STIGMATA (1999) Blu-ray
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

The turn-of-the-millennium religious thriller STIGMATA hits Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory.

In Sao Paolo to investigate and debunk an image of the Virgin Mary on a church wall, Congregation of the Causes of Saints church scientist Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne, GOTHIC) hears of a statue of the Virgin Mary in the small village of Belo Quinto that has wept blood since the death of Father Almeida (Jack Donner, THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED). Unable to find evidence of a hoax, he sends his findings back to the Vatican but neglecting to pack up the state and send it to Rome because of the congregation's devotion to it. His superior Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce, BRAZIL) discourages his interest in the case, claiming that there is no record of a church in Belo Quinto or a Father Almeida, and sends him to Pittsburgh instead to investigate the a seeming case of stigmata (in which a person spontaneously manifests the five wounds of Christ) afflicting hairdresser Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS). The first wounds of which in her wrists were assumed to be a suicide attempt or epilepsy but the whip lacerations that appeared on her back were witnessed by a train car full of people, including Father Durning (Thomas Kopache, ZODIAC) and two nuns. Kiernan also suspects the cause of her injuries to be mental or medical because Frankie is an atheist and stigmata is only known to happen to the deeply devout; but little does he know that Frankie's vacationing mother, on a stop in Belo Quinto, purchased the rosary beads stolen from Father Almeida's corpse. As Frankie suffers more attacks, she also begins to speak and write in ancient Aramaic phrases that Vatican linguist Father Delmenico (Dick Latessa) and excommunicated Father Petrocelli (EYES WIDE SHUT's Rade Serbedzija) recognize as belonging to a suppressed scroll believed to have been a gospel written by Jesus himself. While Kiernan races to understand what is happening to Frankie before she experiences the final stigmata (the wound that killed Jesus), Houseman conspires to silence a message that could challenge the power of the church.

Scripted by the aptly-named Tom Lazarus – who wrote MAZES AND MONSTERS and episodes of episodic television in the eighties before moving to the director's chair with a series of cable erotica films, one has to wonder how long this idea had been kicking around before it was greenlighted, and how the differently the film might have played had it been directed by someone other than Rupert Wainwright (who has fortunately directed little else since the insulting remake of John Carpenter's THE FOG). While style over substance is not necessarily a negative in horror films, Wainwright's relentless music video production design, photography, and editing to a soundtrack of uneven instrumental cues by Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Czech composer Elia Cmiral (WRONG TURN) along with a compilation of alternative and world music tracks (including the Chumbawumba title track "Mary Mary" jaggedly re-edited to fit the cluttered credits montage). While the concept of a suppressed gospel that threatens the authority and prosperity of the church is intriguing, the film ends up lacking a real force of evil since Almeida possesses Frankie to spread the message and Houseman is corrupt but not truly insidious enough in his manipulations to maintain his position. While the film is certainly better as a pseudo-religious horror film than any of that LEFT BEHIND/OMEGA CODE crap, it – and it's contemporary END OF DAYS (in which Byrne played the devil) – did not have the same kind of impact at the end of the century as ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE EXORCIST, or even the pulpier THE OMEN had in the sixties and seventies. Arquette is quite good, although her character does not seem any more wild than normal to be a modern day Francis of Assisi (making Almeida's statement through her that "the messenger is not important" an apt response to Frankie's complaint that "God is fucking up my life"). Byrne, Pryce, and Serbedzija give their roles the appropriate conviction while the usually dependable Enrico Colantoni (VALENTINE) is terrible here affecting an Italian accent.

Scream Factory's MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is rather uneven, but the film was treated to mostly pre-digital intermediate techniques like skip-bleaching, onscreen filtration, optical overlays, desaturation and smudgy soft focus. A new scan would probably look better, but it is hard to image by how much. The film was released theatrically with a DTS-Stereo matrixed surround soundtrack and upmixed to 5.1 for MGM's DVD release (as well as the Japanese laserdisc which also featured the matrixed surround mix on the digital channels). The Blu-ray features the original soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo as well as a 5.1 upmix. The 5.1 mix spreads out the music and effects but your receiver may be able to do so just as effectively with the 2.0 track in ProLogic or whatever virtual surround mix options they come with. The English HoH subtitles are in white for the English dialogue and music/effects notations while Portuguese and Italian dialogue is translated with burnt-in orange subtitles on the picture.

Ported over from the DVD release is the commentary by director Wainwright in which he discusses the technical approach to the film's look, the use of visual effects, and the substitution of Aramaic for a more visually interesting language. His platitudes for the actors and interpretation of the story are less interesting, but he does mention that Houseman was a more villainous character in the script and that he wanted to depict him as holding to his own sincere beliefs. Also included are workprint deleted scenes which include an alternate opening in which Almeida is seen to have committed suicide, a version of the credits montage without credits or overlays (which shows how ragged the sequence really is), a supernatural disturbance in the hair salon after everyone else has left, a scene with Frankie's boyfriend (DAYS OF OUR LIVES' Patrick Muldoon) who only appears during the opening credits montage of the finished cut, and the film's alternate ending which includes a few additional shots and a different emotional twist which would have been the better choice (although I imagine test audiences hated it).

The theatrical trailer (2:24) has also been ported over along with the music video for the dreary Billy Corgan-penned Natalie Imbruglia end titles song "Identify" (4:15). Not included on the MGM domestic release but included on the UK and Australian releases is the two-part promotional featurette "Divine Rites" (25:36) in which Byrne, Pryce, Arquette, Long, and Wainwright give the usual provocative, overreaching comments about the project while experts discuss the phenomenon of stigmata (including the psychological make-up of those afflicted and how it either influences the body or how they are artificially created or maintained by those who feel the burden or representing spiritualism to their communities). Of peripheral interest is the 2003 History Channel documentary "Incredible But True" (44:05) which looks at stigmatics from Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio to more recent cases. (Eric Cotenas)