DVD: Perdita Durango / Dance with the Devil (1997)

June 11, 2014 | By


PerditaDurango_aka_DanceWithDevilFilm: Weak

Transfer:  Weak

Extras: Standard

Label: Unapix

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  December 28, 1999

Genre:  Crime / Action

Synopsis: An American detective tracks down a murderous couple who’ve kidnapped two teens and are attempting to deliver a shipment of human embryos to Las Vegas.

Special Features:  Trailers / Filmographies




The second installment of Barry Gifford’s Sailor and Lula saga (after Wild at Heart) was given a similarly idiosyncratic treatment by director Alex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast) who crafted a stylized film which went even further in sex and violence than David Lynch’s own eccentric translation of Gifford’s material.

Although the character of Perdita did appear in Wild at Heart (1990), Lynch had actress Isabella Rossellini play her as a sultry, yellow-bleached blonde with a meaty monkey brow who said very little; besides driving a getaway car, Perdita was essentially a bit part for Rossellini (who’d previously appeared in Lynch’s prior idiosyncratic shocker Blue Velvet).

The dark humor of Gifford’s prose is evident in Perdita Durango (the film’s original title when it toured the film festival circuit), but Iglesia applied his own uneven mix of humor, satire, absurdism, visual cartoon gags, and sexual violence which didn’t make it easy to like the film’s anti-heroine, especially when she falls for Romeo, a Santeria priest / serial killer / thug / rapist and joins him in his crazy scheme to snatch a pair of naïve American youths on vacation and offer them up as sacrifices.

The basic story has Perdita (Rosie Perez) hooking up with Romeo (Javier Bardem, sporting the worst mullet ever) after a drink at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing. He’s smuggling a cadaver for one of his religious shows where the body will be hacked up and boiled into a bloody goo before being offered to fascinated onlookers, whereas Perdita needs a thrill-kill and easily convinces Romeo to go for a real blood offering.

Not unlike the real Matamoros cult killings, a pair of whitebread teens are taken to a remote shack where they’re held prior to their sacrificial killings, but the night before the event Perdita rapes the boy, after which the two watch Romeo rape the girl through a peephole. The next evening, just as the tarred & feathered kids are about to be sacrificed, the show house goes up in flames, and the two abductors and their feathered victims begin a lengthy flight from the police led by American Det. Dumas (James Gandolfini).

Their final destination is Las Vegas, where Romeo intends to deliver a shipment of human embryos he was obligated to hijack for Mexican kingpin Santos (Don Stroud, reprising the role played by J.E. Freeman in Wild at Heart).

The bulk of the film’s last hour is comprised of long, meandering chases in an already long and meandering film in which Det. Dumas follows and eventually catches up with the pair in Vegas, just as Romeo is about to handover the shipment to contact and cousin Reggie San Pedro (played by Javier’s real-life brother Carlos Bardem) only to have things turn out rather bloody.

The Spanish version runs 126 mins. and contains some additional risqué material plus CGI footage that blends Romeo with characters from his favourite childhood film, Vera Cruz (1954), from which a clip is seen in a brief childhood flashback sequence. Unapix’ Region 1 DVD runs shorter and lacks the CGI segments, but it contains more sexually graphic material than the North American theatrical release.

Not unlike Jan Kouen’s Dobermann (1997), there’s crackhead energy to the film’s main male character, and when Romeo goes into a spiritual trance, Iglesias opts for a boosted frame rate – a stylistic effect used by Stephen Norrington in the stellar ‘blood shower’ rave at the beginning of Blade (1998). Romeo’s hacking up a cadaver at the beginning is especially chilling, and the murder spree and escape from a wrestling hall is an amazingly crafted sequence – but these are rare exceptions within a messy film.

There’s also an absurd, cartoonish motif where Det. Dumas is repeatedly struck by cars which comes off as oblique rather than amusing, and the bickering between captors and hostages is a little tough to enjoy after that nasty rape scene which is supposed to be taken as darkly absurd. The action scenes are well-choreographed and don’t suffer from ADD editing, but the gore is a little garish, as when Romeo hacks up a cadaver, and a man is ground to a mulch after Romeo steals the truck of frozen embryos.

Perdita Durango’s kind of an intriguing mess, but it’s far more uneven than Lynch’s own peculiar take on Gifford’s prose. Unapix’ DVD features a single layer non-anamorphic transfer, but given the film’s poor critical reception and almost direct dump to DVD, it’s unlikely this misfire will get a director’s cut. The print source is coarse, grainy, and ugly, and although Simon Boswell’s noirish score comes through strong, its impact would benefit from a cleaner (and uncompressed) 5.1 mix.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s Blog — IMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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