The Rebirth of Dante Tomaselli’s Desecration (1999)

December 8, 2018 | By

Time and age have a tendency to affect one’s tastes for and perceptions of art, and the preference I had in my 20s for mainstream and more formal genre efforts has shifted to enjoying less traditional, more daring attempts to build a story around a simple idea, or fragment it in image and especially sound – the latter a reflection of my omnipresent appreciation and love of good sound design.

As I state near end end of my review of Dante Tomaselli’s feature film debut Desecration (1999), sound can be a key to understanding a work on a less conscious level; maybe because of active subtext, or smoothing jarring transitions for more traditional audiences.



I didn’t care for the film upon my first viewing more that 15 years ago, but its strange, surreal cover of four nuns in mutated states maintained a quiet attraction, and in its new Blu-ray incarnation, I have to say I’ve warmed to the concept of a narrative in which characters in a story are connected by shared traumatic memories, and nightmares which are enhanced and soon ignited by the malevolent spirit of a cruel mother.

The bonding agent for Tomaselli’s scenario is his score & sound design which remain surprisingly engrossing in an era where any sounds can be shaped using myriad plugins and patches. I interviewed the writer-director-composer twice before in 2015 and 2007, and I’ve included a short Q&A in which he describes the creation and layering of a soundtrack that remains sharp and fresh and extraordinarily clean – an ideal amalgam of digital and analogue sounds treated with great imagination, and still affecting, because of the care spent in shaping the sonic components.


An example of Dante Tomaselli’s stacked, edited sound elements from the WITCHES album.


My emphasis here on sound isn’t to sideline the film’s striking imagery and colours, but highlight Tomaselli’s sound work which reflects a fastidiousness and determination to Get Things Right. The stereo 2.0 mix is also testimony that imagination, organization, and skill can negate the need for a 5.1 mix – one of the best stereo surround mixes that comes to mind is Romeo is Bleeding (1993), with clean, beautifully recorded, edited, and mixed material by the great Walter Murch.

Desecration isn’t a straightforward ghost tale, and neither is its direction nor sound design, but it does offer a unique approach evoking a nightmare, and Code Red’s Blu-ray is a marked improvement over the nearly 20 year old DVD and its non-anamorphic transfer.

In addition to discussing the film’s sonic design, in our Q&A Tomaselli also elaborates on the new transfer made from the film’s best source – a master digibeta edit – and the lost film elements.

Transferring image to video and posting on tape for broadcast & distribution was very much the norm for filmmakers and TV producers during the late 1980s and especially the 1990s – it was a cost-effective way to avoid creating prints and mixing to magnetic film.

Video offered an opportunity to never cut their negative and fix mistakes, balance colours, and create a stereo mix, with the final project elements taking up and weighing far less than cans of film and boxes of sound reels. In a pre-fully digital, non-interlace era, video gave filmmakers a method to shoot on film and have a finished product for home video and ancillary distribution, hence what was probably an easy DVD master for original distributor Image.

The irony is that film became an acquisition format which was literally boxed up, stored, and forgotten once post-production moved into the video realm, so the challenge for affected filmmakers wanting to create a new HD master in 2018 is the choice between raw uncut footage and a finished film on legacy video media.

Coming shortly is a review of the Sherwood Forest quartet produced by Columbia Pictures and Hammer, which I’m tying to Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), the last in the series.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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