Color, 1990, 86 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by Charles Band
Starring Sherilyn Fenn, Malcolm Jamieson, Charlie Spradling, Hilary Mason, Phil Fondacaro
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), X-Rated Kult (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Raro (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Anyone Meridianfamiliar with MeridianFull Moon Features probably has a soft spot for the "Charlie Band's Italian Castle" cycle, a short-lived streak of films he made in an abandoned medieval structure in Umbria, Italy, such as Castle Freak and The Pit and the Pendulum. Band himself directed this one, a pretty legendary title in celebrity skin circles in the '90s thanks to a lengthy, slo-mo seduction scene with extensive topless nudity by Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn and another, lesser known Lynch veteran, Charlie Spradling (who popped up unclothed for one memorable line in Wild at Heart as well), billed here simply as "Charlie." Though definitely supernatural and boasting some vivid creature effects, the film barely fits in the horror genre; it's more of a dark romantic fantasy with a more interesting script than you'd expect courtesy of regular Stuart Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator). Toss in some dark, moody cinematography by the reliable Mac Ahlberg, editing by frequent Full Moon / Empire Pictures director Ted Nicolau, and a swooning electronic-heavy score by the great Pino Donaggio, and you end up with one of the strangest but most memorable early '90s offerings from the studio's early days.

Very clearly inspired by the recent TV popularity of the series Beauty and the Beast (which ended in '90) and beating out the famous Disney animated version by a year, this sexier take on the material features MeridianFenn as Catherine, an American sculptor who returns home to Italy Meridianwhen she inherits a family castle now inhabited by her old governess (Don't Look Now's Mason). Also on hand is another gorgeous American, Gina (Spradling), who's busy restoring a particularly mysterious work of local art at the church. One afternoon they decide to check out a traveling circus where they're taken with its leader, Lawrence Fauvrey (Jamieson), and invite his troupe to dinner. However, he has other plans in mind that involve drugging the girls and seducing them with the participation of his cursed brother, Oliver, who's taken the form of a hairy beast. Soon Catherine has to unlock a dark family secret and deal with the long-running curse as she finds herself falling for the more physically horrifying but morally pure of the two brothers.

Released straight to video in 1990 as part of Full Moon's high-profile deal with Paramount, Meridian benefited considerably from its striking artwork and the presence of Fenn at the height of her popularity. It also made the rounds under other titles like Kiss of the Beast, The Ravaging, and Phantoms, though honestly none of its titles are all that great. The film is perhaps most interesting today as an early experiment in blending the studio's monster-friendly, R-rated aesthetic with the more erotic nature of its later, short-lived softcore line, Torchlight. The actual sex content here is pretty low, and the sight of an unconscious, half-naked Fenn being carted around and nuzzled by a furry monster is Meridianpretty low on the erotic scale; however, it's certainly something that grabs your attention whenever you stumble across it for the first time. The story itself is a really odd stew of dark Meridianmagic, romance, and European fairy tale atmosphere, which doesn't always coalesce into something satisfying but definitely makes this stand apart from the pack.

After a multitude of DVD releases using the same 1.33:1 open matte master created back in the videotape days, Full Moon first brought this film to Blu-ray in 2016 complete with the usual funVideoZone featurette (5m22s) and random trailers as the sole extras, featuring lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 audio options. The new HD transfer is definitely darker (a lot darker) than before and is more aesthetically framedat 1.78:1; the loss of brightness and detail also means the colors gain in richness and depth, though your mileage may vary when comparing the two. The 2017 version from 88 Films is preferable as it features a lossless LPCM English stereo track and a more adept compression job, as long as you keep your expectations in check. The theatrical trailer is included along with the VideoZone featurette as usual, with reversible cover options spotlighting a new design on the front and the more familiar VHS-era art on the back.


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Reviewed on August 14, 2017