Friday, March 19, 2021

PERDITA DURANGO (1997) (Severin Films 4K Ultra HD Review)

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 130 Minutes
Video: 2160p UHD, 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English and Spanish-dub DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles  
Director:  Álex de la Iglesia
Cast:  Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, James Gandolfini, Don Stroud, Demián Bichir, Alex Cox, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Back in 1997 I was working at the once world-famous, now-defunct Toxic Ranch Records here in sunny Tucson, Arizona  when one fine day a movie set designer dropped by the shop and informed Bill, the proprietor,  that they were  shooting a movie right around the corner on 4th Avenue, and that he had come looking to rent some record shop ephemera to create a record store front for use in the film. I recall they shot on 4th Ave. at night for two or three consecutive nights and that they had huge lighting rigs suspended over a length of the street that I could see from my house several blocks away. They wrapped up and moved on, and while I never knew the name of the film at the time,  a few years ago I began scouring IMDB to look for info about it, and sure enough, it was Perdita Durango. At that point I had already heard of the movie, but had not yet seen it or realized that it was the movie they had made right around the corner. I only knew of it because it was mentioned every once in awhile when film-fans discussed David Lynch's Wild At Heart, in which the character Perdita Durango first appeared on film, as played by Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet), That the character had her own movie, a prequel of sorts, starring Rosie Perez, was certainly news to me at the time. The scarce DVD release of the film wasn't easy to come by at the time, so I sort of put it to the back of my mind, and now here we are with a spiffy new UHD of the film so I can finally dig in!  

Perdita Durango (1997) was the English-language debut from writer/director Álex de la Iglesia, following The Day of the Beast (1995), and it is based on novelist Barry Gifford’s prequel to Wild At Heart, which featured a sociopath priestess named Perdita Durango. In this film she gets full-on top-billing, played full-tilt bad-ass by Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing) , who at the start of the film gets mixed up with an unsavory fella named Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men), a drug-dealing, witch doctor of sorts who caters to the rich and narco-connected, performing bizarre Santeria inspired blood rituals with the help of his shaman Adolfo (music legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins!). Once they hook up they ignite like a powder keg, unleashing a wave of mayhem and destruction that includes abduction, rape, a truck load of aborted fetuses, and dismembered corpses. 

The carnage begins when the kidnap some gringos in Tucson, to sacrifice during one of Romeo's rituals. They end up with teenage blondies Dwayne (Harley Cross, The Believers) and his girlfriend Estelle (Aimee Graham, From Dusk Till Dawn), whom they grab off a crowded street. They take them to a desert ranch where Perdita rapes Dwayne and Romeo forces himself on Estelle, and in one of many troubling ideas found in the film, both rapes turn into semi-consensual encounters, with the teens coming to enjoy their time with their new outlaw pals. When the time comes to sacrifice them they are left to decide amongst themselves who will be sacrificed, which leads to a fun backstabbing conversation among the foursome. Later during the ritual with his followers gathered around Romeo is set to sacrifice the chosen teen when it is interrupted by a former double-crossed, crime-partner of Romeo's, Shorty Dee (Santiago Segura, The Day of the Beast), who arrives with his gang who shoot up the place, killing Screamin' Jay Hawkin's character Adolfo in the process, and setting the place on fire, but the foursome escape unscathed.  

Then things get strange... Romeo takes on work from crime lord Mr. Santos (Don Stroud, Sweet Sixteen), a seemingly easy gig transporting a semi loaded with aborted fetuses from the outskirts of Tucson to Vegas, where they will be used to make cosmetics! Things go sideways when D.E.A. agents Dumas (James Gandolfini, True Romance) and Doyle (Alex Cox, Repo Man), who have been a presence throughout the film, arrive at the pick-up spot to bust it up, there's a ton of gunplay but the witchy cocaine-sniffing shaman manages to escape completely unscathed once again, and heads for Vegas to make the drop-off, where of course more shit goes bad. 

