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February 27, 2018

The Sect

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La Setta
Michele Soavi - 1991
Doppelganger Releasing and Scorpion Releasing BD Region A

Dario Argento originated the story, served as producer, and has his name prominently featured on the posters. Be that as it may, there is enough difference here to mark The Sect as Michele Soavi's film. This isn't like the original film version of The Thing which looks and sounds enough like a Howard Hawks film that people are still arguing as to what Christian Nyby actually did, or Poltergeist, with Steven Spielberg second-guessing Tobe Hooper. The Sect is the last of his first three films to be made under the sponsorship of older filmmakers, with Stage Fright produced by Aristide Massaccesi, followed Dario Argento serving as producer on The Church and The Sect.

What struck me were the moments of quiet contemplation, dreamlike imagery, as well as use of religious symbolism. One of the first shots is with the camera following along a creek, with the water appearing to turn increasingly red. A superimposed title reads "South California 1970" (sic). Music is heard faintly, then more clearly recognized as the song, "A Horse with No Name". Animals are a significant part of this film. A family of hippies is camping out. A man dressed like a biblical character shows up asking for water. He introduces himself as Damon, a name that sounds almost like demon, and quotes from the Rolling Stone song, "Sympathy for the Devil". Damon looks kind of like Charles Manson. Most viewers can guess where this is leading.

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Considering the use of animals and images of animals in The Sect, it's an uncanny accident that Kelly Curtis has the lead role here instead of the originally considered actress. Consider that her mother, Janet Leigh, portrayed a woman named Marion Crane in Psycho and was terrorized by giant rabbits in Night of the Lepus. Here the daughter is terrorized by a marabou stork, and has a pet rabbit. Curtis plays a teacher named Miriam, almost a homophone with Marion. Herbert Lom brings his own legacy as a creepy, if not villainous, stranger in Miriam's life. The narrative jumps to Frankfurt, Germany, 1991, with a murderer confessing to his crime compelled by outside forces.

There is lots of use of blue, especially in an oversized basement with walls that have artwork that resemble the stain glass windows of a church, The blue stringy substance that appears with the water in Miriam's house is echoed in a ribbon around her wrist. Doctors wear shiny blue scrubs. A dream sequence takes place in a lushly green field with eye popping red flowers. In addition to her pet rabbit, Miriam's house has images of rabbits on the walls and collection of rabbit figurines.

The dream sequence especially anticipates the kind of visual creativity Soavi would employ almost ten years later with his television film on St. Francis. There are the usual horror tropes with windows that burst open, doors that slam shut, and passageways that could well be portals to hell. The gorier elements are much briefer here than one finds in most Argento films. Unlike most films that involve devil worship, the religious aspects here are pre-Christian.

The blu-ray was made from a 2K scan from the original negative of the English language version. A supplement with actor Tomas Arana not only discusses his playing of Damon, but the differences as an actor in Italian and Hollywood productions. An interview with Michele Soavi covers the history of the making of The Sect as well as some of the films that served as inspiration.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 27, 2018 06:13 AM