The first and currently only entry in this planned series is Winter Lily, one of several Montréal-lensed films released on DVD in the past month from Vanguard International Cinema. Clive (Danny Gilmore) is a budding photographer who, while on a trip to New England, decides to stay in a picturesque bed and breakfast instead of a drab motel. His hostess Agatha (Dorothée Berryman) seems hopelessly nutty, prattling on endlessly about her beloved bedridden daughter, Lily (Kimberly Laferriere). Clive is intrigued by the photos he sees of the beautiful young girl who he's yet to get more than a glimpse of in-person. His curiosity is spun into outright obsession when he uncovers a journal that details her troubled love life and her deranged, hyperprotective parents. Clive soon finds himself subject to the rather unpleasant fate of the man who came before him, and he too starts to come apart at the seams.
Winter Lily has been compared to the Roman Polanski's dabbling in the mystery/suspense genre. That's being exceptionally generous, though this is incrementally above-average for a low-budget thriller. Winter Lily has its creepy moments, particularly a slightly psychotic love scene that no viewer is soon to forget. The revelation of the mystery surrounding Lily is handled well. Obviously there's something terribly wrong with her, but what it is and how it will impact Clive is unveiled slowly and effectively. Its biggest drawback by a considerable margin is the cast. Of the leads, only the comparatively inexperienced Kimberly Laferriere -- this is her first and only screen credit -- churns out a believable performance. Her character is also given the least to do of those who get a respectable amount of screen time. Danny Gilmore is on the gawky side, reminding me of what Chris Klein would be like if he were born north of the 49th Parallel. Lily's parents are far too cartoonish to seem threatening, especially the wildly over-the-top Dorothée Berryman. I suppose writer/director Roshell Bissett just couldn't bring himself (herself?) to rein Berryman in.
I feel compelled to complain about the artwork for this DVD release. I don't know what sort of poster art was used to promote the film during its appearances at film festivals or whatever sort of theatrical run it had throughout the world. Admittedly, my imagination is somewhat limited, but I could not conceive that it could possibly be any worse than the cover of this DVD. The text messily scrawled in the bottom lefthand corner reads "something's wrong with Lily...dare to find out?" Come on, this isn't a USA World Premiere Movie starring Judd Nelson. A still of an unconvincing corpse lifted from the film has been ineptly tacked onto the cover. The selection of images on the back of the case is equally poor, apparently shot with a $30 Pentax from Wal-Mart or perhaps one of those charming hot pink Barbie 110 cameras. Winter Lily doesn't have packaging as laughably bad as the output of, say, York Entertainment, but Vanguard is going to have to start providing something far more compelling if they're expecting to move many units at thirty bucks a pop.
Video: Winter Lily has the usual characteristics of a low-budget 16mm production, boasting that sort of "when in the hell was this movie made?" look that makes it seem as if it could've been produced at any point in the past 15 years. The full-frame image is quite grainy and lacking in fine detail. Black levels, if you can call them that, are anemic at best. The screen doesn't burst with color or vibrancy, though what's present doesn't appear terribly unnatural. This DVD release of Winter Lily isn't stunning, but it's probably the best that can be expected given the inherent limitations of the source material, however recent the film may be.
Audio: Winter Lily is another mono outing from Vanguard International Cinema, and there's little about it that's worth noting. I suppose that can be considered a plus, though. Dialogue remains easy to understand, and even the loudest screams aren't marred by the slightest hint of distortion. There isn't much happening in the lower registers, though that's hardly an overwhelming shock. I didn't care much for the slight techno flourishes that appear in the later moments in Winter Lily, but obviously that doesn't knock down the score of the disc's technical merits.
Supplements: Though Vanguard has released some 100 DVDs to date, few have had any extras to speak of whatsoever. Winter Lily is another of their barebones discs, lacking anything remotely resembling supplemental material, though it does have ten chapter stops and animated menus.
Conclusion: Vanguard doesn't seem hellbent on conquering the sell-through market, judging by the significantly higher-than-average cost of its featureless DVD releases. At $29.95, Winter Lily doesn't cry out for a purchase, though the general audience for this sort of movie may very well find it worth a weekend rental.