After seeing The Day of The Beast, and Alex de la Iglesia's subsequent films, that this film is off the rails with violent insanity and weirdness is not that much of a surprise, but even still it's the sort of film that will leave you breathless with it's unhinged abandon and willingness to explore dark material with so much unabashedly glee, it's a wild film. If you thought Javier Bardem's haircut in No Country For Old Men was weird, you have not seen anything till you have seen him in this, it's like some Betty Page inspired mullet! His character is convulsive
electricity, capable of pretty much anything. 

I'll be up front, I have always thought that Rosie Perez was a good actress, but I have never been too fond of a large portion of her filmography, so much so that back in '97 when I heard they were filming what turned out to be this same movie not 300-feet from where I worked and two blocks from where I loved, I was not even a little bit curious about it and never even tried to walk around the corner to have a peek!  Oh brother, I was mistaken, Perez is absolutely fearless and fierce in this role! I loved Isabella Rossellini as this character from Wild At Heart but Perez takes it to the next level with her head-turning performance.  She's super sexual, often nude, licking Bardem's big toe, raping teens, blowing people away with a shotgun, talking to strangers in the airport about keeping their dick hard for four days straight, and generally being a hardned bad-ass, like I have never her seen before. She also looks cool as Hell with her long black fingernails, always dragging on a cigarette, wearing a black v-cut blouse, ouch mamcita, you are killing me! Her acting is fantastic and she has NEVER looked hotter on celluloid, this gave me a whole new appreciation for her as a bad-ass, even though I already appreciated her in later stuff like Pineapple Express (2008) and Birds of Prey (2020) where she also plays total bad-asses. 

Then we have the late James Gandolfini and Repo Man director Alex Cox  as drug enforcement agents, I sort of feel like Cox was channeling David Lynch's F.B.I. Agent Gordon Cole from Twin Peaks, playing it pretty quirky, much to the annoyance of his put upon partner, played by Gandolfini who is fantastic. He takes a hit by a car in once seen that looks brutal, and it looks to me like he did it himself. I'll never cross 4th Avenue and 6th Street here in Tucson again and not think of Gandolfini getting plowed into by a car, which to be fair happens quite a bit on that corner in real-life! 

The film looks great, very well-shot by cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano (The Shallows), highlights include the dreamy opening sequence with a jaguar and a nude Perez, a bizarre flashback to the crucifixion of Christ, the both the ritual scenes and the scenes on the street leading up to the abduction of the teens looks fantastic as well, and I appreciated the cool little touches like a scene of Romeo seeing a reflection of Perdita on a CD case, it's just a great looking film that makes great efforts to capture the heat and tone of the desert landscapes. The film also ends with a wonderful sequence that has reality melting into a scene from Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz (1954) that is very well-done. 

If you're from Tucson and like seeing our dusty desert town on film there's some great stuff to be seen, a whole sequence shot on 4th Avenue, stuff out on what looks to be N. Kinney Road out by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the now defunct Tucson Inn, the Airplane Boneyard, a Tucson Fire ambulance, Exit 260 off of the I-10 (my exit driving home every day!), plus a record shop scene that features Tucson's legendary lo-fi blues band Doo Rag's  "What We Do" CD featured prominently! 

Audio/Video: Perdita Durango (1995) arrives on 4K UHD from Severin Films in 2160p UHD, framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. This is not being advertised as a 4K scan from the OCN was was The Day of the Beast, but it does advertise it as "now restored in 4K", so while I am unsure what the source here is I thought it looks great. Grain is well-managed, it has thick filmic appearance and along with that we get some great looking textures and some modest fine detail in close-ups of faces. Depth and clarity are not the strengths of the presentation, but black levels are strong. Colors look solid as well, the HDR Dolby Vision compliments the sunbaked glaze of the desert scenes shot in Arizona and Mexico, as well as the neon-glow of the streets, but it's not an overly color-hot film, we get a lot beige and earthy tones, throughout but occasionally some red and other primaries get a moment to shine with HDR. Check out over 100 screenshots from the Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. 

Audio comes by way of both English and Spanish-dubbed DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English. I went with the English option as it is the native language, but I toggled back and forth between both languages and both are strong, but the English is the way to go. I did note that it sounds like Javier Bardem did his own Spanish dub, which is cool. Dialogue is crisp and direct, and the surrounds kick in with atmospherics as does the score from composer Simon Boswell (Stagefright). 

