Crash Reports: My 50th Italian Horror

NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) is a black-and-white feature directed by Mario Caiano, who  also penned the screenplay. The significance of this poorly shot and laughable romp is that it’s my 50th Italian horror.

As many fans of the genre know, Italian horror is normally held in very high regard. Bava (1960’s BLACK SUNDAY), Argento (1977’s SUSPIRIA) and Fulci (1979’s ZOMBIE 2) are renowned for their work, and the aforementioned films have all attained cult status. However, other than Brava’s BLACK SUNDAY, which is decent but not truly worthy of a “wow” factor, most of the Italian horrors I’ve seen do not satisfy on any level. Quite often, production is plagued by awful sound, over acting (scream queens abound), hack-and-slice editing, and stories that seemed to come from first draft scripts, though I often love the lighting and use of comic book coloring (especially by Bava and Argento), which add more to the fantastical atmosphere. Due to this constant string of disappointment, I normally shy away from such features since it has been repeatedly proven that all live up to low expectations.

This does not mean, however, that the lackluster tales and production value permeate all of Italian cinema. These are my favorites:

BLACK SUNDAY (1960) – 3.5 stars

In one of Bava’s best, Barbara Steele portrays a dead witch that comes back from the grave to possess her look-alike 200 hundred years after her death. Bava creates great atmosphere and some of the special effects for the time are quite solid. Enjoy the tale that takes place in the early 1800s.

BABA YAGA (Italy/France, 1973) – 4 stars

With the coolest music, fashionable look, and an intriguing tale of witchcraft, director Corrado Farina delivers on all fronts. Better still, Carroll Baker and Isabelle De Funes have the looks and verve to bring their respective characters to life in grand form. There’s much more than beautiful screaming ladies in distress, and the story stands firm.

DON’T LOOK NOW (UK/Italy, 1973) – 4 stars

No, it’s not the full-frontal nudity of Donald Sutherland that caught my eye, but the foreboding nature of Nicolas Roeg’s film, whose dank atmosphere came off as a full-blown plague of the senses. John (Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) travel to Venice after the death of their daughter to discover a psychic woman that brings a vital message from the netherworld. But will they listen?

A WHISPER IN THE DARK (Italy, 1976) – 3.5 stars

Atmosphere abounds in Marcello Aliprandi’s haunting feature. With gorgeous cinematography, thanks to Claudio Cirillo, and a wonderful script from the Rienzis, many parents will begin to second guess how invisible their child’s imaginary friend is. (See my review under “Older Posts”.)

But the best of the rest is:

CEMETERY MAN (Italy/France/Germany, 1994) – 4.5 stars

Rupert Everett works in a cemetery, and must make certain the dead remain in their graves when they re-animate. This quirky horror comedy from Michele Soavi is based upon Tiziano Sciavi’s novel and the comic “Dylan Dog”, which looked like just Everett. With its wonderful story, interesting theme and characters, this is a hard one to beat.

Yes, I think Dario Argento is one of the most over-rated horror directors, though I’m sure many of you see it differently, and that’s fine by me. Whatever rocks your world and keeps you feeling creepy. I only hope you’ll give some of these other directors and their grand features a look, and you may just find something more worthwhile.

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