Directed by Argentinian filmmaker Valentín Javier Diment in 2011, Memory Of The Dead (or La memoria del muerto if you prefer) sets things up with a scene in which we meet a man named Jorge (Gabriel Goity) and his wife Alicia (Lola Berthet). Their life together seems idyllic, at least from this quick opening scene, so it's quite a surprise to Alicia when she finds her husband dead. She grieves, of course, but then a short while later gathers together a group of his closest friends at her late husband's remote mansion estate where they plan on throwing a little get together/wake in his honor. And so a painter named Nicanor (Matias Marmorato), Jorge's childhood best friend Mauro (Rafael Ferro) and his girlfriend Ivana (Flora Gro), and another friend named Hugo (Luis Ziembrowski) and a woman named Monica (Lorena Vega) all come together with Alicia to do just that.
Things start off fine, but after Alicia reads aloud some of Jorge's will, things become increasingly weird at a pretty quick pace. Nicanor reveals an eerie painting that he's made in honor of Jorge, a portrait in which the deceased leers ominously off of the canvas in a way that can only point to danger. From there, Ivana looks out the window and sees what she believes to be her deceased daughter playing on a swing set while the fog that's rolling in only partially hides what look like walking corpses heading in their direction. She runs outside to investigate and the rest of the guests watch her die from the window. The guests soon realize that there's something more to Alicia's plan than just a simple memorial and when they call her on it, she admits that she's using them in a magic ritual that will, if executed properly, bring her beloved back from the dead… but at what cost to her and the guests? As the group starts to splinter and fight amongst themselves, the individual members are plagued by visions of their past and they soon learn that hard way that even with Alicia's confession all is not as it seems.
Diment has quite obviously paid attention to the films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and David Lynch, this is obvious in the heavy use of primary colors and lighting as well as in the way in which the narrative unfolds by using surreal set pieces and vignettes that may or may not be flashbacks. The story requires a fair bit of both attention and interpretation on the part of the viewer as it mixes some visceral horror, wild visuals and twisted black comedy in interesting and admittedly very strange ways. The effects are pretty solid here and play a big role in providing the movie with some substantial shock value. While there's certainly more to the movie than just some nasty gore set pieces, there's enough blood and guts on display to appeal to those who like their horror strong. At the same time, these scenes are handled in some very unconventional ways and tend to add to the comedic side of the story just as much as they do the horrific side.
The movie's biggest problem is that most of the characters are played to the hilt and the cast tend to overact, at least early on in the film. Once they all start bickering it's hard to really like any of them and as such, even when we see one character revisit the sexual abuse meted out at the hands of her father when she was a child, we never quite sympathize with her the way we should for that particular scene to have the necessary impact required to really work. As such, it comes off as fairly base exploitation, though it does again allow for some impressive effects work as we see her mother sewing up her eyes so as not to see and sewing up her mouth so as not to speak of such things. There's a lot of metaphorical visuals such as this throughout the film that give it a bit more depth than at first you might suspect.
It all leads up to a decent twist ending that wraps up the core plot in an unexpected way. Nicely shot and filled with some seriously slick camera work and set pieces, Memory Of The Dead manages to pull from its influences and at the same time craft something fairly unconventional. This won't appeal to those who don't appreciate horror films that travel far off of the beaten path, but if you're looking for something more than just a little bit different than your typical zombie movie or slasher film, this one should fit the bill nicely.
Memory Of The Dead debuts on DVD from Artsploitation Films in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. As this was shot digitally there are obviously no issues with print damage so the picture is quite clean and reasonably well detailed by standard definition criteria. There's a bit of crush in some of the darker scenes but otherwise the black levels are solid and the color reproduction is frequently pretty impressive. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there aren't any serious compression artifacts to complain about.
Spanish language options are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with optional subtitles in English only. There isn't too much happening in the rear channels of the 5.1 mix but occasionally you'll pick up on some surround activity. Otherwise, both tracks sound good. Dialogue is properly balanced in against the score and the effects and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, the only extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Artsploitation Films releases.
Memory Of The Dead is a completely bizarre film but it's one that those with a taste for less traditional horror films should make a point of tracking down. While it does wear its influences plainly on its sleeve, there's a lot of inspired creativity on display and the movie succeeds thanks to a keen eye for visuals, composition and atmosphere. The DVD release from Artsploitation Films is light on extras but it looks and sounds pretty decent. Recommended for fans of off the wall foreign horror.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.