Severin offer-up a wonderful array of new extras beginning with a 28-minute interview with director Alex de la Iglesia who begins by pointing out that he was not the originally intended director, Bigas Luna (Anguish) was, how he came onto the project, the real-life characters that inspired the film, how the film was adapted, and how the sometimes difficult material and themes would be prohibitive in getting the film made today. He also touches on what a monster of an actor Bardem is, and how even after being burned during an incendiary scene he carried on like a trooper.  He also get into working with Gandolfini, who he considered a friend, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Rosie Perez. He tells of how the subject of witchcraft made some of the crew uncomfortable, so much so that one night when he arrived on set he found that a real witch doctor had been called in by a member of the crew to cleanse the set! 

We also get a 17-minute interview with Writer Barry Gifford who gets into how he came up with the idea of a prequel to Wild At Heart when writing that novel the character of Perdita Durango threatened to take over that novel, forcing him to suppress her character a bit. He also gets into writing a script for the film, his attitude about how his work is adapted, his opinions of the finished film and the cast, and his thoughts on the violence seen in the film. Gifford just seems like a cool dude, this was a fun watch. 

Dr. Rebekah McKendry co-host of the Colors of the Dark Podcast shows up for a 13-minute appreciation of Iglesia's controversial work, and Composer Simon Boswell gets a 21-minute interview,  discussing his first collaboration with Iglesia on this film, the director apparently having been a fan of his scores for Italian horror films, his process of scoring, and he also gets into the process of licensing the Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass tune "Spanish Flea, and why Alpert initially refused the use of the song, but not for the reason you might expect! The featurette also features numerous clips and music from his work with Dario Argento, Michele Soave, Lamberto Bava, Danny Boyle, Clive Barker and more. 

Director of Photography Flavio Labiano talks for 4-minutes about the production, shooting in the U.S. and Mexico, what it was like working with the main cast, an accident on set, and trying to capture the heat of the desert with high-contrast visuals.  

The most interesting extra for me personally is the featurette with Abraham Castillo Flores and ‘Cauldron of Blood’ Author Jim Schutze, discussing the true-crime inspiration for the story, the Matamoros Cult and it's principle players. A truly bizarre, enthralling and frightening account of strange, pseudo-cannibal happenings on the border. The disc is buttoned-up with a pair of trailers for the film. The only extras on the UHD disc are the trailer, all others are found on the accompanying Blu-ray. 

The 2-disc UHD/BD combo arrives in dual-hubbed black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, featuring key art that was also used on the international movie poster and various home video releases. The slipcover that accompanies it is a bit more striking, a black, white and red illustration that has plenty of appeal. The reverse side of the slip also features the same key artwork with a tasty Rue Morgue quote. Both discs inside feature the same key art as the wrap. 

Special Features:
Disc 1: UHD
- Trailer 1 (2 min) HD 
- Trailer 2 (2 min) HD 
Disc 2: Blu-ray
- On The Border: Interview with Director Alex De La Iglesia (28 min) HD 
- Writing Perdita Durango: Interview with Writer Barry Gifford (17 min) HD 
- Dancing With The Devil: An Appraisal By Film Scholar Dr. Rebekah McKendry (13 min) HD 
- Narcosatnicos: Perdita Durango and the Matamoros Cult:  Interview with Abraham Castillo Flores and ‘Cauldron of Blood’ Author Jim Schutze (18 min) HD 
- Canciones de Amor Maldito: The Music of Perdita Durango:  Interview with Composer Simon Boswell (21 min) HD 
- Shooting Perdita Durango: Interview with Director of Photography Flavio Labiano (4 min) HD
- Trailer 1 (2 min) HD 
- Trailer 2 (2 min) HD 

The story goes that when the U.S. distributor saw the completed film they got cold feet, slashed ten-minutes of sex & violence, and unceremoniously dumped it direct-to-video under the alternate title Dance with the Devil. Thankfully Severin have stepped up to the plate and offer fans and newcomers the full potency of the 130-minute director’s cut with all the naughtiness and violence intact, plus we get nearly two-hours of extras that are fantastic.  

Screenshots from the Blu-ray:


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