Director: Elio Petri
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

CAMELOT’s Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero seek A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY and find murder and madness, courtesy of Scream Factory's Blu-ray.

His creative batteries drained, modern artist Leonardo Ferri (Franco Nero, DJANGO) wants to get away from the city. Although his art dealer/lover Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave, BLOW-UP) finds him a spacious villa, Leonardo finds himself drawn to an older, crumbling villa. Despite her warnings that the villa is not a good investment, Flavia arranges for Leonardo to buy it and pops in and out with various supplies and modern conveniences and to make sure he is working. Leonardo soon discovers he’s not alone, however, as doors slam on their own and someone or something totally demolishes his workroom. Leonardo learns from some of the villagers that a promiscuous countess named Wanda Valier (Gabriella Grimaldi, JOHNNY HAMLET) was killed there twenty years before when an English fighter plane riddled the villa with bullets. When Flavia drops by to spend the night, the house seems to react violently to her presence. She nearly falls through the floor, a portion of the roof collapses on her, and then a shelf of bricks almost crushes her. Flavia jokes that the house doesn’t like her and leaves, but Leonardo wants to find out more about Wanda. He visits her ailing-yet-predatory mother (Madeleine Damien, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID) and pays her off for some photographs of Wanda who becomes his new inspiration (not for painting, as he has lost the desire to create). Flavia fears that another woman has taken him away from her. Leonardo gathers several of Wanda’s suitors – including the villa’s groundskeeper Attilio (Georges Geret, IS PARIS BURNING?) – for a séance at the villa, after which it seems as though Leonardo himself poses the greater danger to Flavia (although it is uncertain whether he has become possessed or if he is trying to please Wanda’s ghost).

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY is another one of Elio Petri’s (THE TENTH VICTIM, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICIOUS) arty, sexy exploitation pictures, but it is also an effectively chilling bucolic ghost story. Based on the Oliver Onions novella “The Beckoning Fair One,” the Victorian setting so ripe for a ghost story is transformed into a pop-art sixties Italy. The gothic villa setting is invaded by Leonardo’s modern paintings, pornographic magazines, as well as modern conveniences – supplied by Flavia so Leonardo won’t waste time doing anything but painting – like a dishwasher (which Leonardo uses to wash his brushes); yet the supernatural attacks on Flavia are unexpected, and the séance scene is genuinely chilling. Nero and Redgrave had met on the set of CAMELOT the year before and she divorced Tony Richardson in 1968 (Richardson was already seeing Jeanne Moreau at the time). Although their relationship would be rather stormy later on (Redgrave had a fifteen year relationship with Timothy Dalton from 1971 to 1986, but married Nero in 2006), it is hard not to read something into their onscreen relationship here, with Leonardo making reference to Flavia’s wealthy husband and Flavia clinging desperately to Leonardo and proclaiming that she only wants his happiness; on the other hand, Redgrave and Nero may simply have embraced the characters’ sadomasochistic relationship as an acting challenge with a side of exhibitionism.

As the seemingly possessed Leonardo, Nero adopts an unsetting gaze that anticipates both Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING and James Brolin in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Since this is an Elio Petri (THE 10TH VICTIM) film, it is in no way a straightforward ghost story: Leonardo’s creative mind is subject to hallucinations from the start, but they are not just cinematic game-playing on the part of Petri. Leonardo’s fears of failure are depicted through dreams and hallucinations of Flavia’s materialistic excess, Flavia as his nursemaid, and his murderer (“We almost had it all,” she says as she stabs him). He accuses her of only being with him for his profitability as an artist, but it seems that she is carrying him with her husband's money, or at least managing his money since she has to ask him to leave him some cash before she goes out to work. Several times, Leonardo hallucinates killing Flavia violently and also replaces the various men in the flashbacks of Wanda’s conquests. In its merging of the past and present – sometimes in the same shot – the film would make a good companion piece with Stephen Weeks’ understated yet more traditional period chiller GHOST STORY (1973). The film is one of the few psychological horror films that is successful at making the audience question how much of the haunting is a projection of the unstable hero. When Redgrave says at the end “I almost envy him,” one wonders if it is not the villa but Leonardo’s final destination that is the titular “quiet place in the country” since there he is finally free to focus on his art without commercial obligations or sexual distraction. The countess is not the only female to turn Leonardo’s eye, there’s also young housekeeper Egle (Rita Calderoni, later of NUDE FOR SATAN, DELIRIUM, and THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL) who shares her garret room bed with her little brother (and with Nero in a humorous scene in which all three are spooked by ghostly doings in the night). Technical credits are top-notch with cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller (DEEP RED) – Mario Bava’s cameraman Ubaldo Terzano operated the camera for Kuveiller, as he would also do on DEEP RED, NEW YORK RIPPER, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, ANDY WARHOL’S DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, and Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) – editing by Visconti’s editor of choice Ruggero Mastroianni (CONVERSATION PIECE), set design by Sergio Canevari (BAY OF BLOOD), and a wonderfully giallo-esque score by Ennio Morricone – in collaboration with the improvisational group Nuova Consonanza – pre-dating THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Leonardo’s paintings are the work of Neo-Dada artist Jim Dine.

