The Bloodstained Butterfly Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
When a young female student is savagely killed in a park during a thunderstorm, the culprit seems obvious: her lover, TV sports personality Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), seen fleeing the scene of the crime by numerous eyewitnesses. The evidence against him is damning… but is it all too convenient? And when the killer strikes again while Marchi is in custody, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more to the case than meets the eye… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Like most genre-centric filmmakers, giallo directors can be broken down into tiers. At the top, you have the innovators – your Mario Bavas, Dario Argentos, and Lucio Fulcis. Next, you have the stalwarts – directors with a wide breadth of work in the genre, like Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and Antonio Margheriti. Then, you have your ‘one hit wonders’ – filmmakers that didn’t exactly thrive in the confines of the category, but still managed to make at least one brilliant contribution to the giallo pantheon, like Massimo Dallamano, Giulio Questi, and Pupi Avati. At the bottom, you have your shlock artists and Johnny-come-latelys – guys that jumped on the bandwagon, cashed their checks, and moved on to the next big thing.
Duccio Tessari lies somewhere between tiers two and three. He made three solid genre entries – A Death Occurred Last Night (Italian: La morte risale a ieri sera, 1970), The Bloodstained Butterfly (Italian: Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate, 1971), and Puzzle (Italian: L’uomo senza memoria; aka: Man Without a Memory, 1974), but was better known for his work in other genres – spaghetti westerns, poliziottescho, comedies, war films, and even a Hollywood-styled blaxploitation flick (Three Tough Guys, 1974). A Death Occurred Last Night is his most obscure giallo and isn’t particularly concerned with the new genre customs as set by Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970). It tends to be remembered for its particularly downbeat atmosphere. Puzzle is his most entertaining giallo, but its gonzo moments (including a wouldbe victim defending herself with a chainsaw) aren’t quite enough to overcome the bland characters and plot. Bloodstained Butterfly (not to be confused with Antonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow; Italian: Solamente nero, 1978) is arguably his best work in the field or, at the very least, the most well-balanced expression of his strengths and more typical genre expectations.
The eclectic nature of Ressari’s “giallo trilogy” is a testament to the director’s ability to assimilate trends without completely disappearing into generic, bland mimicry. In fact, he didn’t seem to specialize in any one thing, aside from perhaps his proficiency in comedic variations of popular genre output – specifically comedy westerns (Sundance and the Kid, 1969, and Long Live Your Death, 1971) and adventure-comedies (The Heroes, 1973, and Safari Express, 1976). Bloodstained Butterfly follows most of the basic giallo tropes – a shocking murder, a trench-coated killer, unreliable witnesses, red herrings, threateningly whispered phone calls from the killer to the police, suspiciously convoluted circumstances and motives, and long-winded (sort of boring) discussions about the social structures of a then-modern Italy. However, it also distinguishes itself from more interchangeable ‘70s gialli by acknowledging the classic detective story traditions that inspired the Italian-made genre in the first place.
Ressari sets the stage with a series of seemingly unrelated events, all occurring without dialogue and set to titles that designate the different players in the conspiracy by name and relation. The wordless montage fits the giallo tradition like a black leather glove, while the titles evoke an older stage tradition and ties the film to the Agatha Christie stories, drawing room plays, and silent era thrillers that helped define the gialli. The casually melancholic tone and impressionistic editing processes (memories and imagined events are regularly interspliced with current events without warning, leaving to audience to discern the meaning) disguise the utilitarian nature of Ressari and Gianfranco Clerici’s screenplay, which focuses on giving the audience as much information as possible in as many ways as possible (newsreel footage, forensic collection, police interrogation, hypothetical flashbacks). This can make the story – especially the first act – feel a bit overloaded, dry, and thin in the character development department. But the mystery at the heart of the narrative is worth the wait, especially given the more grounded tone of the film. Instead of concentrating on the dangerous adventures of amateur sleuths (as became the norm following The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), Bloodstained Butterfly is a police and courtroom procedural, sort of like the chic-’70s Italian equivalent to Law & Order. In addition, the comparatively underdeveloped characters eventually resemble more realistic people than the average giallo lead. This mix & match of conventions might not be as flashy or exciting as some of the genre’s more salacious entries (including Puzzle), but Bloodstained Butterfly manages to feel more contemporary than most of its early ‘70s counterparts.
