Color, 1995, 121 mins.

Color, 1999, 102m. / Directed by Jaume Balagueró / Starring Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde / Filmax (Spain R2 PAL), Universe (HK R3 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1), Buena Vista (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16x9) / DD5.1

It took three decades for someone to attempt a feature film based on the work of horror novelist Ramsey Campbell, and if The Nameless (Los sin nombre) is any indication, many more filmmakers should give it a try. This promising debut for director Jaume Balagueró transplants the story to modern day Spain, where the police discover the grotesquely burned and mutilated body of a young girl. Despite the absence of teeth, the corpse's uneven hip structure alerts them to its true identity: Angela, the daughter of Claudia (Emma Vilarasau). Needless to say the mother doesn't take the news very well. Flash forward five years later. Abandoned by her husband, grief-stricken Claudia works like a drone in the big city but is shaken from her malaise by a telephone call. "Mummy, it's me. Come and get me," says Angela's voice. "They'll be coming back soon." Claudia follows Angela's directions to an abandoned motel where she discovers a plastic bag containing one of Angela's lost boots, so she immediately seeks help from Massera (Karra Elejalde), the recently resigned cop who was in charge of the case. Together they begin to piece together the mystery and link it to The Nameless, an evil sect derived from the Nazis which rose to prominence in the '60s. The group's leader, Santini (Carlos Lasarte), currently resides in a criminal asylum where he may still be masterminding their activities, and Claudia is followed along the way by a parallel investigation by tabloid reporter Quiroga (Tristán Ulloa), who uncovers a few sinister secrets of his own.

Though heavily indebted both in visual style and tone to the films of David Fincher, The Nameless displays a solid diabolical imagination behind the camera and delivers more than a few good shudders along the way. Apart from two relatively brief sequences, Balagueró uses lighting and menacing background figures and objects for scare value rather than explicit gore, and the film's emotional core is kept intact by Vilarasau's fragile performance and a sparse, effective piano score. The film isn't perfect; the subliminal cutaways become unnecessary and almost humorously overstated at times, as when one character proclaims "It was like building a spider's web!" as the film randomly cuts back and forth to, yes, a spider building a web. Like Seven, the film also works up such a powerful sense of dread from its opening scenes that there's no way the ending can possibly live up to its promise of "the ultimate evil." While the final scene is effective enough in its own right, the resolution is so abrupt and puzzling at first that it leaves the viewer with a whole lot to sift through as the end credits roll. These debits aside, The Nameless is an impressive and often refreshing attempt to translate a difficult author to the big screen. As proof that European DVDs can rank right up there with the best of 'em, this Spanish release from Filmax is one of the most impressive horror releases on the silver disc to date. The widescreen transfer looks impeccable, with the difficult, shadowy cinematography perfectly rendered without any distracting compression flaws. The 5.1 audio is restrained for the most part but bursts to life during a few well-timed scares, while the score receives broad separation from all of the speakers. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer, two more effective TV spots, and an 18 minute featurette which offers interviews with the director and cast, interspersed with behind the scenes footage. An eerie, fascinating music video for the haunting end titles song (which sounds a lot like Siouxsie and the Banshees) is also included. The film itself is presented with both Spanish and English-dubbed 5.1 tracks, as well as optional Spanish or English subtitles. (Obviously the Spanish version with subtitles is far more effective.) Even if a British or US company decides to release a DVD of The Nameless for the English-speaking market, this one will be hard to top. A bare bones disc is also available from Hong Kong with the same technical specs, as well as optional Chinese or English subtitles, and a subsequent American release (timed to coincide with the director's Darkness) featuring a top-tier anamorphic transfer but no supplements.

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