Ah, no wonder I had trouble finding this little gem -- when films are retitled depending on which company handles it, it's a wonder anyone will find them at all. I luckily stumbled across it as DEAD WATERS on a very no-frills DVD from York Entertainment. At that time I had wished that a company like Anchor Bay would have acquired this wonderful film and given it a decent treatment, I'm at least grateful that I found it at all even in this form. UPDATE: Thankfully due to the folks at No Shame Films, it's now available on DVD in widescreen and full of extras. UPDATE: May 1, 2016. The No Shame Films DVD releases are now out of print, but accessible (at higher prices, of course).
For those looking for fast and cheap thrills, they will be sorely disappointed by Dark Waters/Dead Waters. For those with a true sense of appreciation for something more akin to art, then this film is a dream come true. Rich in style and atmosphere it has the look and feel of an early 1970s Italian horror film, yet unlike many of those kind that offered style over substance, it has an eerie story to support the murky atmosphere that will draw you in.
After the death of her father, Elizabeth (Louise Salter) travels to a Crimean island to find out why her father had been sending funds to a "convent" of sorts. There she befriends one (who could easily be mistaken for Meg and Jennifer Tilly's lost sister) who guides her around and shows her secrets. This leads to a shocking discovery of her past and heritage. All this is conveyed in an amazingly sparse amount of dialogue, so it really shows this film's power and presence that it tells the story so minimally, letting the viewer absorb the visuals and sounds and letting those elements fill in the blanks.
The nuns are creepy, it's always raining and murky, and inside the catacombs of the main setting there's always water leaking and trickling. This effectively evokes a feeling of discomfort for the viewer. Even when the weather is clear there's a surreal atmosphere as best shown by the local shop and its shopkeeper, a strange man that seems to be feeding a corpse in a coffin to the birds piece by piece instead of the expected burial. I have a suspicion that the "townspeople" don't know he's doing this. I found that part of the story deliciously creepy and brilliant.
Some may find the "monster" climax to be somewhat low budget -- very minor, though (didn't the "being" have an Xtro quality to it?), but frankly that didn't bother me since the whole film was so wonderfully downright bizarre to begin with. There was so much more going on if you look past the flaws, you'd see that this is a real piece of art for those of us that sometimes like a bit of beauty and substance to absorb. This is classic Gothic horror and gives the brain a bit of a challenge as well. One film critic went so far as to say it was "an unholy hybrid of Bergman and Argento." Could be, to an extent. Nonetheless, Dark Waters is thoroughly absorbing visually as well as in its storytelling. Mariano Baino should be quite proud of this little known gem and I cherish it. Discovering this film is a satisfying experience indeed. By the way, Mr. Baino is a really great guy -- he read this review and contacted me about it. That shows some real class, and I'm glad to have made him happy about my support for this film!
According to the information on the DVD's cover, it won the Special Vincent Price Award at the Rome Fantafestival. I confess I'm not sure how prestigious that is, but I am happy that Dark Waters has gained appreciation and recognition!