As stated, Bloodstained Butterfly is a relatively obscure title in terms of availability. The only DVD releases I can find information about are an Italian disc from Medusa, a superior German disc from Eyecatcher Movies, and a severely censored, non-anamorphic Spanish disc from Manga Films. This Blu-ray debut (which is being released almost simultaneously in the US and UK) is sourced from a 4K scan of the original 2-perf Techniscope camera negative that was made in Bologna, Italy (pin-registered Arriscan, for the tech-heads in the audience). Arrow then did their own digital restoration and grading. This 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer doesn’t quite rank among the studio’s best efforts, because the original material is a bit murkier than what was supplied for their very best releases. But there’s also no reason to complain, because Tessari and cinematographer Carlo Carlini clearly intended this film to appear dark. Sharpness is sometimes limited by said darkness or by shallow focus, yet remain tight and neatly separated wherever important details are concerned. The expansive shots of city locations are especially impressive. Grain texture appears accurate and only slightly clumped during those particularly dark shots, where it can create minor discolouration effects. The largely neutral palette is consistent, greens are lush, and the red highlights pop without bleeding. Black levels are mostly strong, excepting a handful of darker shots, where they appear slightly grey. Print damage artefacts are limited to a few scratches and occasional pulsing. Perhaps best of all, there is no sign of the telecine noise effects that plague so many Italian genre releases on Blu-ray.
Bloodstained Butterfly includes both its original Italian and English language dubs. These were also culled from 35mm sources and are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono (I’m not sure why Arrow chooses DTS-HD for some releases and LPCM for others, but, if I ever find out, I’ll let you know). As per usual, the film was shot without sound, like most Italian genre titles from the era. Both tracks are dub tracks and neither represent 100% of the on-set performance, since the international cast is speaking multiple languages and rarely dubbing themselves. So, language options come down to preference, rather than accuracy (note that Arrow has also offered the option to watch the film in either language with either English or Italian on-screen titles). Sound effects match almost perfectly on either track with the exception of some environmentally affected vocals. Specifically, the English dub has a consistent tone and volume, while the Italian dub, though a bit muffled, alters tone depending on location (including relatively natural echo effects). The original music is provided by Gianni Ferrio (who actually wrote music for all three of Tessari’s gialli). The composer weaves his jazzy melodies into the Tchaikovsky motifs that act as plot points. The score is crisp and nicely layered, despite the crowding within a single channel mix.
Introduction from actor Helmut Berger (1:22, HD)
Commentary with critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman – This marks (I believe) the sixth pairing of these two genre experts, including fantastic tracks for Arrow’s What Have You Done to Solange?, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and Tenebrae Blu-rays. This is a typical giallo track for the team with Jones, the Italian horror expert, taking the lead and Newman, the more generalized horror expert, offering contextual support. The entire commentary is great and the participants rarely run out of steam, but the most interesting note comes early when Jones notes that this Blu-ray features the most complete cut of the film he has ever seen – specifically he says that the introductory sequence is missing from most releases.
Murder in B-Flat Minor (26:56. HD) – Troy Hayworth, the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films and Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, offers up a pleasant retrospective of the The Bloodstained Butterfly, beginning with a quick primer on the many gialli releases of 1971. This is followed by a rundown of Tessari’s career, including his other two gialli, a look at Bloodstained Butterfly’s genre subversions, and the larger careers of some of the cast and crew members.
A Butterfly Named Evelyn (54:40, HD) – Actress Ida Galli (aka: Evelyn Stewart) reflects on her career during this extensive interview. She begins speaking about her childhood and education, before graduating to more pertinent discussion about her work as an actress. This is more or less the closest we’re going to get to a full-on documentary about Galli, complete with stills, movie posters, and trailer/film clips.
Me and Duccio (8:21) – Actress Lorella de Luca talks about her career and the career of her late husband, director Duccio Tessari.
Mad Dog Helmut (17:31) – The final interview is with actor Helmut Berger, who does not seem to be a fan of Bloodstained Butterfly. Still, his politely veiled disdain is pretty amusing and he manages to unload quite a bit of behind-the-scenes info between grumpy memories of on-set mistreatment. He has fonder memories of working with smut artist Tinto Brass.
Italian and English trailers
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