rights: The Story of Stigmata (in two parts) and the History Channel documentary Incredible But True? – Stigmata: Marked For Life. Both cover much of the same ground, which is about true-life incidents and the history of the stigmata phenomenon, but the former goes into more detail about the actual making of the movie during its second part.
Stigmata is certainly not one of my favorite films. I had indeed forgotten much of it prior to watching this Blu-ray release of it. Long-time fans of it are likely to enjoy the presentation and the extras, and the price seems about right, so I say pick it up if indeed you are a fan – especially during a good sale.
- Tim Salmons