“I am she that liveth and was dead,
I am alive forevermore
and have the keys of Hell and death.”
I get chills every time I hear that tagline. It’s a downright crime that many horror fans might not know where its from and might not have even seen this early 1990s Italian horror film. The film in question is Dark Waters, from writer/director Mariano Baino and its one of the best horror movies you’ve never heard of.
After a chilling intro in which a church on a remote island is flooded and a priest is impaled on a cross, the story moves forward twenty years and into the present. Elizabeth travels from London to the island to investigate her late father’s donations to the nuns who run the church. What she uncovers is a terrifying secret about the women of the convent that stretches back to her forgotten childhood on the island and involves an aquatic demon that lies captive beneath the church as long as the fragments of a stone amulet remain separated.
I discovered this movie back in 2005, thanks to a great DVD release by the now defunct No Shame Films. I’ve revisited it several times because there is so much to discover each time and so, so much to love. Especially charming is the simplicity of it. Baino and his crew were clearly working with very little money, but they managed to make the most of their resources by using minimal locations, tight shots, and an abundance of shadows. Like Phantasm and Suspiria, it’s often so effective because it’s just so damn weird! The guy with the black eyes eating a freshly caught fish, the blind artist who meticulously captures events both prophetic and historical, and the nuns flagellating themselves in the caves below the church are bizarrely iconic sequences that contribute to the mood.
And what a mood it is! The old church and the heavy use of shadow make the movie feel right at home alongside gory Gothic classics made infamous by the team at Hammer Films, while the seemingly illogical sequences and Lovecraftian overtones put Baino in a class with forerunners Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava. It’s hard to watch this film and not find something cool to look at and experience.
From a storytelling standpoint, it admittedly drags a little in the second act, but overall, it’s a worthy addition to the canon of Italian horror films, which were unfortunately losing much of their audience by this time. Dark Waters came out nearly twenty years ago and while it experienced a brief revival when No Shame released it, it wasn’t quite the rediscovery that I feel it deserved. Baino’s influences are evident, but there is a fierce originality here, showcased mainly by the perversion of religion and his unique take on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.