Color, 1988, 86 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by Gianfranco Giagni
Starring Roland Wybenga, Paola Rinaldi, Margareta von Krauss, Claudia Muzii, William Berger, St├ęphane Audran
Severin Films (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1: (16:9)

After Spider Labyrinthburning brightly into the mid-'80s, Spider Labyrinththe Italian horror genre hit a sudden wall with far fewer opportunities for distribution and international exposure. Fanzines and professional horror magazines still enthused for a few years about films by the likes of Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava that were only seen on Italian TV and/or Japanese home video, with only Dario Argento holding out as a name who had any shot at getting a foothold on the big screen. Lots of very worthwhile genre films ended up falling through the cracks along the way, with die-hard collectors resorting to the gray market to see elusive titles like Pupi Avati's The Arcane Enchanter. One title that received substantial prerelease press but seemed to vanish without even a legitimate DVD release was Il nido del ragno, or Spider Labyrinth (or The Spider Labyrinth according to the title card). Featuring ambitious special effects by the great Sergio Stivaletti (Phenomena, Demons) and atmospheric Budapest location shooting, the film simply came along at the wrong time and became a word-of-mouth oddity that would often top Euro horror wish lists of films missing in action on home video. Eventually that did come to pass in 2023 with a three-disc edition from Severin Films, featuring a 4K UHD, a Blu-ray, and a soundtrack CD, and no self-respecting Italian horror fan can possibly pass this one up.

Newly arrived in Hungary, American professor Alan Whitmore (Wybenga) suffers from nightmares about a childhood experience locked in a wardrobe with a spider. Now he's trying to figure out what happened to a colleague, Professor Ross, and their work on something called the Intextus Project. He joins up Spider Labyrinthwith Ross' very unabashed assistant, Genevieve (Rinaldi), but his work is stymied by obstacles like an enigmatic older Spider Labyrinthman (Berger) who keeps saying things like "I want to save you," an elegant but eerie hotel owner (Audran), a sharp-toothed homicidal witch (von Krauss), and the death of Ross himself, soon found hanged under mysterious circumstances. Soon he comes to believe that an ancient, very dark religion is being practiced at the heart of the city, and he could be getting caught in its web.

Stylish and spooky, this one has pacing and an overall vibe very similar to Avati along with nods to other filmmakers -- a black ball as a portent of death a la Mario Bava, elaborate kill scenes shot like paintings a la Argento, and so on. However, it also has that off-kilter, dreamy quality common to latter period Italian horror such as other Budapest-shot titles like Ruggero Deodato's The Washing Machine and Michele Soavi's The Church. Like the majority of its peers around that time, this was shot in English with many of the principals providing their own voices; Rinaldi was dubbed, but skillfully so. Adding to the fun are a woozy orchestral score by Franco Persanti and stylish cinematography by Sebastiano Celeste (Violent Naples), who uses intense blues and reds to eerie effect throughout.

Even though it should go without saying that the Severin release is light years better than any viewing option of this film before, it's still stunning to see how beautiful this film is -- especially on the UHD, which looks exceptionally detailed with bursts of primary colors that can make you gasp in more than a few shots. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo audio is immaculate and comes with optional English SDH subtitles, while the Italian dub is also included if Spider Labyrinthyou feel like comparing. A new audio commentary features Ryan Verrill and Will Dodson, who touch on the cast, background, and state of late '80s Italian horror but hone in primarily on the Spider Labyrinthsymbolic imagery of the film including the web and feeding imagery as well as possible readings of the peculiar events within the plot. The UHD and Blu-ray also feature the English trailer (in perfect condition), which works in as much nudity as possible. The rest of the extras are only on the Blu-ray starting with "Caught In A Web" (45m10s), which features director Gianfranco Giagni chatting about how he wanted to get out of music videos around that time and how producer Tonino Cervi recruited him to direct a horror project, which led to several ups and down and peculiarities along the way to seeing it realized. In "Arachne" (40m39s), screenwriter Gianfranco Manfredi explains his working relationship with his director, the realistic approach requested for the majority of the storyline, and previous cult and conspiracy films that were cited as inspirations. "All the Colors of a Spider" (19m56s) has Celeste explaining how he approached shooting in Hungary and his apprehension about working with the director for the first time, though that led to a harmonious working relationship and a lot of collaboration for their one film together. In "Smile Of The Spider Woman" (34m5s), actress Paola Rinaldi (who somehow looks virtually the same!) recalls being given her big theatrical break by Gabriele Lavia and working for several notable directors, with this one marking her first leading role and presenting some amusing quirks regarding the physical demands of her performance. In "Death In Stop Motion" (39m9s), special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti talks about coming to this film during a significant period of practical effects artists and, inspired by Willis O'Brien and some tricks he came up with on Phenomena, realizing grotesque creations that really take center stage in the last 15 minutes. Finally in "Web of the Weird" (17m25s), Dodson, Verrill, editor Carl Sederholm, and author Erica Shultz contextualize this film as part of the post-Lovecraft depiction of the uncanny with a more sprawling and ambitious perspective than the Gothic. (Be warned the volume on this one is much louder than everything else on the disc, so keep your remote handy.)

Reviewed on November 23, 2023