Color, 1987, 89 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Jared Martin, Lara Naszinski, Ulli Reinthaler, Sophie d'Aulan, Jennifer Naud, Riccardo Acerbi, Kathi Wise, Milijana Zirojevic, Dragan Bjelogrlic, Riccardo Acerbi, Dusica Zegarac
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

After Aenigmathe muted Aenigmaresponse to 1984's Murderock, writer-director Lucio Fulci took a break from the horror genre for a while compounded in no small part by some severe health issues. Following the release of the atypical but impressive The Devil's Honey in 1986, Fulci gradually got back in the saddle again with Aenigma, a stylish Italian-Yugoslavian co-production that gleefully tosses in elements from Carrie, Phenomena, Patrick, and possibly even High Plains Drifter for a tale of adolescent revenge. Though extensively covered by the horror press around the same time Dario Argento was revving up with Opera, the film received only minor theatrical distribution with the big screen horror market in the U.S. in particular in free fall at the time. Since then the film has become easier to appreciate as a transitional title from the gothic and giallo glory days of Fulci's career to the nuttier final wave that still divides fan opinion but has stronger support now than ever.

At St. Mary's College in Boston, a group of students decides to pull a nasty and puzzling prank on poor Kathy (Zirojevic) by setting her up for a hot date with the beefy phys ed instructor (Acerbi) only to... uh, try to run her down with a bunch of cars. In the process Kathy gets struck by another vehicle and ends up in a coma while her dour mother (Zegarac) continues to work as a cleaner at the school. Soon after, new student Eva Gordon (A Blade in the Dark's Nazinski) arrives and seems to be embodied by the comatose Kathy's spirit, unleashing all kinds of lethal mayhem on the bullies at night. Both Eva and her roommate, Jenny (Reinthaler), strike up a rapport with AenigmaDr. AenigmaRobert Anderson (Martin), who hates being called Bob, as he comes to realize that his patient might have a supernatural connection to the school's escalating death list.

Though low on logic, Aenigma is highly entertaining if taken in the right spirit with a string of outlandish murder sequences involving reflections, an animated statue, a spooky Top Gun poster, and in the most notorious sequence, a young woman paralyzed with fear as she's swarmed with snails in her bed. As you'd expect, there's basically no attempt at all to emulate any real location in Massachusetts as the film seems to exist in a strange kind of dream world where anything can happen and every adult male feels free to hit on any female student in sight. Returning to Fulci territory after The New Gladiators, Martin is the ostensible star here but he mostly takes a back seat to his younger co-stars with Naszinski in particular making the strongest impression (including a dorm room freak out that has to be seen to be believed). Adding to the fun is a pounding synth score by Carlo Maria Cordio (Absurd), though even that gets upstaged by the absolutely unforgettable title song, "Head Over Heels" (or "Head Over Meels" according to the main titles), crooned by regular session singer Douglas Meakin.

Aenigma made its U.S. home video debut in 2001 from Image Entertainment as one of the initial entries in its EuroShock line, featuring a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer that Aenigmalooked okay for the time but was missing some slivers of footage here and there (some dialogue and a Aenigmaquick flashback) that made it far less than ideal. In 2017, 88 Films bowed the film on Blu-ray in the U.K. featuring a new 2K scan from the original camera negative, featuring LPCM English and Italian mono audio with optional English subtitles (translated from the Italian). Quality is considerably better than any prior edition, to put it mildly, with very nicely resolved film grain and strong detail throughout while retaining the somewhat gritty nature of the film stock we all know and love from that time period. The color timing is quite a bit different though and dispenses with the frequently unearthly, Phenomena-esque shades of blue seen in the lighting on other transfers, veering more to the yellow or greenish side here. Images in the body of this review are from the Severin, with comparisons seen below. The big extra here is "Aenigma: Fulci and the 80s" (76m31s), a collection of intercut interviews about late period Fulci including Claudio Fragasso, Antonio Bido, Michele de Angelis, Massimo Antonello Geleng, and Antonio Tentori sharing various anecdotes about working with the director during the final decade of his life. The English trailer and the Italian opening and closing credits are also included.

In 2020, Severin Films finally brought Aenigma back to the U.S. on Blu-ray featuring a new 4K scan from the original negative-- and the results are radically improved here, to put it mildly. That beloved blue look is back, blacks are deeper and richer, and the framing shifts from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1 here with quite a bit of additional info on the sides while losing Aenigmajust a sliver at the bottom. The film grain has been left intact and looks fine in motion as well. AenigmaBoth the English and Italian tracks are included (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) with optional English SDH or translated subtitles; it's a bit of a toss up which one is preferable though. The Italian track sounds more elegant and matches about half of the performers, with heftier bass that can sometimes get a little overbearing; the English option basically matches the other half of the actors (most notably Martin, of course) and sounds a bit more clear and balanced. Try both and see which one you prefer. A new audio commentary with Troy Howarth and this writer is also included but can't be assessed here, obviously. "An Italian Aenigma: Appraising Late Day Fulci" (38m26s) is a newly recut version of the featurette "Brain Food" from the 88 Films release of Cat in the Brain (featuring Kim Newman, Calum Waddell, Mikel J. Koven, and Allan Bryce) while "Writing Nightmares" (14m21s) has screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo chatting about his artistic background, learning on the fly in the film business, Fulci's dubious personal grooming habits and unorthodox story sense on The Beyond, and his personal feelings about horror films. Also included are the English and Italian trailers as well as the Italian opening and closing credits. An 18-track soundtrack CD replicates the contents of the 1998 Beat Records release (which was originally bundled on the same disc with Conquest and You'll Die at Midnight), and yes, "Head Over Heels" is included to blast as loudly as your heart desires.

Severin Films (Blu-ray)

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88 Films (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on June 25, 2020