B&W, 1965, 85 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini
Starring Peter Baldwin, Salvo Randone, Valentina Cortese, Pia Lindström, Virna Lisi, Philippe Leroy
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Sinister (Blu-ray & DVD) (Italy RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Though The Possessedvirtually unknown to The Possessedmost English-speaking horror fans, the evocative mid-'60s chiller La donna del lago -- christened as The Possessed for its scarce English appearances but more literally translated as The Lady of the Lake -- is the first feature film directed by Luigi Bazzoni, the visually gifted director who went on to helm two of the most ravishing Italian thrillers of 1970s, The Fifth Cord and Footprints. It also marks the sole directorial credit for Franco Rossellini, an ill-fated member of the legendary Italian cinema clan (he's the nephew of Roberto, for starters) whose career as a producer was largely demolished during the experience of making Caligula.

Peter Baldwin (The Ghost, The Weekend Murders) stars as Bernard Giovanni, a novelist who decides to take a summer holiday at a lakeside town to see an on-and-off flame named Tilde (Lisi). Upon arriving it seems she was murdered and thrown into the lake, but there doesn't seem to be any physical evidence... and the townspeople don't seem too willing to divulge details. When murder strikes again, Bernard digs deeper into the mystery and comes up with answers that are none too pretty.

Beautifully shot with an emphasis on The Possessedshimmering light and reflective water, The Possessed is a low key but deeply effective mood piece boasting a screenplay by both directors as well as The PossessedGiulio Questi, the experimental madman behind Death Laid an Egg and Django, Kill... If You Live, Shoot! The script is adapted from a novel by Giovanni Comisso, itself based on a real 1930s murder case (or more accurately, cases) at an Italian hotel. Though he gave up acting in the '70s and turned to TV production, Baldwin was always a solid performer and carries the film well with a haunted look in his eyes throughout the running time. It's odd seeing future superstar Lisi in a limited role as what amounts to a fragmented memory, with meatier roles offered to Valentina Cortese (not far off from her role in Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much), Philippe Leroy, and Pia Lindström, also connected to the Rossellinis since she was Ingrid Bergman's daughter.

Difficult to see in an English-friendly edition apart from some shoddy bootlegs, this film turned up on Italian DVD in 2013 and on Blu-ray in 2015, with only Italian language options included. The same HD transfer was included as a bonus Blu-ray and DVD in the five-disc Koch Media release of Bazzoni's magnificent Footprints, this time with optional German subtitles only. The sole extra related to this film in that set is an Italian-language featurette with German subtitles, "Das Mysterium des Sees" (35m22s) The Possessedwith Questi, makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi and film historian Fabio Melelli chatting about the film. The Possessed

In early 2019, Arrow Video brought the film to both American and British Blu-ray sporting what's touted as a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. And they ain't kidding -- it's a huge improvement with a significant amount of additional image information on the edges, much deeper and richer blacks, and more tactile detail on textures like hair, fabric, and trees. (Due to slightly different black leader at the end, it runs a smidgen shorter than the 85m16s German transfer.) The usual Italian track is included (LPCM mono) with optional English subtitles, and in a very nice addition, you also get the English dub track (with optional English SDH subtitles). The English track is definitely inferior (Baldwin is clumsily dubbed despite speaking English in his scenes), but it's great to finally have it for comparison and definitely gives the film a more cozy, '60s drive-in style feel at times. A new audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas is thorough and informative as always, packing in 85 minutes' worth of observations about the fascinating cast, the directors' background, the source novel, and the film's status as a sort-The Possessedof giallo. On the video side, critic Richard Dyer offers his own 25m13s take on the film as a significant fusion of art film and crime story with an unorthodox approach to The Possessedfilm language and the depiction of time, while "Youth Memories" (16m21s) with legendary production designer Dante Ferretti covers his early days in the industry on projects ranging from ambitious pirate movies to modest dramas. Makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi (who needs no introduction to Italian horror fans) turns up next in "Lipstick Marks" (11m53s), also chronicling his early professional experiences as a kid with an imposing appearance that made people sit back and follow his orders. His other digressions are fun, too, including a dishy bit about Anne Parillaud. "The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers" (30m36s) covers both Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni (the latter a lighting director for Vittorio Storaro) as well as other related figures like Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio De Sica as recalled by friend and director/screenwriter Francesco Barilli. Italian and English theatrical trailers are also included, the latter featuring a narrator proclaiming "The Lady of the Lake!" every time the title The Possessed pops up. The packaging features reversible sleeve options including a new cover design by Sean Phillips, while the first pressing also includes an insert booklet with new liner notes by Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti as well as original review excerpts.


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KOCH MEDIA (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on January 11, 2019.