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The Devil’s Game (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • The Devil’s Game (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: November 25th, 2022.
    Director: Giulio Questi, Mario Bava, Piero Nelli, Marcello Aliprandi, Tomaso Sherman, Giovanna Gagliardo
    Cast: Veronica Lario, Stefano Madia, Daria Nicolodi, Marc Porel, William Berger
    Year: 1981
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Devil’s Game – Movie Review:

    A six part series comprised of hour long adaptations of 19th century horror/fantasy writers originally shown on RAI-TV in Italy, The Devil’s Game features directorial work from Giulio Questi, Piero Nelli, Marcello Aliprandi, Tomaso Sherman, Giovanna Gagliardo and most famously Mario Bava, whose final directorial work was co-directed by his son, Lamberto Bava.

    Disc One:

    The first entry, from Giulio Questi, is L’Uomo Della Sabbia (The Sandman) and it's based on the short story The Sandman by author E.T.A. Hoffmann. It revolves around a man named Nataniele who is obsessed with the unsolved murder of his father years back when he was a child. Nataniele suspects that a strange man who works nearby was the one responsible for the killing. Nataniele is also very suspicious of a human-seeming robot dubbed Olimpia. This is a pretty solid adaptation of an interesting story, with good camerawork and solid acting. It’s atmospheric when it needs to be and the production values are quite good. It isn’t “edge of your seat” suspense but it works quite well.

    La Venere D’Ille (The Venus Of Ille), co-directed by Mario and Lamberto Bava, is adapted from Prosper Merimee’s story Venus d’Ille. In the story, a bronze statue of a woman seems to be able to occasionally move under its own power. When this happens, typically someone gets hurt. Enter Alfonso (Fausto Di Bella), a young man soon to be wed to Clara (Daria Nicolodi). When, somewhat foolishly, he puts Clara's wedding band on the finger of the statue, it takes on Clara's appearance. This is the highlight of the set in this writer’s opinion. The cinematography is excellent and the performances very strong. The presence of the statue is consistently eerie and while this never goes over the top into pure horror territory, it’s unsettling and strange enough to get under your skin just enough to work.

    La Presenza Perfetta (The Perfect Presence), directed by Piero Nelli, is based on the story Sir Edmund Orme penned by Henry James. In this story, William Berger plays a man named Henry who falls head over heels in love with a beautiful woman named Charlotte (Emanuela Barattolo). He then learns that Charlotte's mother, Annie (Rada Rassimov), was at one point set to wed Sir Edward Orme (Franco Ressel), but when the wedding was called off he took his own life. Since this happened, Orme's spirit has haunted Charlotte, who will only be released from the curse if Annie is killed. There are interesting ideas at play here and performances are pretty decent. Nelli paces the movie well and things play out in such a manner as to keep the viewer engaged.

    Disc Two:

    Marcello Aliprandi directed La Mano Indemoniata (The Dispossessed Hand), adapted from Gerard de Nerval's La Main Enchantee. This story takes place in Paris where a klutz named Eustachio (Cochi Ponzoni), decides to visit a gypsy last one night. Here, she applies a potion to him causing his right hand to act independently from the rest of his body and mind. When he learns the next day that one of his enemies has been killed, he starts to wonder exactly what is going on. Soon it becomes clear that his hand is responsible for this and for other atrocious deeds, causing Eustachio to have to figure out how to solve this unusual problem. While Aliprandi’s direction is as decent as the acting is, things feel pretty stagey here and the story’s finale isn’t tough to figure out. Still, it’s entertaining enough and a decent enough time killer, if not a classic.

    Director Tomaso Sherman takes on an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp with Il Diavolo Nella Bottiglia which tells the story of Keawe (Stefano Sabelli), a sailor from Hawaii who meets an older man (Ezio Marano) who sells him a bottle wherein a small imp has been trapped. The imp reportedly has the ability to grant wishes to its owner, but if the bottle is not sold before the owner passes on, the imp will send that person to eternal damnation. Getting rid of the bottle also carries a catch, in that the current owner has to sell it for less than they paid for it. This one also feels more like a stage production than a movie, the sets look very artificial as do the costumes. The story plays out pretty well, pulling us in and leaving us wanting to know how things will finish.

