Monday, May 18, 2015

STIGMATA (1999) Blu-ray Review

Stigmata (1999) d. Rupert Wainwright (USA)

When a statue of the Virgin Mary begins to cry tears of warm, red blood following a Brazilian priest’s death, Vatican investigator Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is assigned to validate the miracle. When the priest’s rosary beads find their way into the possession of sexy, young (and atheist) urbanite Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), she begins to exhibit the first of the Five Wounds of Christ, bleeding from her wrists, ankles, and forehead. Problem is, only the most devout capital-B Believers are supposed to possess the stigmata, so Kiernan is sent to Pittsburgh to “investigate” (i.e. disprove) the incidents.

This flashy, ultra-slick religious mystery owes obvious debts to The Exorcist, but without wielding a fraction of that film’s power or gravitas. Director Wainwright amply demonstrates his music video background (M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and “Pray” among them), combining zippy visuals and rampant symbolism with fit-inducing flash editing.

Even as these assaults stimulate the senses, they detract from the story’s weight, reducing a potentially moving modern-day fable of faith and doubt to a jazzed-up possession flick, although screenwriters Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage earn points for the novelty of a story where a rogue spirit occupies a body with benevolent intentions.

The rushed final reel regrettably loses steam as it spirals into less-than-divine conspiracy theories and special effects, emerging as shallow as Jonathan Pryce’s villainously corrupt Vatican official. (The attempt at a romantic subplot between the two leads is equally unnecessary and bogus.) Even so, the scenes of bloodletting are powerful, with the memorable subway train sequence earning full marks for showmanship.

The charmingly snaggletoothed Arquette commits fully to her underwritten role, tendering a physically impressive and vanity-free performance, while Byrne’s unflagging sense of purpose grounds the more fanciful sequences. (Byrne also played the Devil the same year in the apocalyptic Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle End of Days.) The gorgeous Nia Long has a thankless role as Arquette’s best pal, rising star Portia de Rossi makes an impression as their tattooed co-worker, and the inimitable Rade Serbedzija delivers the exposition goods in his defrocked priest cameo.

Having tested the waters three years prior, contributing heavily to Ron Howard’s Ransom, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan offers up his first fully accredited soundtrack, though it is punctuated by a myriad of thumping pop tunes from assorted artists.

Many of the extras from Shout! Factory’s recent Blu-ray upgrade are ported over from MGM’s original DVD release, but they add a few that sweeten the package considerably. Not only do we get an articulate and informed audio commentary from Wainwright, there are two featurettes on the subject matter itself. The first, “Divine Rights: The Story of Stigmata,” is more promotional in nature, mixing interviews with the director and his stars with talking head experts on the physical/spiritual phenomenon.

The second, however, “Stigmata: Marked for Life,” which originally aired on the History Channel’s Incredible But True? program in 2002, offers a comprehensive examination, covering pretty much anything the viewer could want to know (while demonstrating that Wainwright, Lazarus, and Ramage clearly did their research).

Other extras include a number of deleted scenes, alternate ending, a Natalie Imbruglia music video (“Identify”), and the film’s theatrical trailer. NOTE: The running time of 91 minutes as listed on the Blu-ray packaging is incorrect - the film runs 102 minutes.

Stigmata is available May 19 from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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