Color, 1988, 94 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli
Starring John Phillip Law, Brigitte Christensen, Gordon Mitchell, Olinka Hardiman, Marco Di Stefano
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Never one to be constrained Blood Deliriumby popular notions of restraint or linear plotting, director Blood DeliriumSergio Bergonzelli was already bashing people's psyches in the '70s with films like In the Folds of the Flesh and later erotic freak-outs like Porco Mondo. One of his final films, Blood Delirium, came along just as the Italian horror boom was winding down and mostly heading straight to the VHS market, but even this one had a tough time with only minimal domestic play and a handful of significantly censored home video options in Hong Kong and Brazil that toned down the film's violence and necrophiliac excesses to a ridiculous 77-minute running time. Largely thanks to the presence of Euro-cult stalwarts John Phillip Law and Gordon Mitchell, the film became a regular fixture on the bootleg tape trading scene in the '90s where it eventually became one of the more familiar Bergonzelli titles. In a welcome development, Vinegar Syndrome gave the film its global Blu-ray debut and first U.S. release of any kind in 2022 with a region-free disc featuring a fresh 2K scan from the completely uncensored 35mm original camera negative. At least among the more dogged fans of late-period Italian horror, this has been something of a holy grail that turned out to be more than worth the wait.

Clothing-averse concert pianist Sybille (Christensen) is eagerly preparing dinner for her fiancé Gerard (Di Stefano) during his flight home when she's suddenly tormented by a mysterious voice from the future belonging to Christine, a woman about to die from a sudden terminal illness. Meanwhile nearby, Christine expires during a thunderstorm to the extreme torment of her husband, unhinged painter Saint Simon (Law), who lives with their hulking butler, Hermann (Mitchell). The two men manage to sneak Christine's body out of the graveyard and clumsily preserve it in a hidden crypt so the artist can keep Blood Deliriumon finding inspiration from her after death, but the real spark to his Blood Deliriumart comes in the form of Sybille who turns out to be the dead wife's doppelganger and shows up thanks to a mysterious windswept invitation. Believing he's the reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh and prone to mystical internal monologues, Saint Simon keeps Sybille trapped within his home while Hermann's murderous antics supply the most vivid and inspirational painting material at hand: human blood.

Though a plot synopsis might make this sound like an updating of something like Color Me Blood Red, Bergonzelli's film is truly unlike anything else out there as it smashes together sexploitation, Gothic thrills, supernatural gibberish, wild overacting, and excessive library sound effects into a punch-drunk viewing experience without a shred of normal human behavior. At least visually, this takes a page from the vintage Gothic potboilers with lots of flickering candles and clapping thunder, a far cry from what was being turned out by directors like Joe D'Amato and Dario Argento at the time. However, the nudity and bloodshed are very much of the late '80s with the full-strength version still packing a sleazy punch (including a protracted corpse mangling reminiscent of Beyond the Darkness). The score by Nello Ciangherotti is one of the strongest assets, a piano and organ-heavy concoction that really deserves a wider release outside the very restrictive digital library streaming version out there from Octopus Music.

Blood DeliriumAnyone pining for a respectable presentation of this film will be astonished by the Blu-ray presentation, which looks Blood Deliriumexcellent while preserving the rather rough and grainy veneer of the original feature. The 1.66:1 framing looks dead on and detail is solid throughout; audio options are the English and Italian tracks (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono), and since the film was completely dubbed either way, you might as well go with the English since it features Law looping himself. Optional English SDH and English-translated subtitles are provided, and it's interesting to see how the Italian track diverges at points throughout. A new audio commentary by Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth features a lot of info about all the major players with a particular focus on Bergonzelli while touching on all the actors including adult film star Olinka Hardiman, who occasionally went legit-ish in a handful of films like this. They also go into the state of Italian genre filmmaking in the late '80s, the locations, and the film's very bumpy distribution history. In "Gerard's Delirium" (19m13s), Di Stefano looks back at the making of the film, his own background growing up in Tuscany, his father's theater background, and some of the other roles that benefited from his "sweet gaze." In "Killer's Muse" (28m21s), Christensen recalls her start doing theater, her falling in love with Italy and deciding to live there, her pragmatic approach to the film's nude scenes, her memories of Law, and her awe at working with the kind Mitchell. Finally "Once Upon a Time in the Italian Eighties" (29m12s) is a career-spanning chat with assistant director Corrado Colombo about the ups and downs of the last great decade for Italian horror, including prestigious figures he brushed against on the set, the cost-efficient means of achieving special effects, the pilfering of ideas from earlier landmark films like Repulsion, and his thoughts on working with Bergonzelli whom he compares to Ed Wood. Also included are the Italian front and end titles, plus the grammatically baffling English trailer.

Reviewed on January 8, 2023.