Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (US - DVD R1)
Gabe watches as Paul Naschy does his best impersonation of Dario Argento...
An ex-convict named Gilles (Paul Naschy) hitchhikes to a small French town in search of work and is hired as the caretaker on an estate owned by three very strange sisters. One sister is confined to a wheelchair, another features a ‘mechanical hand’, and the last is a sinister nymphomaniac. Soon after Gilles’ arrival a mysterious serial killer begins slaughtering blonde, blue-eyed women.
The joy of any Italian specific film genre is that they’re often mirror images of Hollywood genres, as filtered through distinctly Roman eyes. Spaghetti Westerns metastasized the basics of John Ford, Sword and Sandal epics brought supernatural attributes to Ben Hur, and Giallo turned classic Hitchcock framing on its head. The one thing every one of these genres holds in common is their uncommon imagery, and an undeniable Operatic influence. Paul Naschy’s films are also often slightly skewed versions of Hollywood mainstays, and share a Latin flair with his Italian counterparts. It stands to reason then that Naschy’s take on an authentically Italian genre would be reason to celebrate. What often sets a Naschy film apart from other ‘rip-offs’ is the writer/actor’s almost childlike habit of missing the point, thus making them something special despite their screwy appearances. This likely reads like an insult, but I mean it as anything but.
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (which was titled House of Psychotic Women when I first saw it on VHS) is Naschy and director Carlos Aured’s (who worked with Naschy on several projects, and who died just this year) best impersonation of an early Dario Argento Giallo. In the wake of the massive popularity of Bird with the Crystal Plumage most of Europe exploded with copycat thrillers (no pun intended), and El Hombre Lobo wasn’t about to miss out. Broken Dolls takes many ideas from Argento’s film visually, but pulls it’s plot from a very Naschian place—a place of narcissistic fantasy where a troubled loner can find himself in the company of beautiful and dangerous women that want his body. One may’ve expected the ‘Spanish Lon Cheney’ to play a mad slasher, but Paul casts himself as the protagonist (though, of course, not an innocent).
But before we can accuse Naschy of missing the point again he supplies a plot with slowly unravelling mystery. Broken Eyes is a pretty violent picture, but the first half hour plus is devoted to setting up the enigma without making the character’s too abruptly clear in their intentions. The early ‘sex scenes’ are sort of awkward and specifically Naschy, but still manage to incorporate Argento-esque surreal flashbacks. When the murders begin the film makes a slight stylistic shift, incorporating more expressionistic camera work, roving black gloves, and a very Ennio Morricone-ish score (likely actual swipes). When the damage is done the film unceremoniously cuts back into Naschy-ville, with only hints of Argento or Bava. It’s this awkward back and forth between styles that actually makes the film special and memorable.
Broken Eyes is a good impersonation, but Naschy can’t help but be Naschy, Aured can’t help but be more Spanish than Italian (really, to best impersonate a Giallo one must film in the 2.35:1 ratio), and the other actors can’t help but be uncouth amateurs. The predominate tone is surprisingly whimsical (with the obvious exception of a real life pig slaughter, re-instated for this release), and refreshingly un-PC (Gilles actually punches out the woman who loves him without any warning to keep her from following him). This isn’t Pauly’s best feature, or the best post-Argento Giallo, but it’s an entertaining excursion, and much smarter then the majority of the actor’s output.
Once again the folks at BCI/Eclipse makes do with likely less then stellar original material, remastering the low budget glory of Spanish horror in high definition. The transfer is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as apparently Aured and Naschy intended. The colours are as bright as seemingly possible, especially solid reds and yellows, to the point of blooming, but I actually find this quite pleasing given the film’s wannabe Argento roots. The only thing that doesn’t work is the blocking created by the ultra bright reds, which is the transfer’s greatest weakness. Skin tones are a bit on the rosy side, and browns are consistently inconsistent, but fuller cool colours are very smooth and even. Blacks are effectively deep, though the effect of the overall contrast is a bit jarring. There’s bit of understandable noise and grain to deal with, but the most troubling issues are the occasional quakes and tremors in the film stock.
And once again I prefer watching the English dub track over the original Castilian, though both tracks are similar in audio quality. Both tracks are two channel mono, and both suffer from slight distortion when volume peaks. The English track is overall slightly less tinny, but has some reverb and flanging effects not found on the Spanish track. Both tracks feature the same unnatural sound effects, but Juan Carlos Calderón’s Morricone inspired soundtrack (part playful, part haunting) sounds solid, and features more audio depth then past BCI/Eclipse releases. There are two or three moments of audio drop out on both tracks.
The main extra on this disc is the Naschy and Aured commentary track, moderated by a fellow named Angel Gomez Rivero. The track is presented in very roughly recorded Castilian with English subtitles. It’s very hard to keep track of who’s speaking, and the silence between words is somewhat epic despite Rivero’s best efforts. There really isn’t too much to learn (most of the dialogue consists of stuff like ‘She’s pretty’ or ‘This was a hard angle to shoot’), but fans should find themselves at least somewhat satisfied.
The rest of the extras are the usual for the Demios Spanish Horror collection. Naschy introduces the film in his usual melodramatic fashion, and the original Spanish titles are included, as well as a trailer and series of stills.
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is not a good place for Giallo or Naschy novices to start, but it’s an enjoyably awkward little thriller when captured in the right state of mind. It’ll take some patience to make it through the first half hour or so, but once the blood hits the fan and the women’s tops start dropping with stopwatch accuracy even jaded exploitation fans should find themselves smiling.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th March 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Castilian
Extras: Paul Naschy Introduction, Director/Actor Commentary, Spanish Credits, Trailer, Stills, Liner Notes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Carlos Aured
Cast: Paul Naschy, Pilar Bardem, Luis Ciges, Eva Leon, Diana Lorys, Ines Morales
Length: 90 minutes
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