Perdita Durango [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (20th May 2021).
The Film

"Perdita Durango" (1997)

I was extremely excited when I saw the ads mentioning that a brand new 4K two-disc set was forthcoming that I coughed up my own hard-earned dough to purchase this disc to review. You see I am a die-hard fan of Barry Gifford’s writing and I had enjoyed how David Lynch had Isabella Rossellini appear in his wonderful film, Wild at Heart (1990) as Perdita Durango, even though she was a minor character in that film. I, of course had also tracked down the heavily edited R-rated version entitled Dance with the Devil (A-Pix), but I knew that there were too many loose ends to yield to my warped desires. So, what we finally have here is the uncut production seen the way it was meant to be seen. Unfortunately, since I do not have the equipment to screen the 4K version we will simply have to make do with the Blu-ray version which is sourced from the same materials as the later version. From what I read the 4K version is a sight to behold, but will shall save that review for a later day. The source novel by Barry Gifford is entitled 59 Degrees and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango and I recently have re-read the novel in order to have it fresh in mind while composing this review.

The film opens with a sleeping nude figure on a bed covered with satin sheets. Soft sensual saxophone music plays in the background. Into the scene stalks a large jaguar; it approaches the bed as the satin sheet slides off to reveal the body of a sleeping female. The jaguar is sleek, and it emits a low growl as it comes face to face with the woman. The camera cuts to Perdita Durango and she apparently had been sleeping with her head down on the table. Cut to the interior of the airport lounge where a travelling software salesman, Manny Flynn unwittingly tries to strike up a conversation with the striking Perdita Durango; he has no idea what he is about to encounter but their dialogue sufficiently reveals Perdita’s character entirely: she is profane, direct and to the point, she does not hesitate as she asks the man if he would like her to accompany him. “Listen man, you want me to accompany you to Phoenix….Pay my rent, buy my meals. I’ll keep your dick hard for four straight days. While you’re at the convention, I’ll do a little business myself. I’ll show some tit, hook a little cow, go quickly, 50 bucks a pop. I’ll let you keep half of the profit, how about it?” The man flees in absolute terror. Perdita takes a drag on a cigarette and exhales the smoke. She mutters “Asshole.”

Next, we see Perdita in the airport parking lot; she is in the process of breaking into a car with a funeral urn. She sees two young girls, wearing rubber Halloween masks and waving around a pistol. Perdita is interested and she approaches the children. She tells them that they remind her of her and her sister Juana, when they were that age. Perdita tells the girl’s that her sister’s husband had shot and killed her and then he killed the two children as well. This is the first of many flashbacks that occur throughout the film; the director will have someone narrating a story or a memory and then instead of simply relying on the narrator, he cuts to an actual recreation of the scene. This type of technique is immensely powerful, and it illustrates the plot’s extensive fascination with violence. It is if the director is saying, words are not enough; he has to show the audience what actually happened. Perdita takes the two children to a Mexican graveyard and while there she empties the urn of her sister’s ashes; there is no sentimentality expressed, no kind words said. The trio witnesses a freshly buried corpse being excavated and the body is sold to two rough looking characters; this is our first sight to Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem). You may recall Bardem as the devil incarnate in the Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men (2007); he seems to frequently portray wild men with offensive hairdo’s. In this film, he sports what looks like a cross between a wrestler’s mullet with Bettie Page bangs. Perdita is wasting time at the airport back in the states when she happens to look up and see Delarosa’s eyes upon her and she quickly accesses that this dude with the flowing tresses is definitely not her type. Perdita describes him as “an extra in a bad Black Sabbath video.” She is not far from the mark: he is amongst other things a bank robber, a murderer, a sex fiend, and a son of a witch from Petit Caribe. He is clad all in black, with some serious footwear as well, and wears a heavy necklace with all sorts of charms attached. He purchases a Herb Albert and the Tijuana brass CD which will be woven into the twisted tapestry of the screenplay. This film makes many inside references and the dialogue from both the protagonists is a mix of Spanish and English, so it is advisable to turn on the English subtitles to follow along.

It is revealed that Romeo is a devotee of Santeria, an intricate mix of Yoruba culture with Roman Catholicism that was the religion practiced by many of the early African slaves that were brought over at the turn of the century. In fact, it was her who was at the Mexican graveyard as he was in the process of procuring a new corpse to use in one of his bloody sacrificial rituals. An interesting aspect of these two characters is that they are extremely complicated, and they have complex motivations. The screenplay writers have taken the time to develop an intricate mythology and they are in reality two star crossed lovers, only they don’t know it yet. As the film progresses, we watch as the duo struggle with real emotional attachments; they aren’t simply two criminals that lack motivation and reasons for their actions. The film takes it time in exploring the two as they reveal their pasts and their thoughts about different things. Romeo remarks that he is a scientist and that to him, science is everything. Perdita is still on guard at this moment, and she dismisses him outright but this wild man with the outrageous appearance is a heartbreaker and she will soon be his next victim. As Romeo describes the robbery at the bank that took place earlier in the day, we are presented with another flashback: an individual who is obviously Romeo, is disguised in an El Santo mask; he holds the stunned onlookers at bay with a large pistol. What is interesting in this scene is that Romeo has no apparent fear of being captured on surveillance tape because he thoroughly believes that he is protected by the demons that he worships. His partner, Shorty Dee (Santiago Segura) is a rotund villain in a sweaty wife beater, and he has none of the style of Romeo. While executing the robbery, Romeo takes the time to have a busty bank clerk, unbutton her blouse and undo her bra, so that he can gaze at her pendulous breasts. Romeo also pauses during the bank escape to embrace and passionately kiss a female bystander as the police drive right by him. All these things are hardly the actions of an ordinary criminal.

