The detectives in The Bloodstained Butterfly have no need of some reluctant amateur to do their work for them. After the ravaged corpse of a seventeen year old girl (Carole André) is discovered, their dilligence and the then-bleeding-edge forensic science at their disposal ensure that the most burning questions are quickly answered. They're certain that Françoise knew her killer. There's reason to suspect that she was seeing two different men that dreadful afternoon. They have multiple eyewitness accounts, a plaster impression of the killer's shoes, and even a murder weapon complete with fingerprints. The evidence overwhelmingly points to Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia): his longstanding familiarity with Françoise through his teenaged daughter Sarah (Wendy D'Olive), a shirt stained with blood matching the type of the victim, the unique chemical composition of the mud spattered across his trenchcoat, and even the fingerprints on that switchblade. At the same time, his defense in the courtroom has an explanation at every turn. The mud was splashed onto his coat by a passing car, not in the heat of a fatal struggle. That switchblade was stolen from his car weeks ago, and since the killer was seen to be wearing gloves, of course there's only one set of fingerprints to be found on it. As for the blood on a discarded shirt...well, he's not proud of the answer, but there is one. Is the police's certainty that they have the murderer on trial well-founded, or is this a Hitchcockian case of a man wrongly accused? If it's not Alessandro, could it be his unfaithful wife (Ida Galli)? Sarah was best friends with Françoise; what role, if any, did she play in her murder? The handsome pianist Giorgio (Helmut Berger) is clearly consumed by...something. Guilt, perhaps? Madness? Alessandro's attorney (Günther Stoll) is adept in so many ways yet is hiding secrets of his own.
So many gialli emphasize dazzling murder setpieces over plot or meaningful characterization. While The Bloodstained Butterfly honors many of the genre's defining elements to an extent -- fatal thrusts of blades, sex, some degree of sleaze, a killer hiding behind a trenchcoat, hat, and leather gloves, the whodunnit aspect -- the reverse is true here. Despite the sparse action and limited body count, The Bloodstained Butterfly is so beautifully photographed, well-acted, and skillfully written that its grip on my attention never relented. The way its key characters are identified on-screen, complete with printed names and descriptions, put me in a different state of mind. Having them called out in that way tightened my focus, and the web that's woven around them doesn't disappoint. I found myself fascinated by the intricate details of the police investigation, something the film similarly revels in exploring. A massive portion of its runtime is set in a courtroom, which to me would normally be the 35mm equivalent of Ambien, but that's not at all the case here. The volleys back and forth between the prosecution and defense are endlessly engaging, with both sides making incredibly strong cases. There's so much more I wish I could say in that regard, but I don't want to spoil any of what makes The Bloodstained Butterfly so terrific for those who've yet to see it. Suffice it to say that these sequences hardly deliver more of the same. Its twists are well-earned and to some extent unexpected. As obvious as it may seem how certain figures will factor in, the puzzles aren't pieced together quite so cleanly. While this is largely a grounded, serious film, there are wonderful splashes of humor, such as Alessandro's booze-swilling mistress who can't seem to stand upright. I repeatedly found myself marveling at the gorgeous compositions of so many shots. I'm a sucker for anything showcasing this much harpsichord onscreen, and I can't begin to lavish enough praise upon Gianni Ferrio's outstanding score either. Yes, The Bloodstained Butterfly is by no stretch of the imagination a traditional giallo, but as much as I love the genre, its insistence on something different is the source of its strength, not cause for criticism. Highly Recommended.
One of just a handful of gialli to be remastered in 4K, The Bloodstained Butterfly is a complete and total knockout on Blu-ray. The richly detailed image is nothing short of astonishing, and the film's naturalistic use of color is often striking, particularly its fascination with flowers. Arrow Video's presentation is as immaculate as ever, authored with the utmost care and respect. Simply extraordinary.
The AVC encode for The Bloodstained Butterfly spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The film is offered in both English and Italian, complete with distinct opening titles and end credits depending on which language is selected. As if you couldn't tell from the screenshots scattered throughout this review, The Bloodstained Butterfly's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been faithfully preserved on Blu-ray.
Given that every last element you're hearing was recorded in post-production, either of The Bloodstained Butterfly's monaural, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks would be an equally viable choice. I personally prefer the Italian track, which boasts a stronger set of performances. The reproduction of the dialogue overall is more robust in Italian, and I prefer some of the effects in this track as well, such as the more pronounced reverb in the courtroom. Although the English dialogue doesn't impress me in quite that same way, there is something more expansive to its audio overall. Despite being monaural, the English track more effectively fills the room with sound, while the Italian track strikes me as somewhat narrower in reach. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed with either soundtrack, though.
Also included are three sets of subtitles: one in Italian, a proper translation of the Italian dialogue into English, and an SDH stream for the English version.
This may be my least favorite set of newly-commissioned artwork for an Arrow release, but the reversible cover showcases the original poster art on the flipside, and that suits The Bloodstained Butterfly far better. The lengthy liner notes feature three essays: a giallo primer for the uninitiated (though it's difficult to imagine anyone unfamiliar with gialli choosing this as a starting point), an appreciation of composer Gianni Ferrio that pays particular attention to his score here, and a terrific analysis of The Bloodstained Butterfly and how it defies giallo conventions in the most compellingly unique ways. It is a little strange that the booklet mismatches the cast and crew listings, not that anyone's likely to be confused. That with the completely misattributed commentary on Microwave Massacre does seem sloppier than I've come to expect from Arrow, though.
The Final Word
The Bloodstained Butterfly is worlds removed from the giallo I expected to see, but don't mistake that as any sort of black mark. This is a tightly written, masterfully shot whodunnit that tears off in directions I could never have seen coming. Despite defying so many of the conventions I've come to expect from the genre, its strong performances, skillful storytelling, and striking (though less operatic) cinematography rank among the very best that gialli have to offer. Highly Recommended, especially in this extraordinary special edition by Arrow Video, though do prepare yourself for something different than the norm.