In the States, A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY disappeared from circulation after its theatrical release only to turn up years later officially on MGM VHS as part of their Amazon.com exclusive series (which also featured the first uncut American release of Tony Maylam’s THE BURNING as well as some more bewildering picks like the 21st Century Film Corp. pick-up DANCE MACABRE with Robert Englund and CURSE 2: THE BITE). The film then turned up in a new 16:9 transfer from CDE in Italy, but it was not English-friendly. More recently, the film was remastered and premiered on an English-friendly Spanish DVD edition through MGM (in addition to showing on U.S. cable television); alas, MGM went the DVD-R route with this important title for its domestic release with a single-layer, anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, the English dub (with Nero and Regrave dubbing themselves) and the Italian track with optional English dubtitles, as well as the film's trailer. More recently, the film became available in Germany as part of a Petri DVD boxed set with English audio and subtitles, but the transfer ran roughly a minute less than the previous masters with a couple short sequences removed at the instruction of Petri.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that is presumably derived from MGM's recent HD master. The opening credits are in English and look a tad softer and specklier while the body of the presentation is cleaner and slightly more colorful than the SD edition (although not totally free of specks and dirt) and detail is improved. While the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono Italian track sounds relatively clean, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track has a persistent hiss and buzzing that makes itself known in more quiet scenes. The optional English subtitles are once again dubtitles, but Redgrave and Nero dub themselves on the English track which is here preferable even if the rest of the cast (who have considerably less screen time than the lead duo) are dubbed by voice actors.

New extras include audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth who discusses the contrasting approaches to art embodied by its central characters, commercialism, consumerism, and the film's portrayal of mental deterioration rather than a traditional haunting. He discusses the sadoerotic relationship between Leonardo and Flavia (and the contradictory ways in which she is portrayed) – noting the offscreen relationship with the two actors – his not-entirely-sexual preoccupation with pornography, and the protagonist's ultimate need to form a "genuine connection in a world of superficiality." Howarth also contrasts the film's scenario with Oliver Onion's story, as well as Bava's desire to do an adaptation. Also included is a new interview with actor Nero (32:07) who recalls that it was Petri and his wife who convinced him to take the lead role in DJANGO to get himself known. He covers the first time he met Redgrave and their ensuing relationship, their opportunity to work together here, and describes his character as a child who needs his mother, a role fulfilled by his agent/lover played by Redgrave who actually did get hurt in some of their more intense scenes. He speaks reverently of Petri's abilities as a filmmaker and the way he shot the film, describing him as the Italian Stanley Kubrick, and also reveals that United Artists sent young painter Jim Dine to teach him how to paint, and he and Petri told off the upstart painter when he asked them if they wanted to buy one of this paintings for $10,000 only to then discover his artwork selling for much more only a year later in Paris and after that in New York. He also recalls his work on THE MERCENARY in which Gillo Pontecorvo was slated as director only for him to do BURN! instead and be replaced by Sergio Corbucci, and that initial lead James Coburn (IN LIKE FLINT) was replaced by Tony Musante (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) who would also take a role in Giuseppe Patroni Griffi's ONE NIGHT AT DINNER that had been offered to and rejected by Nero and Gian Maria Volante. He cites the enjoyment of young audiences at recent screenings of A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY as proof that Petri and the film were ahead of their time. The film's trailer (2:07) is also included in standard definition. (Eric Cotenas)