As diehard horror fans dedicated to diving deeper into the genre, we have all seen films from the likes of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, films that deliver frights in more ways than just hacking and slashing. These films were present prominently in the 70’s and 80’s, but are you aware that there were other filmmakers creating beautifully frightening films akin to those of the masters, well into the 90’s? Yeah… me either! One of these films is Mariano Baino’s Dark Waters.
A young Englishwoman, Elizabeth (Louise Salter, Interview with the Vampire), visits an island convent far from her London home, in hopes to figure out what her strange connection to this place is. It doesn’t take long for her to discover that it was a mistake to break her promise to never visit this awful place and now, she must discover a way to escape its evil grasp.
Recently, I reviewed a couple of Jesus Franco films that fell into the exploitation sub-genre (or is it sub-sub-genre?) of ‘women in prison’ films. In those reviews (see Women in Cell Block 9 and 99 Women), I did a quick rundown of the other types of exploitation films there are. You know, the Nazisploitation, dwarfsploitation, blaxploitation stuff. Another of these weird, depraved genres is nunsploitation. While I do happen to own a few nunsploitation films in my ever-growing film collection, I don’t really have too much experience with them. Because of this, I cannot truly compare Baino’s work with that of other directors who have dabbled in the art. I do know, however, that there is some pretty wild stuff going on here.
I will be frank with you guys, no pun intended. I was actually pretty damn confused for a lot of this film. Dark Waters, not to be confused with Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water, its American remake, or the plethora of other films with the same name, is a perfect title for this production because it is truly quite dark. There is intense imagery of nuns being crucified, nuns whipping themselves as others sit around them, praying in unison to an unknown deity, blind nun soothsayer’s, etc. All of this happening before my eyes quite randomly, or so it seemed. On top of this, a soundtrack filled with children crying, monstrous growls that are coming from God knows where, and a rich, resounding organ score composed by Igor Clark really take this already quite eerie film into the next level of depravity. Although I was confused, I couldn’t take my eyes away from my television.
Dark Waters happens to not only be dark in nature, but also in palette. Deep blacks and dark reds fill the screen throughout the entire film with the brilliant use of lighting, mainly created by nearby fires and a myriad of candlesticks in the convent. Masterful cinematography catches all of the right angles creating even more shadows, allowing the viewers’ mind to really escape its owner for almost a full 90 minutes.
The cast of Dark Waters is rather tiny, remaining intimate, with no true standout performances. Though none of the actors can be regarded as masters of the craft, their performances were good enough to carry the story along, as necessary; a film about demon-worshipping nuns doesn’t need to feature academy award-winning actors.
Confusion and average-level acting aside, Dark Waters is certainly worth a watch for diehard exploitation and supernatural fans. The final 15 minutes aided in tying things together for me and brought my interest level back up almost instantly, as my attention span had been wearing thin in the final moments of the second act. I won’t spoil anything for you, but this is where the influence of Italian filmmakers before him and where Baino’s creative side really shine through the most. Severin Films has yet again done a remarkable job with the HD remastering of the film, which looks and sounds spectacular. Fans are also treated to tons of special bonus features, including over four hours of interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a myriad of Mariano Baino’s earlier works and short films.
Overall, I give this film 2.5 fractured pieces of a demon amulet out of 5 and recommend checking it out for yourself.