Abrakadabra Limited Edition Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July ??, 2020
Audio: Italian 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio; English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Run Time: 70 minutes
Director: Luciano & Nicolás Onetti
What the eye sees and the ear hears, the mind believes!
Thirty years after his father is tragically killed during a magic trick gone wrong, Lorenzo’s own magic act is suddenly derailed by a series of gruesome magic-themed murders. Struggling to prove his innocence, he begins to unravel the mystery that leads him through an intricate, bloody trail all the way back to his father’s demise. (From Cauldron Films’ official synopsis)
Most people reading this are likely aware of the attempts to resurrect the grindhouse era of exploitation in the previous decade, fronted by Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’ appropriately titled double-feature, Grindhouse, in 2007. Despite being a box office disappointment, Grindhouse spawned a mini-industry of connected (Rodriguez’ Machete , Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun ) and unconnected movies that aped the bygone aesthetics and tones of various rollicking subgenres that were once considered too vulgar to proudly emulate. Among these was a collection of throwbacks to Italy’s prime giallo era, which lasted from the late ‘60s into the early ‘80s. What’s particularly refreshing about this “neo-giallo” movement are the ways that various artistic/thematic methods differ. The forerunners, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, took an utterly fetishistic approach for their distinctly French neo-gialli, Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2014). British director Peter Strickland’s similarly surrealistic films, Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and In Fabric (2018), recontextualized cues from the classic gialli (and their Spanish sexploitation counterparts) and used the aesthetics as part of a metacommentary. Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, part of the Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6, opted to make a spot-on (though rarely funny) spoof of gialli cliches for The Editor (2014).
Also of note is the fact that very few Italians are making neo-gialli. This is likely the result of the Italian genre industry’s continued struggles with financing. Italian-born films, such as genre innovator Dario Argento’s Giallo (2009), Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa - Perdizioni mortali (2012), and the work of Luciano & Nicolás Onetti, all seem to have one thing in common: they take giallo homage very literally. The Onetti Bros’ first two neo-gialli, Sonno Profondo (2012) and Francesca (2015), approach genre conventions in much the same manner as The Editor, Rodriguez’ Planet Terror section of Grindhouse, and Scott Sanders’ Black Dynamite (2009), in that they painstakingly recreate camera angles, editing standards, dubbing, and even the textures of aged film stock. The difference is that Sonno Profondo and Francesca (arguably) aren’t meant to be taken as comedic callouts to bygone styles, but genuine love letters to the works of Argento, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, and Sergio Martino (among others). They practically beg their audiences to shout out the titles of their favorite movies as they’re referenced. As such, they sometimes feel trapped by their lack of unique personality.
This brings us to the Onetti’s third neo-giallo, Abrakadabra (2018). Abrakadabra is definitely a variation on the theme and continues the duo’s particular obsession with Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970) and Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975), but it’s also an improvement visually, aurally, in production value, and seems more intent on actually exploring classic gialli, rather than compulsively aping them. In other words, it has the personality those other two films are missing. In a visual sense, the Onettis manage to differentiate themselves from their peers by focusing on grotesque textures as much as colors and production design. Cattet & Forzani like to repurpose giallo imagery as surrealistic tableaus and Astron 6 mimics oddly specific quirks for laughs, but neither filmmaking duo is quite so interested in the coarse qualities, like soap scum or the chaotic drip of splattered blood, as the Onettis. These qualities give Abrakadabra a lived-in quality, similar to the kind of rough-hewn you’d see churned out in Italy during the early ‘70s.
Also, while it swipes character types and narrative tricks from giallo classics – for instance, the main protagonist is trapped in a typically Hitchcockian “wrong man” situation, only with a Lizard in a Woman’s Skin-like twist, in which neither he nor the audience know for sure that he’s innocent – Abrakadabra’s plot isn’t recycled whole cloth from an Argento film. The magician angle might have been inspired by Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore, Joel M. Reed’s Bloodsucking Freaks (aka: The Incredible Torture Show, 1976), or any other horror movie/slasher about a gory stage show that secretly kills people, but it is unique to gialli and possibly even cinematic murder mysteries in general (probably not, considering that there are a lot of movies out there). The final twist/reveal (or multiple reveals, in this case) is good fun, as well, although I’m sure it will elicit groans from a certain contingent of the audience. I definitely recommend Abrakadabra to the people that already like the Onetti Bros.’ work, as well as those that were unimpressed with the obsessive approach of their previous neo-gialli. At the very least, it moves along at a speedy clip.
Unfortunately, I can’t find reliable video specs for Abrakadabra. I assume that it was shot digitally and made to look like cheap Techniscope 35mm, damaged by Technochrome processes, and left in a vault for 40 years. Either that or the Onettis and cinematographer Carlos Goitia used actual film and chemical processes, then scanned it into a computer in order to color time everything. I’m honestly not sure, but the raw behind-the-scenes footage seems to verify the former. In terms of quality, I’ll just say that, if you’ve seen another Onetti Bros. movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Regardless of how it was made, minus some minor digital noise, the effect is similar to a 2K scan of a positive print, including high contrast whites & blacks (the blacks are sometimes blown-out into blue), chunky edges, and blobby details – all of which are clearly intended and not a fault against this 2.35:1, 1080p transfer. The only noticeable artifacts that are likely an accident is the occasional jitter and macroblocking, but I’m not even sure those count. The overcooked colors are rich and bright and the details are neatly separated, despite a bit of edge haloing (another thing I think is done on purpose). A solid debut for new boutique label Cauldron Films.
Abrakadabra has a variety of audio options, but you’re probably going to want to stick to the original 5.1 Italian, which is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Obviously, this movie was made in an era where low-budget films can easily record on-set sound, but the Onettis certainly enjoy tradition, so they stick to recreating the dubbing practices of the original gialli. I was hoping this meant that the included English dub would be a fun point of comparison, but the English language performances are underwhelming and miscast (again, I don’t know if this is on purpose). Regardless, the sound design follows the cinematographer's habit of reproducing artifacts and imperfections. It is largely mono and sitting in the center speaker, but the 5.1 options offer up some nice stereo and LFE enhancements for the music. Unlike Cattet & Forzani, who borrowed music directly from the movies they were referencing, Luciano Onetti has composed his own soundtrack. Onetti’s music, which is a highlight of this film and the Bros.’ other movies, borrows instrumentations and styles from giallo music pioneers Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Alessandro Alessandroni, and, of course, Goblin.
Extras (Limited Edition)
Abrakadabra Raw (11:24, HD) – A collection of outtakes and other behind-the-scenes footage.
CD soundtrack with music by Luciano Onetti
Slipcase and inserts with promotional artwork
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.