Did you ever see a film that is so awful, that in some perverse way it is actually brilliant? FATAL FRAMES ($30) is such a movie. Well, perhaps I am not talking Ed Wood/Bela Lugosi awful, but FATAL FRAMES has a couple of shortcomings that one will find difficult to ignore. As I was watching FATAL FRAMES, there were times I was convinced that film was going to turn out to be a porn video, instead of an Italian horror movie. Anyone who has seen the film has to admit that the painfully atrocious dialogue and wooden acting has more in common with an adult video than with any other form of entertainment. I should also note that several of the leading performers even look as though they would be at home in the adult entertainment industry.
Getting back to the brilliance that I mentioned above, FATAL FRAMES does have a truly intriguing plot that makes the film worth watching and director Al Festa manages to imbue the film with impressive visuals that keep one's eyes glued to the screen. Festa directs FATAL FRAMES with the stylistic flourishes of a music video, which works quite well within the context of the film's plot. Another plus for the film is how Festa utilizes Rome as a location and integrates a number of instantly recognizable landmarks into the story. FATAL FRAMES stars Rick Gianasi as American music video director Alex Ritt, who travels to Rome to direct Italian pop sensation Stefania Stella (who portrays herself). Once in Rome, Ritt finds that the set of the music video is plagued by a series of murders that would appear to be the work of "The Video Killer," who killed Ritt's wife back in the States. Has the killer followed Ritt to Rome, or has a copycat begun slicing up women with a machete, just for the sheer pleasure of taunting Ritt and baffling the police? Unlike the plot of many Italian horror movies, FATAL FRAMES does have a sense of logic that could have been dazzling, if only the dialogue weren't so painfully bad that it turns almost every scene into an ordeal. Perhaps Italians should hire American writers to rework the dialogue into something that the actors could say without embarrassing themselves.
There is no way in the world I can get through this review without making some sort of comment about leading lady Stefania Stella. Right up front, let me say that she is a whole lotta woman (especially right up front). Not that Stella is fat, but if she were an Italian meal she would certainly be several helpings worth. Stella is the kind of woman that the renaissance masters would have painted nude- and FATAL FRAMES gives her the opportunity to shed her clothing. As for Stella’s acting, it isn't terribly good- but perhaps she is hamstrung by having to deliver dialogue in English. However, Stella does exude sexuality and is in all actuality the ideal person for her particular role. The cast of FATAL FRAMES also includes notable genre personalities David Warbeck, Linnea Quigley, Angus Scrimm and Donald Pleasance. Unfortunately, it would appear that Pleasance passed on during the production and most of his dialogue sounds as though it were dubbed by someone else, plus he is doubled in at least one scene by another actor whose face is fairly well concealed. Alida Valli, who has come to the horror genre late in her career, also makes an appearance in the film.
Synapse Films has made FATAL FRAMES available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has not been enhanced for 16:9 playback. The Letterboxed transfer looks good on a 4:3 monitor, offering a fairly crisp image and a respectable level of detail. Colors are wonderfully vibrant and much of the nighttime photography features an intense "James Cameron" blue lighting. Warm hues are equally well represented in the video and the flesh tones are rather appealing. There are no problems with chroma noise or smearing during the presentation. Blacks are suitably inky and the level of shadow detail is respectable. Film grain is noticeable from time to time, and the source element is in good shape. Digital compression artifacts keep a very low profile most of the time.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack decodes to standard surround and is pretty atmospheric. Music is somewhat overdone, but on this movie, it works to the production's advantage. The dialogue is reasonably intelligible, but that's the best one can expect with some of the accents.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection feature, as well as some extras that offer more entertainment value than one would suspect. Chief amongst the extras is an audio commentary featuring director Al Festa and actress Stefania Stella. The commentary audio has been enhanced with some vocal echoing, plus music underscoring the talk. This commentary is a one-of-a-kind experience that must be heard to be believed. A making-of documentary is also included on the DVD, as are deleted scenes, trailers, cast/crew biographies and music videos directed by Festa, including those featuring Stefania Stella. The music videos come from the footage that is supposedly shot during the course of FATAL FRAMES and rate as another "must see" in their completed form.
In all of horror cinema, FATAL FRAMES is something truly unique. Don May Jr. of Synapse Films should be commended (or committed) for producing a DVD worthy of the film. Recommended to trash horror cinema fans everywhere, especially those who are heavily medicated.
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