Color, 1983, 83 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by Jamil Dehlavi
Starring Peter Firth, Suzan Crowley, Stefan Kalipha, Oh-Tee, Nabil Shaban
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
When violent solar activity including what appears to be a skull-like eclipse causes strange eruptions and nightmarish visions in targeted locations on Earth, a nameless female astronomer (The Draughtsman's Contract's Crowley) takes her findings to a tormented flutist, Paul (Firth), whose own nightmares appear to be related to his father, who died before his son's birth while seeking an enigmatic, possibly malefic Eastern entity known as the Master Musician (Oh-Tee). Together in Turkey they experience increasingly bizarre encounters involving djinns, dervishes, and the birth of a giant, slimy insect-like beast by our heroine.
Along with the still MIA Eyes of Fire, this oddball British film is one of the most baffling films released in the '80s home video horror wave. It was originally shot in 1983 but treated like a bastard stepchild in its native country, while in America it received a token minor theatrical release and confused lots of customers on VHS through Vidmark. However, it must be stressed that Born of Fire can't be watched as a traditional horror film; it's more of a dark fantasy based on Eastern mythology and Islamic lore with occasional macabre flourishes.
The increased commercial exposure of artists like Jodorowsky and Arrabal should make this much easier to digest now, and it's certainly among the classiest and most visually ravishing films chosen by Mondo Macabro in its quest to bring the world's most mind-bending titles to a wider audience.
Among the biggest surprises on the label's 2009 DVD is the participation of Firth, an actor riding high at the time after Broadway successes like Amadeus and Equus (and later seen on the excellent TV series Spooks, better known to Yanks as MI-5). Fortunately he contributes a fascinating video interview (12m24s) on the DVD to explain a bit about his career choices at the time (he turned down a lot of Hollywood projects, a decision about which he now feels conflicted) and his interest in the source material and director Dehlavi, who largely improvised the film around a framework of concepts to which he'd been exposed since childhood. These influences are explained further in an interview with the director, who admits in retrospect he might have been better following his true love of painting and expounds upon some of the magical ideas he wanted to explore wit4h this film. The challenges of shooting in Turkey (particularly the covert filming of some of the more unclothed sequences) also provides several anecdotal highlights. Last up is actor Shaban (who plays "The Silent One," a mysterious dervish) who talks more about his career and the basic outline of the plot as it was originally presented. Pete Tombs contributes another outstanding, illuminating set of notes about the film (you really might want to read them before viewing the feature) and a dupey '80s Vidmark trailer used to promote the tape release. As for the transfer of the film itself, it's a sensational upgrade from the scarce prior releases and finally does justice to the rich, often startling visuals, ranging from arid mountains and richly-textured caves to glistening ice formations.
In a very unexpected turn, Born of Fire wound up making its worldwide debut from U.K. label Indicator, easily its most out of left field release as of this writing. The company's usual painstaking attention to detail when it comes to compression and color balance pays off nicely here with a richly textured and very impressive presentation that improves on the already solid but outdated DVD. Earth tones and dark shadows in particular really shine now, and the hallucinatory exterior scenes in the final stretch have a crispness that makes this a nice piece of eye candy. The English LPCM 2.0 track is also in excellent shape, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. One major bonus feature to treasure here is Qâf - The Sacred Mountain (27m14s), a visually dazzling 1985 experimental documentary shot during the making of this film and featuring a dreamy soundtrack with tracks by Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh. Filled with colorful imagery of an erupting volcano, it's a perfect companion piece and would also play well with some similar efforts by Richard Stanley and Werner Herzog. A new, different Dehlavi interview, "Playing with Fire" (18m8s), lays out the groundwork for how this film emerged from his past work and more than a little bit of political turmoil, with TV commercials keeping him going in the interim. He also reveals which part was the most difficult to cast, and it's not the one you'd expect-- and there's even an anecdote about trying to cast Jack Palance, which would have resulted in a markedly different film! Shaban appears for a new interview in "The Silent One Speaks" (34m39s) for a comprehensive account of how he got the role (despite being convinced he'd be passed over) and was attracted to the deep, more abstract qualities that he finds are too rare in films now. He also explains how he ended up being transported around the imposing terrain and shares tales about some of the wilder moments during shooting, including a perilous cave fire. "In Another World" (16m52s) is a very welcome new interview with composer Colin Towns, who had already provided one of the best horror scores of all time with The Haunting of Julia and got to stretch himself with a world of unusual instruments and a heavy emphasis on the flute. The 2009 Firth interview is also carried over here, and a better presentation of the U.S. trailer is included along with separate galleries for location photography (48 images) from Saban's collection and a batch of (NSFW) stills and posters. The limited 3,000-unit edition also contains an insert booklet with new liner notes by Dr. Ali Nobil Ahmad, writer Raficq Abdulla, and Shaban, plus a selection of reviews from the initial release.
Updated review on September 22, 2018.