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review added: 2/2/00



Fatal Frames
Special Edition - 1997 (2001) - Synapse Films

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Fatal Frames Film Rating: D- (A+ on the cult scale)

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/A

Specs and Features

126 mins, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch 1:33:16, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Al Festa, producer/star Stefania Stella, Leslie LaPena and Claudio Fiano), The Making of Fatal Frames documentary, Al Festa music videos by Biancaneve, Peplum and Chavan, promo video for Festa's first film Gipsy Angel, Stefania Stella videos for Eternal City, Alibi and Pensamiento Estpendo, 2 TV spots, Italian theatrical trailer, Snuff Movie in its entirety, extended limo scene with deleted footage, 11 deleted scenes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, film themed menu screens with sound, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


Stefania: "Even when she sees something that makes no sense, she's actually trying to dig into you, trying to explore you. You should look at yourself with the same blind eyes and then perhaps you'll find something that you never knew about yourself."

Alex: "What are you trying to say?"

Stefania: "Nothing."

Once in a generation, a film will come along and shake up the status quo. I believe it's cinema's job to take genre expectations and turn them around for us. It's what keeps movies new. Star Wars did this for Sci-Fi by incorporating science fiction with samurai films and serial shorts. Die Hard did this to the action film genre, so much so that everything after it was characterized as "Die Hard on a (blank)". Fatal Frames does this for schlock cinema. You may be thinking to yourself: "Self... what the hell is Todd talking about? Why would schlock need to be redefined? Isn't a schlock film so bad it's virtually unwatchable?" Well... I think that's exactly why Fatal Frames works. If a schlock film is virtually unwatchable, then Fatal Frames is so watchable I hereby state (without any sarcasm or humor), that Fatal Frames should forever be packaged with every DVD player that is sold in these United States. It's a film everyone should own, because there is no film better for being worse. I dare to go so far as to say we have a new successor to Ed Wood in our midst... and his name is Al Festa. Al Festa is a pioneer, Italian music video maker and musician. His first film was the little-seen musical epic, Gipsy Angel. And after years of visualizing images of Italian rock groups and alternative bands, he's blessed us with a second film that promises to throw every concept we have of a horror thriller out the window and birth us a brand new one.

Here's the story: Alex (Sgt. Kabukiman's Rick Gianasi) is an American video director. He's currently down in the dumps because his beautiful wife was murdered in their apartment. He hasn't found the strength to move so, in effect, he's living with her ghost. One day, his friend from Italy offers him a gig directing the new music video for Italian singing sensation Stefania Stella. It's a job no man can turn down, but Alex doesn't know if he can do it. After explaining to his friend his severe anguish over his wife's death, (punctuating it by petting a bloodstain that's still soaked into the carpet - no kidding) he decides to take the job and flies out to Italy. But once he's there, a series of savage murders begins. The killer, dubbed "The Video Killer" because he sends a video of his victim to the police, is immediately suspected to be Alex. His wife was murdered by a killer with the same M.O. and, given that Alex is a video filmmaker, this logic would only make sense. The only thing is, we as an audience know it's not Alex. The first night he's there, a young dancer he has the hots for (so much for the dead wife) is murdered right in front of his eyes. So the question remains - if it's not Alex killing these people, who is? And what does it all have to do with Alex?

Fatal Frames is an interesting film because of three things. First, it has a great concept. Seriously, this is a story that makes a lot of sense in the end. Second, and most obvious, it has Stefania Stella in it. Stefania is a frickin' monster of a woman, but after watching her on screen a while you begin to see her appeal. Maybe it's the horrible breast job, the madwoman hair or her bulbous lips. Maybe it's the same phenomenon where a hostage sympathizes with his/her captor. Either way, but by the end of this film, you will believe Stefania to be one of the sexiest women in film. I really believe there's got to be some sort of subliminal messages going on on this disc. Finally, even if Festa can't direct an actor to safe his life, his set-ups, cut-always, inserts and cinematography is absolutely top-notch. Someone paid a lot of money to make this film. But the whole thing plays out so badly that you immediately get hooked. There's no doubt about it, this is a film just aching to be watched with crowds of people. This film has a method going that's all its own - I don't think a schlock film ever looked this good by looking so bad. And for serious fans, the film has an all-star cast of such genre legends as David Warbeck, Linnea Quigley, Angus Scrimm and Donald Pleasance (in his last role).

This DVD upholds the tradition started by the film itself. The video transfer is a bit on the soft side, but then again, Al Festa himself did the transfer. He would know better than anyone what the film should look like. Some very heavy grain and very small amounts of artifacting hamper the image here and there, but any problems with the picture most likely go back to the source print. For what it is, the picture looks good.

The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and was also mastered by Festa. It's not very dynamic, and features some really bad sound "effects" that were placed on the track to amplify the atmosphere (like horse clops instead of footsteps during some nighttime city strolls), but it does the job it has to just fine. This film also has some incredibly odd telephone conversation audio. This is some weird sound design, just as the director wanted it.

What's really great about this DVD are the special features. If you thought the film was a cult hit waiting to happen, you haven't heard the commentary track. This may well be the first true cult DVD. There could quite possibly be Fatal Frames DVD parties springing up across the world very soon. And the requirement will be to watch the film, while listening to the commentary. Whoo-boy, this here is a doozy of a track. Recorded in Italy, the track features "the voice of the trailer", Mr. Festa, an Italian journalist and Stefania Stella. Also included is a full length music track underscoring the voices. Strangely, the voices have been done up with an echo to give it that eerie feeling you just have to have with a commentary track of this caliber. This commentary definitely sets a new standard... I'm just not sure what that is yet. You'll be laughing pretty hard by the time you're through with this. Festa, Stella and "the voice" honestly believe they created a film for the ages. And not just a comedy hit, mind you - these folks really think Fatal Frames is as important as Spartacus. It's making me laugh just thinking about this track. You really must hear it for yourself.

Also on board is a "making of" documentary directed by Festa (complete with silver letterboxing marks throughout half the feature), interviews with the cast and crew and an English translated trailer. It's almost as much of a laugh riot as the commentary, because it follows everyone's careers like they're making THE film of the 1990s. You'll also find a selection of videos directed by Festa (he likes zapping musicians into their appropriate spots with either lightning or fire - it's his style). The scariest one features musician Chavan. It gives me nightmares to this day. And the best of the lot features Stella morphing into a crude CGI figure that has sex with another CGI couple. That, in and of itself, is worth picking up the disc for. Rounding the bonus material out are TV spots, two extended scenes, a never ending spool of deleted scenes, the Italian trailer and the absolute worst cast and crew bios ever done (written by Al Festa himself). You have to see them to actually believe them.

Fatal Frames is a DVD that anyone could (and should) laugh at. You have to see this. There's a reason Synapse is putting this disc out, and even I (who doubted it from the beginning) am now a huge fan of this horrible, horrible film. Do check it out.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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