Cult Cinema: Dark Waters (1993) - Reviewed

With recently renewed interest in the Nunsploitation genre after the long awaited streaming video premiere of Ken Russell’s The Devils as well as Arrow Video’s disc release of Mark of the Devil, the good folks at Severin Films (Hardware) recently issued a remastered blu ray edition of the clandestine yet genuinely disturbing Russian/Italian/British horror film Dark Waters.  

Not to be confused with Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water or the English language remake it inspired, the directorial debut of Mariano Baino represents a modern foray into archaic demonology, blasphemy and ever growing depravity.  Imperfect and not even close to the towering mastery of Russell’s film but still a curious little number which paved the way for the Hell episodes in Doom 3

Loosely inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Dark Waters concerns a young Englishwoman haunted by recurring nightmares of Satanic rites who travels to a remote island in the Ukraine coast in search of an answer to her bizarre bad dreams.  Unbeknownst to her, deep in the countryside is a hidden Satanic convent of nuns on a mission to unleash the antichrist into our world.  Though borrowing heavily from the likes of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead with just a few hints of Clive Barker tossed in for good measure, Dark Waters is an oddly disturbing cocktail of abstract occult imagery ala Begotten and conventional genre thriller with more than a few unfortunate clich├ęs mixed in. 

Drawing comparisons to Mario Bava and Clive Barker, Dark Waters is being referred to as a ‘lost masterpiece’ finally restored and made available to the public on home video.  As for myself, it’s a very mixed and often inconsistent bag with occasionally unnerving scenarios amid a kind of unholy Pentecost.  The location photography on the coast of Ukraine is breathtaking to behold, even more so when you consider the hardships the filmmakers had to endure to exploit the mountains and cave locations. 

There are series of images recalling the more grotesque abstractions found in Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill interspersed with other scenes that do little to advance the film or enhance our interest in the characters.  Where Dark Waters succeeds admirably however is the Satan soaked atmosphere with deep caves lit up by candlelight, giving the unholy underground church a modern gothic look.  Equally strong if not stronger is the sound design which near the third act begins to emit a series of strange demonic cries and roars, echoing the backwards talking demon tape recording in The Exorcist

I’m a sucker for these kinds of Gothic horror films dealing with sacrilege and demonology, but I’d be lying if I said Dark Waters offered more than facile surface features.  Our leading female protagonist, though going through her own myriad of swimming and writing in blood and gore, never clicked with me and the final Lovecraftian finale treads a fine line between genuinely disturbing body horror and high camp creature feature prostheses.  Worth a look for those of you who share my penchant for demonic gothic horror but I can’t agree that it’s a “lost masterpiece”.  Curious but far from being in league with the likes of Bava or Barker.


- Andrew Kotwicki