Perdita Durango 4K UHD Review
Blu-ray Release: March 30, 2021
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo; Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English CC
Run Time: 129 minutes
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Please read my review of Severin’s 4K UHD release of Day of the Beast (Spanish: El día de la bestia, 1995) for a brief introduction to director Álex de la Iglesia and his career..
While in Mexico to scatter her sister’s ashes, Perdita Durango (Rosie Perez) hooks up with a criminal Santeria practitioner Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem). When Romero is hired to steal a cargo truck full of human fetuses, the duo (somewhat spontaneously) crosses the border to kidnap a young couple in hopes that sacrificing them will ensure a successful heist. Meanwhile, DEA agent Woody Dumas (James Gandolfini) pursues them across the Southwest on the way to Las Vegas.
For his third feature as director, Álex de la Iglesia took on an English-language Spanish/Mexican co-production entitled Perdita Durango (aka: Dance with the Devil, 1997), based on 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango (Harper Collins, 1992), the third part of Barry Gifford’s three-part novel series, Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula. The first book in the trilogy was adapted by David Lynch as Wild at Heart (1990), leaving the relatively untried de la Iglesia with a high standard of cult classic to live up to, despite his film not being a sequel to Lynch’s. That said, Isabella Rossellini appears briefly as Durango in Wild at Heart and both films/stories revolve around criminal couples on the run.
The script – credited to Gifford, de la Iglesia, David Trueba, and Jorge Guerricaechevarría – is also loosely inspired by the the true crimes of Adolfo Constanzo, an American-born Mexican cult leader, who gained popularity with local drug cartels and corrupt police via his self-lauded clairvoyance and supposed ability to spiritually cleanse his clients. Constanzo was joined by his key recruiter, a Texas Southmost College cheerleader and honor student named Sara Aldrete. In 1989, Constanzo and Aldrete were sought in connection with the disappearance of University of Texas at Austin student Mark Kilroy, leading to the discovery of 15 bodies on the cult’s ranch. Under interrogation, a key conspirator described the ritualistic murder, dissection, and devouring of Kilroy, prompting a manhunt and shootout, after which Constanzo ordered one of his lieutenants to kill him and his lover, so that they could not be taken into custody. Aldrete survived and served multiple sentences for her crimes, though she was never prosecuted for Kilroy’s murder. According to the comparison, Perdita is vaguely based on Aldrete and Romeo Dolorosa is less vaguely based on Constanzo, considering the two have drug trafficking experience and practice charlatan-grade religious rituals. Perdita and Romero also kidnap college-age Americans and drag them across the border. The story was also the inspiration behind Zev Berman’s Borderland (2007).
Watching de la Iglesia’s second feature Day of the Beast and Perdita Durango in a row (rather, re-watching, in my case) helps highlight the improvements the director made to his formula, as well as the mistakes he made in bringing that formula to the screen. Perdita Durango is the technically superior film, but it’s also trying to do too much all at once. Theoretically, this is a mix of the director indulging in a superior budget, attempting to please fans of the source material, live up to the reputation of being Lynch-adjacent, and appeal to the newly-minted Tarantino brand of crime film. It’s probably important to note that de la Iglesia replaced Jamón, Jamón (1992) director Bigas Luna following a long and difficult pre-production (Madonna, Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, and Ray Liotta were all attached at one point or another). Even when he loses track of the greater plot and devolves into episodic storytelling, de la Iglesia’s creative flair and unique take on familiar themes drive the film through most of its pacing issues.
I haven’t taken a poll and there aren’t many reviews available online, but I’d guess that the film’s inconsistent moral fabric bothers detractors more than its overstuffed and unfocused plot. Again, this could be explained by de la Iglesia’s overly ambitious attempt to combine too many different kinds of movies, but Perdita Durango doesn’t unload shocks for the sake of shock – it’s genuinely interested in subverting our expectations of these types of stories, which typically designate their characters as likable or detestable bad guys (Bonnie & Clyde being the prime example of criminals who do horrible things, but remain sympathetic). No matter how busy his narrative becomes, the greater context still matters to de la Iglesia during the most transgressive scenes, especially those that pertain to the title character, whose ethics and motivations remain fluid throughout the film.
The acknowledgement of indefinite principles and complicated impulses makes Perdita Durango unlike similar criminal couple movies from the era, like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (written by Tarantino, 1994), which explores/makes fun of the concept of societal accountability in violent crime, leaving its characters to remain consistently psychotic, or Tony Scott’s True Romance (also written by Tarantino, 1993), where the characters are definitive protagonists combatting genuine villains. Of course, de la Iglesia absolutely buries himself in cartoonish excess, which leaves the intricacies of Perdita’s moral difficulties lying on Rosie Perez’ capable shoulders. The experts on this very disc’s extras – including the film’s director – seem to agree that Perdita is an absolutely sadistic sociopath, but, besides the clear indication that she is a bad influence on the mundanely evil Romeo, I truly think she’s more complex than that and the movie wouldn’t function without her at its center. At the very least, every character in the film, from innocent victim to antihero to villain, is in way over their head.
