After achieving success with 1989’s “The Church,” co-writer/director Michele Soavi (best known for 1994’s “Cemetery Man”) takes on a smaller enemy for 1991’s “The Sect,” retreating the wilds of the mind for this horror endeavor. Strange water and nightmare realms define the slow-burn shocker, with Soavi taking his time building trouble for his lead character, asking the audience to sit patiently while the material works around some narrative dead ends and lengthy scenes of investigation. “The Sect” isn’t pulse-pounding entertainment, in dire need of another editorial pass, but the helmer scores with certain macabre visuals, offering wild, invasive camerawork and a game cast to conjure a cult disturbance.
Long ago, hippie god Damon (Tomas Arana) tore through America on a mission to sacrifice innocents in the name of Satan. Decades later, Miriam (Kelly Curtis) is making a living in Germany as a schoolteacher, living a comfortable life that’s disrupted when she nearly runs over Moebius (Herbert Lom), an elderly man making his way across the countryside. Bringing the senior into her country home for temporary care, Miriam is soon left with questions, with Moebius eventually disappearing after their strange interactions. However, before he departs, Moebius leaves the gift of a special insect inside her nostril, with the bug working into her brain, messing with her sense of reality as she experiences additional horrors tied to a nearby well that’s been compromised by the stranger’s evil intentions.
“The Sect” opens in 1970, focusing on a hippie camp in the wilds of California that’s soon visited by Damon, who initially requests some water, but eventually wants lives. The introduction is more odd than ominous, with Soavi trying to build suspense around Damon’s presence, even when the man looks about as deranged as possible. The action eventually jumps forward in years and moves across the globe to Germany, leaving the screenplay (concocted by Soavi, Dario Argento, and Gianni Romoli) to work on creating a connection between the eras, remerging as a tale of a bad day for Miriam, who nearly kills Moebius while driving home one peaceful afternoon.
Of course, Moebius isn’t a healthy man. In the feature’s best performance, Lom creates a striking vision of unsettled behavior as the senior, who’s disheveled, protective of a special package he’s taking somewhere undefined, keeping himself even with the help of black fluid he drops into his eyes. Moebius is up to no good, but Miriam is curious about the man, hypnotized by his strange ways as she offers him shelter. She’s rewarded with an insect placed into her nose while she sleeps, commencing a psychological distortion that makes up the rest of “The Sect,” with Moebius leaving a few other gifts before he disappears. While Miriam experiences some bizarre nightmares, most of the agitation found in the film is tied to water, with the poisoned well causing trouble for the characters, though Miriam doesn’t seem all the disturbed by the appearance of blue worms on her pipes and in her cups. But then few characters in the movie show a real sense of awareness, with multiple scenes detailing inappropriate flirtations around the discovery of dead bodies and missing mothers.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation is billed as a “Brand new 2K scan of the original negatives, with over 45 hours of color correction done in America.” The work is impressive, delivering a bright, fresh look at the grungy elements of “The Sect,” which absolutely benefits from renewed sharpness. Detail is vital to the storytelling, with Soavi’s camera pulling in and out of body particulars, finding great textures on skin and precision with sights such as fine nose hair and insect wings. Set decoration is crisp and open for inspection, and location carry dimensional distances. Colors are bold, with vivid primaries on costuming greenery, and the production’s use of blood retains a deep red, popping out to secure nightmarish visuals. Skintones are spot-on. Delineation is communicative. Source is free of overt damage.
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix is restrained a bit by age-related issues, with hiss and pops carrying throughout the listening experience. It’s there, but not much of a distraction, with dialogue exchanges coming through as intended, emphasized by the production’s use of dubbing. Scoring supports as intended, with adequate instrumentation and comfortable volume, delivering intended mood. Sound effects aren’t harsh, handling violent extremes and animal calls. Atmospherics are evocative.
Interview (29:21, HD) with Tomas Arana explores his relationship with director Michele Soavi, with the pair reuniting after their work on “The Church,” sharing a necessary shorthand that led to a comfortable work environment. Arana shares his research for the role as a cult leader, using memories from his time as a child in San Francisco to inform his performance (also making him an expert on the smell of hippies), and he discusses his relationship with Curtis, unaware for weeks that she was the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The actor also explores the technical side of a face-ripping special effect, and his inexperience with motorcycles, forcing Soavi to get into costume for riding scenes. Arana shares anecdotes from a few of his career choices (including “Body Puzzle,” “Domino,” and “Gladiator”), but saves most of his energy to discuss the Italian film industry and its performance requirements, and preferred behavior on movie sets, teaching younger thespians to not waste time on nonsense.
Interview (20:10, HD) with Soavi explores his early interest in filmmaking, inspired by Dario Argento, with his career path eventually leading him to work with the maestro on multiple occasions, including “The Sect.” The path of development is explored, with Soavi sharing his themes and visual ideas, and he offers praise for his cast, welcoming a pro like Herbert Lom, while being surprised by Curtis, with Lisa Wilcox initially cast in the role, forced to drop out due to her pregnancy. Soavi also covers numerous technical challenges encountered during the making of the movie.
And an Italian Theatrical Trailer (1:35, SD) is included.
Soavi directs the stuffing out of “The Sect,” swirling his camera around the well and shoving lenses into nostrils and eyes, adding a needed level of illness to the feature, which does better with physical threat than mental erosion. A strong lead performance from Curtis helps the cause, and she deserves a medal for her commitment to some of Soavi’s stranger ideas, most involving animals and their symbolic position in the cult uprising. The picture is poky at times, with tension permitted to escape through inertia, as Soavi spends so much time working on his visual quake, he allows the story to flatline. Considering all the oddity that’s contained within the movie, it’s not a bright idea to slow down the narrative for any reason. “The Sect” eventually reaches a more apocalyptic finale, which works on the senses, but doesn’t feel dramatically satisfying, with the entire effort unable to create a proper snowball effect. Urgency is lacking here, but the film is not without genre charms, delivering creepy interactions and kooky sequences (including a rabbit working a television remote) with periodic flourish.