Color, 1983, 84m.
Directed by Jamil Dehlavi
Starring Peter Firth, Suzan Crowley, Stefan Kalipha, Oh-Tee, Nabil Shaban
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 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 released by Mondo Macabro in their quest to bring the world's most mind-bending titles to a wider audience.

Among the biggest surprises here is the participation of Firth, an actor riding high at the time after Broadway successes like Amadeus and Equus (and now seen on one of the best British TV series ever, Spooks, better known to Yanks as MI-5). Fortunately he contributes a fascinating video interview 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 with 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 scare prior releases and finally does justice to the rich, often startling visuals, ranging from arid mountains and richly-textured caves to glistening ice formations. Even if you've tried to approach this film in the past and found it daunting, this DVD finally offers a chance to experience it the way it was meant to be seen.


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