Perdita Durango is definitely bloated, but there’s still no point in subjecting oneself to the heavily edited Dance with the Devil cut that was released on North American home video. There were actually two versions released in North America – one R-rated and the other unrated – but still several minutes shorter than the Spanish cut (for an extensive look at the edits made to various versions of the film, see this Sense of Cinema article by Brad Stevens). Though probably not as important to readers as its underrated-ness or lack of availability, Perdita Durango is also one of the essential movies shot in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Plenty of cult movies were shot in and around the Old Pueblo – William F. Claxton’s giant killer rabbit classic, Night of the Lepus (1972), Donald Cammell’s artsy thriller White of the Eye (1987), and David Mirkin’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997), to name a few – but few utilize as many of the area’s crucial locations/landmarks, such as the historical Tucson Inn on Miracle Mile, the Fourth Avenue Commercial District, the Davis-Monthan Airplane Boneyard (“the largest aircraft boneyard in the world”), and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
As in the case of Day of the Beast, Perdita Durango has long been missing from home video in North America and only available in HD via Germany (from Inked Pictures). Unlike Day of the Beast, it was officially released on R1 DVD (by A-Pix Entertainment), but it was non-anamorphic, misframed, and censored. Uncut UK and Spanish DVDs were also non-anamorphic (some cropped to 1.33:1). Severin Films is here to solve fans’ problems with a new 4K restoration, which they’ve released on Blu-ray and 4K UHD/BD combo pack. The screen caps on this page are taken from the 1080p BD transfer, but my review will pertain to the 2160p UHD. This remaster is stronger than the Day of the Beast disc, mostly due to the larger budget, better lighting, and lack of low-res composite effects. There is an occasionally mushiness, but this tends to occur during particularly filter-heavy shots, and some reels exhibit more print damage artifacts (the earliest sequences have a faint vertical line that goes away by the time the credits have finished, for instance). Overall, the image is crisp without losing the 35mm grain textures or struggling with over-sharpening artifacts. Cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano’s photography tends to alternate between warm, bright daylight exteriors and high contrast, multicolored nighttime shots and dark interiors. Those darker shots are the most impressive, especially when flecked by blooming neon highlights, but the scorched, desaturated, largely yellowed desert vistas are nicely represented in 2160p and the HDR helps separate some elements that appear flatter on the BD.
Perdita Durango comes fitted with two DTS-HD Master Audio options – the original mixed English/Spanish track in 5.1 and a dubbed Spanish language track, also in 5.1. The Spanish dub is nice to have around, but you're going to want to stick with the mostly English track for the authentic performances and ideal surround mix. Dialogue and incidental effects are largely centered without crowding or distortion at high volume. The more stylized effects fill out the stereo speakers, alongside Simon Boswell’s score, which alternates between big symphonic pieces and driving rhythmic clips, Screaming Jay Hawkins’ end title theme, Southern Culture on the Skids, and the Herb Alpert songs. The rear channels aren’t heavily engaged, mostly consisting of musical echo and punctuation effects, like explosions and stray bullets.
Disc 1: 4K UHD
Spanish and English trailers
Disc 2: Blu-ray
On The Border (28:12, HD) – A new, relatively in-depth interview with Alex de la Iglesia, who discusses the script, the looser basis on the book and Constanzo incidents, the difficulty of balancing humor with truly reprehensible acts and psychotic characters, the cast, on-set accidents, seeking inspiration in Sam Peckinpah movies, bonding with Alex Cox, and other filmic influences. The interview includes raw behind-the-scenes footage. Sadly, Tucson isn’t mentioned once.
Writing Perdita Durango (16:43, HD) – Original author and co-screenwriter Barry Gifford talks about his Wild at Heart series, choosing to give Perdita Durango her own novel, trying to adapt the book, the film’s very troubled pre-production, not being thrilled with de la Iglesia’s comic book style, writing an unused theme song for the film, being pleased with the cast, the terrible original US video rollout, and more.
Dancing With The Devil (12:57, HD) – A new appraisal/appreciation with film scholar and Blumhouse.com editor-in-chief, Dr. Rebekah McKendry.
Narcosatanicos: Perdita Durango and the Matamoros Cult (18:14, HD) – A good primer on Adolfo Constanzo’s real-world cult and the hodgepodge of religious ceremonies they practiced with Morbido Fest programmer Abraham Castillo Flores and author of Cauldron of Blood: The Matamoros Cult Killings (Avon Books, 1989) Jim Schutze. Could’ve easily been twice as long, since most of what is covered is accessible from Wikipedia (I should know, that’s where I got it from!). Still, I quite enjoyed the way the featurette’s editors have combined clips from the film for illustrative purposes.
Canciones de Amor Maldito: The Music of Perdita Durango (21:13, HD) – An interview with composer Simon Boswell, who claims he was hired, because de la Iglesia was a fan of his work on ‘80s Italian horror. He recalls learning the difference between the Italian and Spanish filmmaking styles (i.e., dubbing in post vs. not dubbing in post), struggling to record musical cues before the movie was finished, and appreciations for the lack of temp score. He also tells an amusing anecdote about how the production was able to license Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea.”
Shooting Perdita Durango (4:54, HD) – The interviews wrap-up with a short chat with director of photography Flavio Labiano.
Spanish and English trailers
The images on this page are representative of the remastered 2021 Blu-ray, but not representative of the 4K UHD image quality.