    Last but not least is Il Sogno Dell’Altro (The Dream Of Another), directed by Giovanna Gagliardo and based on H.G. Wells’ The Story Of The Late Mr. Elvesham. In this story, Edward (Stefano Madia) becomes the recipient of the estate of the aged Albert Elvesham (Jose Quaglio), an old man who is clearly not long for this world. Edward agrees to take on the inheritance but learns the hard way that there is a lot more to Elvesham than he ever realized was possible. The story in this final entry is pretty strong, and if the production values aren’t amazing they’re good enough that we don’t notice so much. The acting is solid here and Gagliardo does a good job of controlling the pace and keeping things moving at a good clip.

    The Devil’s Game – Blu-ray Review:

    Five episodes have been sourced from broadcast masters, with Bava’s swan song restored from a 16mm print discovered in the RAI vault by film preservationists Simone Starace and the late Michele De Angelis. Each episode is framed at 1.33.1. Everything is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, with everything but the Bava entry having been upscaled. Not surprisingly, the film-sourced Bava entry looks quite a bit better than the other stories. While damage and color fading is noticeable here, it has better and strong detail and more appreciable depth to the image. The other five look a bit soft, perfectly watchable mind you, but clearly taken from tape masters rather than film sources. Regardless of the sources, the first three entries look to have at least been shot on film while the other three on the second disc were shot on video. Expect some softness and even occasional tape related defects.

    The only audio options available for the episodes are Italian language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Like the video quality, things are less than perfect but perfectly serviceable. The dialogue is easy enough to follow but things lean towards the flat side throughout most of the episodes’ running time. Again, it’s a matter of making the most of what elements are available.

    The main extra in the set is an audio commentary for La Venere D'Ille with Tim Lucas, the Author of Mario Bava: All The Colors Of The Dark. As is typical of Lucas' commentary tracks, it's an extremely well-researched talk. Lucas covers the history and origins of The Devil's Game series, how Roberta Carlotto selected the stories to be adapted, biographical details on the different cast and crew members that the Bavas worked with on the project, how Lamberto Bava made some tremendous advances with his work on this picture, where superstition is worked into the story, the influence of Georges Franju's work on the picture and lots more. It's a very thorough dissection of the production, equal parts history less and analysis.

    There are also two featurettes here, starting with Venus In Love, an interview with La Venere D'Ille Screenwriter/Co-Director Lamberto Bava. He speaks for twenty-one minutes about working with RAI and how the original project was supposed to be much longer than six episodes, why he and his father chose the story they adapted for the series, memories of some of the people that he worked with on the project, casting the picture and working with the different actors, his appreciation of Daria Nicolodi, casting his own son in a small role, the specifics of some of the compositional work required for the project and what it was like collaborating with his father on the film.

    Nemo Propheta In Patria interviews La Venere D'Ille Cinematographer Nino Celeste (and a rather friendly black cat). This featurette runs thirteen minutes and reviews how he came to work on the movie, being nervous about working with Mario Bava, what their relationship was like on set and how well they got along, how Mario and Lamberto worked together on the shoot and how Mario started the project with Lamberto in mind, shooting on 16mm and what was involved in that, what the cast members were like on set and some of the specifics of the camerawork involved.

    The Devil’s Game - The Final Word:

    The Devil’s Game is an interesting selection of adaptations of classic genre stories made by an equally interesting selection of filmmakers and actors. The presentation on this set may not be reference quality, but given that it’s been taken from the best known sources, it’s unlikely to get any better than this any time soon. The highlight of this set will be, for most people, the Bava content, and it is the strongest of the six stories here but the rest have plenty of merit as well, make this a series that fans of classic horror should enjoy digging into.


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    Ian Jane
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    Last edited by Ian Jane; 11-28-2022, 02:42 PM.
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