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    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Stigmata



    Released by: Eureka Classics
    Released on: October 17, 2016
    Directed by: Rupert Wainwright
    Cast: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Rade Šerbedžija, Enrico Colantoni, Jack Donner, Thomas Kopache, Dick Latessa, Portia de Rossi, Patrick Muldoon
    Year: 1999

    The Movie:

    Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is a naí¯ve young hairdresser living with her best friend (Nia Long) in a huge apartment in Philadelphia. One evening while taking a bath, she's beset by seizures, and holes appear in her wrists. Meanwhile, Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is investigating a statue of Mother Mary that weeps blood in Brazil; it's no coincidence that the statue overlooks the body of a recently deceased and beloved priest, one who had gone into hiding from the Catholic Church under mysterious circumstances. (Nor is this particular church one sanctioned by the Vatican.) Kiernan is a scientist who reveals that most miracles are fakes. Yet, he can't account for how the statue is bleeding living blood.

    He is called back to Italy and there shown video of a woman flogged by unseen forces on a Philadelphia subway train. That woman is the same Frankie Paige we met above, and it appears her body is suffering stigmata, the five wounds inflicted on the body of Christ before and directly after his death. Those wounds include holes in the wrist, lacerations from whips to the back, cuts from a crown of thorns, holes through the feet, and a slash to the side from a Roman spear.

    Kiernan makes arrangements to meet with Frankie, but after learning that she's not only not Catholic, she's also an atheist, he decides that her wounds have been faked and there's nothing he can do to help her—until she suffers stigmata before his very eyes. It isn't long before his investigation leads him back to Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), the superior who doles out his assignments. Things aren't as they seem, and it's up to Kiernan and Frankie to set things right before the world suffers the wrath of a vengeful God.

    Despite being a failure with critics, Stigmata proved a commercial hit with audiences, nearly tripling its production costs in worldwide box office receipts. The truth about the film lies somewhere between the critical lobs and viewer adoration. The film presents a relatively standard post-Exorcist religious horror product; its strictly paint-by-numbers approach, however, is lifted out of the gutter by a convincing performance from Patricia Arquette, of the famed Arquette family: daughter to actor Lewis and sibling to Rosanna, Richmond, David, and the late Alexis.

    Patricia Arquette was no stranger to the horror genre when she starred in Stigmata. She made her film debut in Chuck Russell's fun and inventive A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which redefined its villain as a cheeky anti-hero touting humorous one-liners before slicing and dicing his victims. She followed through on the promise shown there with important roles in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino's True Romance (1993), Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), and David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997), among others, before settling into a lengthy run on CBS' psychic melodrama Medium (2005-2011). For her role in Stigmata, Arquette brings her usual degree of charm and naiveté to a part that, if not exactly unworthy of her, is at least written to the least common denominator.

    The film's problems lie predominantly with Tom Lazarus and Rick Romage's “been there, done that” script. The scenarists aren't quite certain what approach to their horrors they want to take; at times it appears as if Frankie is being tormented and then later possessed by demons, but it's finally revealed that she's possessed by the spirit of a priest acting on behalf of God. Yet, this revelation fails to explain why the priest, through Frankie, tries to seduce Father Kiernan. One suspects the writers made it up as they went along, not quite thinking through their characters' motivations because they were too intent on the ineffectual scares. None of this is helped by Rupert Wainwright's pedestrian direction, which leaves nuance at the door. Wainwright was simply not the director to pull together the fairly disparate ideas of the script (which seem a precursor to Dan Brown's worldwide bestseller The Da Vinci Code, albeit in horror form). As if to prove his discomfort with the genre, Wainwright went on to direct the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's The Fog, an ill-fated decision that pretty much ended his career as a moviemaker.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Eureka brings Stigmata to Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD in the Region 2/B market. Rock! Shock! Pop! here reviews the Blu-ray, which is presented with an AVC encode and in 1080p high definition. The film retains the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of its original theatrical release. Viewers expecting a massive upgrade from previous DVD releases are bound to be disappointed. The transfer contained here appears to be the same as that used for Scream Factory's U.S./Region A release, and it therefore contains the same issues. Much of the imagery is down to Wainwright's creative choices as director; color was toned down in many scenes to create a starker, more urban appearance, while contrast was often raised. The result includes brights that sometimes verge on washout and darks in which details are crushed. The purpose was to make the Los Angeles shooting locations look more like Philadelphia. Apart from stylistic choices, detail is not on par with what one usually expects from the format, and grain is often intrusive. Still, there are occasional scenes and shots in which colors do appear vivid and facial detail remains high. The transfer is not terrible; it's just isn't terrific, failing to pass the “wow” test. It's a minor upgrade from the DVD, with special emphasis on the word “minor.”

    The sound is much better, which is a good thing given who the film's musical producer was: Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. There are two primary soundtrack options: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (the best choice, thanks to fairly directional sound and a robust presentation of the score), and English LPCM 2.0. There is one problem with the 5.1 track, and that's the necessity of holding the remote thanks to a sound mix that's uneven in levels. Subtitles are provided for the deaf and hearing impaired. The music and effects are presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 on an isolated track, a nice move given not only Corgan's influence on the score but the various bands with great songs that dot the track. Finally, director Wainwright provides an optional audio commentary as the fourth track. He sticks with the film rather than going off on tangents as so many commentators do, choosing to focus on the intricacies of the film's plot and behind-the-scenes information. It's very much a director's commentary, informative but never dry. For fans of the film, it's by the far the best of the many extras ported over from Scream's release and provided by Eureka.

    The usual extras make their appearances, including the original theatrical trailer (2:26), an alternate ending (4:35) that really isn't that much of an alternative, and deleted scenes that amount to approximately 13 minutes. For some reason or other, the deleted scenes senselessly duplicate the alternate ending! Nor are they in the order they would have appeared had they been included in the film. The visual quality is low, but some of the scenes are interesting nonetheless and should be viewed at least once. That said, better than all of these is the music video for Natalie Imbruglia's “Identify.”

    The best extra of all, however, is “Divine Rights: The Story of Stigmata,” a 26-minute documentary about the history of stigmata. One realizes almost immediately that, no matter how much fun it's going to be, it's also going to be biased b.s, considering that it opens with talking head Bob Rickard, editor of the Fortean Times. Another, Dr. Ted Harrison, is presented as a “stigmata expert,” and he presents a voice of reason in the proceedings. Unfortunately, Harrison also downplays the dangerous aspect of encouraging belief in stigmata by saying that it is a reflection and encouragement of faith. All this foreplay leads into an extended promotion for the film.

    Unfortunately, the most interesting extra from the Scream release, an episode about stigmata from the History Channel documentary series Incredible But True?, is not ported over.

    The Final Word:

    Stigmata is far from a great film. As with so many religious horrors post Exorcist, it suffers from a confused reading of Catholic doctrine. Regardless, it's never dull, and Wainwright keeps the proceedings moving at a fast clip. Eureka's release is one of the studio's lesser offerings, proving a minor upgrade from the DVD in terms of visual sharpness and color. Some of the issues were intentional on the part of the director, others were not, but at least there are some nice extras on hand to make the package appealing to Region B buyers who were unable to spring for Scream's release.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the Silent Era: Book One (1895-1915) and Book Two (1916-1929) due out later this year.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



















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