I imagine quite a few eyebrows raised when Eureka! announced that they were bringing Rupert Wainwright's 1999 spiritual horror flick to dual format blu-ray and DVD in the UK. As with most genre pictures from its era, it doesn't come with the greatest of followings.

However, perhaps the time is right, seventeen years on, to reassess the film with the benefit of a new HD transfer to aid our appreciation?

First, the film itself.

It opens with scientist-turned-priest Andrew (Gabriel Byrne) in Brazil. He's there to investigate a supposed miracle: a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been weeping blood since the death of a local Holy man a few days earlier. The man, Father Alameida, had suffered with stigmata - a physical manifestation of Jesus Christ's crucifixion wounds. Andrew's certainly convinced by what he sees, but no sooner has he began gathering evidence to take back with him to the Vatican, that a crucial piece of the puzzle - Alameida's rosary beads - are snatched from his hands by a local boy. The boy races to a nearby market where he swiftly sells them on to an American tourist.

Upon his return to Rome, Andrew fails to convince Cardinal Daniel (Jonathan Pryce) that he needs to go back to Brazil to investigate the weeping statue further.

Meanwhile, we see the rosary beads make their way to the tourist's daughter in California: hard-living, decidedly atheist hairdresser Frankie (Patricia Arquette). Shortly afterwards, she suffers an "episode" while relaxing in the bath. She's pulled beneath the water by an invisible force, only to re-emerge with unexplained slashes to her wrists. In hospital, the doctors fix her up and quiz her for traces of self-harming. She insists she's not that type of person.

It's not long before Frankie is back on the streets and suffers another episode, this time aboard a train. It's here that she meets Father Durning (Thomas Kopache). She mentions Andrew's name to him before thrashing about wildly as the lights in the train carriage repeatedly flash on and off. Her back is slashed open several times by an unseen whip.

While Frankie goes through rigorous tests at hospital, Durning obtains CCTV footage of the train-bound incident and in no time at all he's presenting it to the intrigued Andrew. Daniel is keen for him to investigate this matter further.

And so, Andrew meets Frankie. While interviewing her, he reveals that he believes she is experiencing stigmata. Initially sceptical, she begins to research the subject herself and - when her head later begins to bleed in a nightclub as if wearing a crown of thorns - also starts to believe.

As her episodes become more and more outlandish (as well as the bleeding, she begins speaking in foreign tongues and scrawling Aramaic writings onto her apartment walls), Frankie and Andrew grow closer while attempting to understand her affliction.

Is she possessed? And if so, why are the Vatican trying to cover up the evidence?

Visually, STIGMATA plays like a hybrid of cues from THE EXORCIST, ANGEL HEART and SE7EN. There's lots of billowing smoke, rainy streets, stylish greys and autumnal hues. Helmed by former music video director Rupert Wainwright, the film unsurprisingly looks great: each shot is immaculately framed and lit, while editing is unwaveringly adroit. But his pedigree also means we're in for a lot of needlessly flashy sequences, where the way light glimmers off flesh or the manner in which blood drips in slow-motion into water, for example, seem more important to Wainwright than maintaining momentum.

The film feels episodic and overlong as a result, and is further hampered by a heavy-handed script which tries far too hard to offend the Catholic faith. It's not the controversial piece it desperately wants to be, because none of it feels weighty or convincing.

Arquette makes for a likeable lead though. She's feisty enough to be believable as the independent girl about town, while her doe-eyed visage is persuasive as her fear of the situation kicks in. Byrne is perhaps a little too dour in his role, coming off as unintentionally hammy as a result. Their blossoming friendship never once feels authentic. Pryce is a one-dimensional shady background character: adequate but hardly stretched. All other characters are peripheral and lacking in impact as a result.

Billy Corgan provided the indie-inflected score. It's a mild diversion, not nearly as innovative as his comments in the bonus features would suggest.

I didn't have time for STIGMATA when I first saw it many moons ago. I will say I enjoyed it more this time around, my appreciation of its aesthetic qualities heightened greatly by seeing it in HD. But as a drama, it fails to grip. As a horror film, it's still not scary. It's a little dull, in fact.

As mentioned at the start of this review, STIGMATA comes to dual format UK blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Eureka! Entertainment. We were sent a copy of the former to review.

It contains a healthy 1080p HD presentation of the uncut film - 102 minutes and 12 seconds, including the opening MGM logo.

The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is proffered here and what a difference it makes. What used to look like a TV movie now has a far more cinematic appearance. Also, it has to be said that the clean print, enriched colours and increased detail really bring about a new sense of life to this film. Visually, I appreciate this movie a great deal more, thanks to this rather spiffing transfer. The video is channelled through an MPEG4-AVC file, by the way. But you'd probably guessed that.

English audio comes in choices of 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a less complex uncompressed LPCM stereo mix. Both are perfectly adequate, good, in fact. There's little need for the extra separation and channels of the former, although to their credit they don't sound overly synthetic. But I also found the latter to be equally clean, clear and consistent.

Optional English subtitles are clearly written and free from typos throughout.

We also get an isolated music track as an audio option which is, well, decent enough. Will I play it again? It's doubtful. But I appreciate the option to, nevertheless.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection option but the film does have navigational chapters: there

Bonus features are all ported across from the previous US special edition DVD release.

These begin with an interesting, articulate audio commentary track from director Wainwright. He has plenty to say both on the production and the film's themes. This makes for an engaging, if sometimes a tad earnest, listen. Prepare to learn all about the interesting cast, and the etiquette required when filming on the Vatican's grounds...

The 23-minute documentary "Divine Rights" explores the phenomena of stigmata as much as it does the film. This two-parter was clearly first shown on television but remains a valid insight, with welcome onscreen contributions from the likes of Wainwright, Corgan, Byrne and Pryce along the way.

If you're a big one for deleted scenes then you'll have a great time checking out 13 minutes of the suckers here, albeit their rather murky appearance may irk the more image-obsessive amongst you. In fairness, these video-quality sequences don't add much of interest (though the first scene, detailing the suicide of a priest, is stylishly cool).

A 4-minute alternate ending is presented in washed-out VHS quality. Potential déjà vu alert! If this seems very similar to the second deleted scene (see the last paragraph), well ... that's because it is. Still, it's a predictably downbeat affair and doesn't give audiences the impression they were robbed: the filmmakers went with the stronger closing scene of the two for their final cut.

Natalie Imbruglia's song "Identify" fits perfectly well within the context of the film, but sounds awfully dreary when distanced from it - as evidenced in a patience-testing 4-minute promo video.

Finally we get the film's original theatrical trailer. Presented in 1.85:1, it looks a lot less filmic than the film does in 'Scope. Also, at 2 minutes and 26 minutes in length, all this really achieves is to make the film look more or less like a total rip-off of THE EXORCIST.

I understand the DVD in this set contains all of the above, albeit with the film in standard definition.

STIGMATA gets solid treatment from Eureka! in terms of picture and audio. Fans may, however, lament the lack of new extras for this release.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Eureka!
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review