I have fond memories of this as it was actually one of the first of those new-fangled DVD’s I remember picking up. No doubt I was late to the game as I didn’t want to let go of those lovely big hunks of plastic VHS video cassettes which took up a ridiculous amount of space and cluttered the shelves and every other available space in untidy piles. Of course some still remain and we now have Blu-Ray meaning that many of us are upgrading the DVD collection to yet another better format, hopefully for the last time. Eureka have kindly provided the UK debut of this 1999 supernatural thriller on Blu-ray and if you too are a Luddite it comes twinned with a DVD as a dual disc package. It’s quite a good time for this chiller to get a new lease of life too as nights are drawing in, Halloween approaches and many of us are wrapped up in watching the first few episodes (should it or should it not have been made) of The Exorcist TV series. Priests and the church are in again and like the aforementioned series there are parallels not least of which is Hollywood’s endeavour at making the church sexy.
They certainly do this in Stigmata, a film where two worlds well and truly collide. On the one hand we have the brilliantly cast Gabriel Byrne as the smooth and handsome Father Kiernan a former scientist who has turned to God and the priesthood looking for answers. His skills make him the perfect person to be employed by the Vatican to go and investigate supposed miracles and in most cases dispute their authenticity. On his latest mission to Belo Quinto in Brazil a statue weeping tears of blood is proving very hard to disprove. Over in Pittsburgh hairdresser, popular party girl and atheist Frankie (Patricia Arquette) is enjoying her life when it literally starts going to hell in a handcart. Afflicted by sudden visions and acute pain she starts displaying signs of stigmata and replicating the wounds Christ received on the cross. Medical staff are at first apprehensive thinking they are self-inflicted (of course a person is capable of hammering holes through both their wrists) but proof is obtained that something is not quite right when she receives lacerations to the back after a demonic flagellation session on an out of control train-ride. Kiernan is sent to investigate but lurking underneath the drama are conspiracies and aged secrets lurking in the Vatican that go way beyond one mere mortal’s salvation and could rip the Catholic Church in half.
Although more than a mere “possession” film naturally Stigmata gives off some fairly foul and shocking scenes as Frankie becomes more overpowered by the forces around her. She begins speaking in tongues, rolling her eyes up into her head, levitating and writing down ancient Aramaic script that are well and truly beyond her comprehension. There might not be any pea green soup hitting the walls but scenes provide a jolt and the story develops well and keeps you intrigued throughout. Having not seen this for a fair few years I really enjoyed getting back to it and found importantly that the movie had not seemed to have aged at all. No doubt the improved picture and sound quality made it all the better and I have to admit even having seen this a few times I jumped out my seat on more than one occasion. Visually it’s particularly striking from the start with the cinematography in the Brazilian scenes leaping off the screen and being full of colour. Music put together by Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan and featuring everyone from Chumbawamba to Sinead O’Connor proves ok and although I much prefer proper scores than bands it’s all fitting for the contemporary scenes of a bustling Pittsburgh.
The one overriding thought that I found impossible to get out my head during this was that if Dan Brown wrote a horror novel this would probably be it. Pure bunkum though the film was, I managed to simply enjoy it for what it was despite the fact that other critics and moviegoers completely crucified it on release. Stigmata is a film that divided its audience right down the middle when it originally came out even (and I have to say somewhat unfairly) getting Byrne a Razzle nomination for worst supporting actor. If you compare it however to the other supernatural hit of the time M Night Shyamalan’s execrable Sixth Sense (which it knocked off the box office biggest grossing film after five weeks) I know which film gets my vote. Stigmata is one that you are probably going to love or loathe and if you have never seen it before it’s well worth a watch. Extras here include commentary by director Wainwright whose remake of The Fog has hardly endeared him to horror fans, deleted scenes, isolated music track, alternate ending, the Divine Rights featurette which was on the original release and an (ahem) Natalie Imbruglia music video.