The duo stop in a parking garage bathroom to change clothes and while doing so, Shorty mentions something about owing Catalina (Demián Bechir) a large amount of money. It is evident by his actions that this person is dangerous and to be feared. Shorty is abandoned as Romeo makes his escape in a stolen plumbing truck; we will see his ex-partner return later, craving revenge. We cut to Perdita and Romeo as they are driving through customs back into the US; Perdita is fearful since not only are they transporting the stolen money, but also the body that was snatched from the graveyard. Romeo informs Perdita that he has no fear as he places his necklace with the charms on the blanket covered body in the back seat. The customs guard doesn’t even search the vehicle and they pass easily. Truly someone is looking out for Romeo. As the couple make their way back to the states, they discuss the situation and Romeo discloses that he is working for the notorious mob boss “Crazy Eyes” Santos and that he is scheduled to pick up and drive a truck load of refrigerated human fetuses to Las Vegas where they will be used to manufacture cosmetic moisturizer. After witnessing Romeo as he hosts a full-on Santeria ceremony, consumes the dead man’s heart, and generally acts possessed by some type of demon, Perdita mentions that they should kidnap a pair of gringos for the sacrifice. They randomly select and kidnap a slightly geeky college couple consisting of Dwayne (Harley Cross) and his girlfriend Estelle (Aimee Graham); both of their victims are sexually abused by their captors and slowly but surely, they become part of the travelling foursome. This makes it sound like some type of dysfunctional family on an outing, except Perdita and Romeo are dead serious about what they need to do. Describing all of the action that takes place is practically impossible; the film is a strange mash up of the action film, a black comedy, a bizarre romance, and the unnamable as the director wickedly delights in mystifying the audience with a roller coaster narrative, piling violent scenes on top one another, till the crowd simply surrenders to the visual and aural onslaught of the deadly, the sexy, and the otherworldly behavior of its two stars.

I must address the quality of the two leads in this film; in a word they are irresistible. The chemistry between the two of them is positively electric. Never before has Rosie Perez looked so incredibly hot with her tight black attire, long black fingernails, and ever constant cigarette. As Romeo, Bardem outdoes himself with a performance that must be seen to be believed. Put the two of them together and they absolutely smolder with sexuality. Even though Perdita is at first leery of Romeo, she soon enough succumbs to his wicked charms, and eventually falls in love with the madman in leather. This pairing reminded me of another doomed film noir duo from the past; Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the smoking hot film, Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder) or to update that reference I will also mention Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan). Upon viewing these films, you immediately know that the hand of fate is going to intervene and that tears will be shed before the final reel.

Adding to the star power of the cast is a likable James Gandolfini as the dogged DEA agent that is hot on the outlaw couple’s trail alongside Repo Man (1984) director Alex Cox as Agent Doyle. Add in the ever colorful Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as the shaman Adolfo and Don Stroud as Santos and you essentially have a powerhouse of talent. The soundtrack is also very enjoyable with tracks from the popular Southern Culture on the Skids rocking the house. Also included is a track by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass that somehow captures the warped sense of humor of the film. The cinematography by Flavio Martinez Labiano is excellent featuring lots of detailed sets and featuring a colorful palette of earth tones and plenty of shadows. The score by Argento favorite Simon Boswell is incredibly good, accenting the film’s suspense with plenty of moody music to accompany the action. All in all, there is much to enjoy here especially if you are a fan of rabid, offbeat films. Severin has added a bevy of extras for fans on the Blu-ray disc and that alone is worth the price of admission! Roll the credits!

Video

Nothing to complain about here as the film looks excellent. Even the intricate details of the costuming involved are revealed, excellent use of colors especially the golden sunlight of the outdoor shots.

Audio

There is a strong element of audio in the film especially since so many of the scenes involved music. Ranging from the crazed soundtrack of Southern Culture on the Skids featured in two scenes to the uber cool mellow sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, this is a film that you will want to play loudly. There is a nice mix of surround sound for the side speakers with the dialogue being handled by the main speaker. Play it loud and proud!

Extras

On the Border: (28:12) interview with director Alex de la Iglesia. This is an insightful chat with the director as he discusses the various problems he encountered while filming this production.

Writing Perdita Durango: (16:43) interview with the novelist Barry Gifford as he speaks about how the novel came to fruition.

Dancing with The Devil: (12:57) an appraisal of the film with film scholar Rebekah McKendry.

Nacrosatanicos: Perdita Durango and the Matamoros Cult: (18:14) True crime coverage of the actual murder that helped inspire the film. Features an interview with Abraham Castillo Flores and “Cauldron of Blood” author Jim Schutze.

Canciones de Amor Maldito: The Music of Perdita Durango (21:13); interview with Composed Simon Boswell.

Shooting Perdita Durango: (4:54) Interview with the Director of Photography Flavio Labiano.

Trailers:

- Spanish Trailer: (1:37)

- English Trailer (1:50)

Overall

This presentation for the film is probably as good as it is going to get and that’s saying a lot. I cannot speak for the 4K version, but the Blu-ray looked excellent with colors jumping off the screen; flesh tones look good and well balanced, blacks were strong with lots of depth. I was seriously impressed with this extended cut of the film and congratulate Severin in bringing us this excellent presentation.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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