Get Lost In the Spider Labyrinth!

If only one more Italian horror film could ever get a DVD or blu-ray release from now on, 1988's Spider Labyrinth would be it. This is the best "I can't believe it's never been released" Italian horror film of them all. There's never even been a laserdisc of it, or an untranslated foreign DVD. Although, interestingly, the soundtrack was just remastered and released digitally in 2014. Could that be a good sign? Spider Labyrinth was directed by Gianfranco Giagni, co-writer and director of Valentina, the 80's adaptation of Guido Crepax's comic books starring Demetra Hampton - another great movie desperately in need of a DVD or blu-ray release. But let's stay focused on this one for now.

Update 4/24/16 - 1/10/24:
Okay, well, if physical media dies now, at least we can say we made it across the finish line.  Spider Labyrinth finally has an official release, and it's a full-blown BD/ UHD special edition.  Huzzah!
We start out with a great, Hammer-like set up. A university professor is told his classes are canceled and he's to come to a meeting with the school's council. They tell him that they've lost touch with one of their researchers in Budapest, who's been out there studying a religious cults. And now they'd like him to travel out there and try to find this guy, or at least what's left of his research. Naturally, what he winds up stumbling into is much bigger and more sinister than he could've ever suspected. Shady characters, dark alleyways, secret tunnels, black gloved murderers and yes, spiders.
Our hero gets lost driving around the distinctly labyrinthine city. He asks a man on the street for directions and as soon as he pulls away, someone steps out of the shadows to conspire against him. And there's a great scene where he's talking to his assistant at a fancy restaurant. They're covering a lot of exposition, but you slowly start to notice in the background that, one by one, the diners are getting up and slowly walking upstairs, until our leads find themselves in an eerily empty restaurant. I've often seen this film as Bava-esque, and it is, but the style and mystery actually reminds me more of Pupi Avati's best films, like House With Laughing Windows, or the writer trying to follow the clues found in his typewriter ribbon in Zeder.
But it's not all mystery, suspense and old timey film noir-isms. If one of this movie's parents is a restrained Mario Bava, its other is a wild Lucio Fulci. Big deaths, colorful lighting and the supernatural running screaming right up in your face. Do you want to see a creepy stop motion spider? How about a woman who hangs from a high ceiling and drools silk that turns into a noose and hangs a man? Yeah, this film even delves into the crazed imagery style of some of the more innovative Asian horrors, all set to a wonderfully Hitchcockian score. Spider Labyrinth has it all.
Usually, these things end in a room full of tired old shriners in hooded robes standing around an alter with a single dagger between them. I'm not going to spoil where this film ends up, or all the twists and turns it takes to get there, but I'll say the effects of Sergio Stivaletti (as well as Barbara Morosetti, who worked on Demons, Phenomena, Wax Mask and Dellamorte Dellamore) are used to deliver something much more satisfying.

...Although I'm not saying there's not an alter.  Or a bunch of cultists with just one dagger.  The thing is, this movie gives you everything, including what you expect.  Trust me, there's more you won't be expecting.
For a long time, the best I could find (and believe me, I looked) was a 2011 bootleg DVD from Underground Empire. You've no doubt noticed the Italian television watermark on all my screenshots. It's at least anamorphic widescreen, but looks sourced from videotape, being very soft and light on detail. There's also a slightly older bootleg that used to be sold on Amazon as one of those made-to-order DVDRs. It's from PR Studios, 2009, and according to one customer's review, "First of all, the dvd cover is obviously a crummy scan of a vhs cover.... The source for this [disc] is a vhs tape. It is full-frame. It looks second or third generation. It is crummy." Another viewer describes its "smudged and grainy picture and muffled sound quality is of an old VHS tape." So yeah, I think the 2011 bootleg was the best of them.

But thank the spider god who must never be named, that's all entirely obsolete and can be left in the past now.  After years and years of people requesting the film from every label that's ever existed, Severin has finally answered the call.  In spades.  They've restored the film in 4k from the original negatives on 4k Ultra HD (and 1080p BD if you need it) with HDR, and a whole slew of extras.
1) 2011 UE DVDR; 2) 2023 Severin BD; 3) 3023 Severin UHD.

So yeah, I was happy to find that widescreen bootleg when I did.  At 1.63:1, it suggests the proper composition, though seeing it now at 1.85:1, we learn that even with tighter matting, there was more lurking on the sides of the screens.  I'm not going too get too stuck into comparing Severin to the bootleg, since it is just a bootleg, with all kinds of flaws, from the blown out contrast that's still saddled with milky blacks and faded colors to some awful edge enhancement.  That was the best some well-meaning amateur could do.  It never had a fair shot with an official release until now.  And this is a film that places a lot of emphasis on its stylish locations and slick photography, so it's a bigger than usual deal that the picture has come to life like we're seeing it for the first time.  The colors are gorgeous, the detail is rich and appropriately dewy, and detail - especially on the UHD - is perfectly captured down to the individual speck of grain.

