The horror genre has had an interesting trajectory over the course of cinema. The 1970s was one of its most interesting periods. Films like Halloween (1978), The Wicker Man (1973), and The Exorcist (1973) helped define the genre. There was one ‘70s film, that not as many horror fans seem to remember. 1973’s Don’t Look Now starring Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago) and Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) carved its own niche within the crowded genre. The film follows a married couple, Laura (Christie) and John (Sutherland), grieving over their daughter’s death in Venice. The couple encounters two elderly sisters (Hilary Mason, and Clelia Matania), one of them being psychic, bringing a warning from beyond the grave.
While advertised as a dramatic thriller, the real horror comes from its performances. Christie and Sutherland have a palpable chemistry as husband and wife. Their deep love for one another is delivered in an effective way. The moments of them discussing their grief feel quite real. It is a rare emotional honesty that the horror/thriller genre has forgotten about in modern movies.
Sutherland and Christie showcase their grief in ways that are entirely different. John lives in a sense of denial of what befell the couple. He wants to move on with his life as an architect, which includes restoring an ancient church. Meanwhile, Laura seeks to find a way to come to terms with the tragedy. Watching them deal with their grief comes with a foreboding sense of dread. Audiences know from the start that John and Lara’s lives won’t be the same by the time the credits roll. How they deal with this grief makes the eventual horrifying moments all the more effective. Some might be left feeling frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get properly chilling.
Don’t Look Now’s languid pacing will be enough to turn off certain viewers. Based on a book of the same name, the screenplay lulls viewers in. Writers Allan Scott (The Preacher’s Wife) and Chris Bryant (The Girl from Petrovka) work to make audiences sympathize with the protagonists. This includes a passionate, yet graphic sex scene that beautifully conveys this couple’s love for each other. The unfiltered look at this couple’s love life feels too good to be true. Once that feeling overtakes you, the real horror of the story takes center stage. That sensation makes the film’s themes and ideas linger with you long after the credits roll. In Criterion’s new UHD release, those horrifying moments create a spooky film unlike any other.
The crisp Venice imagery helps create a very strong foreboding sensation. As John and Lara float down Venice canals, audiences know terror is coming. Add in the music by Pino Donaggio (Body Double), and the score that fills you with dread. Don’t Look Now’s resounding emotional impact works best due to its bonus features. With 11 featurettes in total, each one helps to enhance the story’s nightmarish rhythms. One particular featurette helped me appreciate how the cast and crew treated the material.
A featurette on the writing and making of the film titled “Don’t Look Now”: Looking Back made the largest impression. It consists of interviews with DP Anthony Richmond, Christie, Sutherland, and Scott. This shows that at the time, everyone involved set out to make a film dealing with grief. Knowing the intent makes the third act even more impactful. To avoid spoilers, the third act recontextualizes everything we know to this point. Out of the 11 total featurettes, this is the one I would recommend to enhance your viewing. That does not mean all of the other featurettes can detract from watching.
Don’t Look Now’s other features include more behind-the-scenes interviews. These include interviews with other filmmakers (Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight)) and editors of the film. Combine those features with the film’s haunting ending, and the results create something special. Being deep into the Halloween season, Don’t Look Now’s Criterion release is a “must-have.” Some may find it hard to get on the film’s more atmospheric wavelength, but the results are bountiful. The large number of behind-the-scenes materials creates a film that will crawl under your skin. If you can get on that twisted wavelength, then this home release is worth your time.
Don’t Look Now 4K UHD + Blu-Ray Special Edition Features:
- 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Anthony Richmond, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
- Conversation between editor Graeme Clifford and film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen
- “Don’t Look Now”: Looking Back, a short documentary from 2002 featuring Clifford, Richmond, and director Nicolas Roeg
- “Don’t Look Now”: Death in Venice, a 2006 interview with composer Pino Donaggio
- Program on the writing and making of the film, featuring interviews with Richmond, actors Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, and coscreenwriter Allan Scott
- Program on Roeg’s style, featuring interviews with filmmakers Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh
- Q&A with Roeg from 2003 at London’s Ciné Lumière
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by film critic David Thompson
- Cover by Fred Davis
Available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection October 10th, 2023.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.