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Epitafios - The Complete First Season

HBO // Unrated // August 29, 2006
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 3, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Series:

HBO was the first cable network to deliver uncut movies around the clock into people's homes and they've managed to grow and evolve as the market has changed.  With other movie channels popping up, HBO started making their own films and eventually TV series.  This has gained them much critical acclaim, especially for their original shows such as Sex and the City, Sopranos, and The Wire.  Not willing to rest on their laurels, HBO has also expanded into the Spanish speaking market with HBO Latin America, and in 2004 they created their first Spanish original series in cooperation with the Argentinean Company Pol-Ka.  This series, Epitafios (Epitaphs) is a grim and gritty police drama that, while not perfect, fits well with HBOs other excellent programs.

When a disgruntled chemistry teacher, Santiago Peñalver (Luis Machín), is fired and then denied his severance pay, he cracks.  Going to the school after hours he takes four students hostage and douses them with a flammable liquid.  The police arrive, along with Peñalver's psychiatrist, Laura Santini (Paola Krum).  While Santini talks to her patient, the officer in charge, Benítez (Lito Cruz), tells his partner, Renzo Márquez (Julio Chávez), to get up on the roof to survey the situation.  While on the roof, Renzo takes a wrong step and falls through a glass skylight which causes Peñalver to drop the lit blowtorch he was holding.  The four 16-year old hostages are all burned to death.

Five years later Benítez is sitting at his desk when he gets a tip to investigate an abandoned house.  Inside he finds the body of Peñalver, who recently escaped from an insane asylum, cut apart, the arms, legs, and head severed and placed around the house.  With the exception of the head which is no where to be found.  In the back yard there are empty graves with headstones for Benítez, the psychiatrist Santini, who discovers Peñalver's head in her car, and Renzo Márquez.

A maniacal killer, whoever is behind Peñalver's murder isn't stopping there.  He has been planning his moves for five years, and sets about kidnaping, torturing and eventually killing everyone involved with the earlier tragic event.  Renzo, who couldn't forgive himself and quit the force, teams up with the police in order to find this serial killer and bring him to justice.

There's a lot to like about this program.  Part Silence of the Lambs and part The Abominable Dr. Phibes with a touch of 24 thrown in too, the show is edge, gritty, and suspenseful.  The plot doesn't unfold like a typical police procedural either.  In many episodes, starting with the first, something unexpected happens that really throws viewers for a loop.  There were several times that this jaded reviewer who has seen it all was startled, not by someone jumping out from the shadows, but from the unexpected direction the plot takes.

The mystery works very well also, and one of the reasons is that there are mysteries laid upon mysteries.  Not only is the identity of the killer important, but why is he killing all of these people?  Why wait five years to start?  Who is the next person that he is going to blame for the tragedy, and how is he going to kill them?  With the method of death inspired by the wrong the victim has perpetrated (at least in the mind of the murderer) some of the executions are as creative as they are gruesome.

While the show did keep me on the edge of my seat for most of its run, there are some problems.  The biggest is that it's too long.  It's hard keeping the level of suspense so high for so long, and though it succeeds brilliantly at the beginning, it does taper off a bit at the end.  The situations started to seem a bit too similar to what had gone on before, and there wasn't the growth in the characters that I was hoping for.

Over the course of the 13 episodes, the killer started to become almost super-human too.  His abilities and knowledge were so great, that it was hard to suspend your disbelief by the time the end rolled around.  An expert at everything from dog training to weapons to computers and electronics, it was hard not to roll your eyes at the things he could do, the knowledge that he had about the main characters, and the fact that he was always at the right place at the right time.  When all was said and done, some of the revelations about the serial killer were a bit hard to swallow too.  This doesn't ruin the series, but it does mean that you have to take things as they are given to you and not think about them too much.  Like the fact that after a serial killer has murdered seven or eight people, the police only have two detectives assigned to the case, and one of those has been burned out for five years.  It makes for a good TV drama, but has no connection with reality.

The DVD:

The thirteen episodes of this series are presented on five DVDs, each one has its own thinpak case.  The set of slimlines are housed in a slipcase that is a bit odd.  The logo from the show is on the spine, but when you pull the case off a shelf and turn it to the left, you are faced with the back of the case.  This is the opposite of just about all other boxed sets that I know of.


This series comes with the original Spanish soundtrack in stereo.  There is no English dub.  I'm really glad that HBO gives American viewers enough credit to realize that they will read subtitles on shows, especially ones that are exceptionally good like this one.

As for the audio quality, it is okay but not outstanding.  The killer enjoys listening to opera as he works, and this music comes through clearly, but it is a little flat sounding as isn't as powerful as it could be.  Being a dialog based show, this isn't a huge flaw, but its too bad the audio doesn't have more force behind it.

There are subtitles in English and Spanish.  Grammar errors do crop up in the English captions, which was surprising since HBO usually does a good job with their discs.


The video quality is a bit disappointing.  The show is presented with its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but the discs are not anamorphically enhanced.  Well, that's not quite correct.  The menus are anamorphic, it's just the show itself that isn't.  I can't fathom why they enhanced only the menus, but that's what they did.

As for the show itself, the image was a bit muted.  The show has a dark look to it, but even taking this into account, the colors should have been brighter, and there should have been a bit more detail to the picture.  Dark areas, of which there are many, tend to hide fine details too.  That's not to say that it looks horrible, but I was expecting more from a recently filmed show.


The only extra is an 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette where the cast talk about their characters and what motivates them.  Nothing exciting, you're typical fluff piece made to promote the show.

Final Thoughts:

This is a dark and atmospheric thriller that provides a lot of suspense and tension.  Many of the situations are creative and play out well, and the entire show has a creepy feeling that is good for sending shivers down your spine.  Epitafios is not without it's problems though.  The plot does get a little less effective after the halfway point, and there are some aspects that make it hard to suspend one's disbelief.  The video quality is only so-so, and the fact that the image isn't anamorphically enhanced is another strike against it.  Even with these defects, the show's positives outweigh the negatives.  It is definitely worth watching and comes recommended.

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