And audio, too.  Unsurprisingly, the bootleg's wasn't the best, sounding boxy and fuzzy.  It's clear now in lossless DTS-HD.  We actually get the original stereo English and Italian tracks.  You should probably go with the English, since that seems to be the language spoken on camera, but it's great to finally have the option.  It should be noted, though, we only have "dubtitles," i.e. subtitles that match the English track, not the Italian.  Not a big deal, but even if you're not fluent in Italian, you'll definitely notice them say "Whitmore" in the subtitles while you hear "Alan" in the Italian audio.z
So that's what he looks like!
And extras!  The bootleg was at least thoughtful enough to throw in a non-anamorphic Japanese trailer.  Well, now we have the original trailer, restored in full 2160p.  But that's nothing.  Severin has come up with a first class expert commentary by experts Will Dodson and Ryan Verrill, who have a ton if insight and insightful commentary, that easily outshines a lot of the casual "expert" commentaries many cult films have been getting these days.  And then there are lengthy, substantial on-camera interviews with director Gianfranco Giagni, screenwriter Gianfranco Manfredi, cinematographer Nino Celeste, Paola Rinaldi who played Genevieve and of course the great Sergio Stivaletti.  I could only slightly gripe that one or two of them could've stood to be more tightly edited... Sergio goes on a pretty indulgent lecture about his whole childhood and Rinaldi keeps saying the same thing about parallel lines meeting in the future like a dozen times.  You could trim those a little.  Oh, and there's also a visual essay/ featurette, but it's pretty redundant with the commentary, where the same guys make many of the same points, though there are some fresh bits, too, if you have the extra time.

Also included is the complete soundtrack CD, an insert with Japanese artwork and the track-listing, and a creepy slipcover.
Ah, it feels so good to remove the M.I.A. tag from this post.  Just read how I originally ended this piece:

"But really, we should be able to chuck all these bootlegs. It's time for the high quality presentation this film deserves. Look at all these beautifully shot, creepy atmospheric locations. Imagine how they'd look on blu-ray with a fresh scan of the OCN. And how about some extras? It seems like we hear more and more about the same handful of Italian horror films over and over, often the same interviewees telling the same anecdotes. Yaknow, Catriona MacColl is great, but I think we've learned all there is to know from her a dozen times over. Now let's hear from some of these other people about these other great films. We know next to nothing about the story behind Spider Labyrinth, and I'd love to learn! I don't think I've ever even seen an image of
Giagni yet. Heck, even just giving Italian horror fans around the world a chance to see Spider Labyrinth alone would be an education, because most of you have no idea what you're missing."

...Mission utterly accomplished!


  1. Sounds intriguing, John, definitely something I'd want to see! This would be lovely if one of the US or UK boutique labels picked it up.

  2. The complete VALENTINA series got an Italian DVD release a decade or so back. I never got around to picking it up, so I can't comment on its quality, but copies still appear to be available.

    1. Yeah! I've actually got that and it's pretty cool, but unfortunately it doesn't include the movie. And you might say, isn't the movie just a composite of show episodes? That's basically the case, but it's a much more wild ride as a tight movie. Plus, I tried remaking the movie using the show, and there are actually lines of dialogue and little bits that are unique to the movie and not in the show. I still remember first stumbling onto that movie on cable, with no idea it was from a series or even based on a comic book, and I was just like, "wow, what is this bizarre movie?!"

    2. Indeed, that would've been my reply -- but you beat me to it with your answer, haha. I just went ahead and ordered the series, but I agree, it would've been great if the film condensation was included as well!

  3. This sounds amazing! Your description reminds me of MESSIAH OF EVIL and DEAD & BURIED, creepy towns that swallow up strangers. It's so cruel this isn't available in a decent form.

  4. One only strongly hopes(with their fingers tightly crossed) that someday an Italian genre film friendly label(such as Raro U.S.A.,Arrow Video U.S.A.,Blue Underground,or Kino Lorber) someday brings this film(as well as THE SECT) onto U.S. DVD/Blu Ray.

    1. We'll be getting The Sect this year! Shameless has announced it in the UK, and I think Code Red will be handling it in the US.

  5. Actually there is a laserdisc release:

  6. It's happening.