*Skip the premise (first two paragraphs) if you want to check my take on the twelve movies and their trailers out straight away. Though I suggest you not to do so, since it will explain how I came up with this list*
As some of my readers might know, I’m Italian (my name, Luca Pincelli, doesn’t leave much to the imagination). However, I’m no expert on Italian cinema whatsoever and, to be honest, Italian movies have been mostly unimaginative and unwatchable in the last 30/35 – with a few worthy exceptions that, though, rarely belong to the horror genre.
Nevertheless, Italian horror had been both ground-breaking and influential on the genre in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s. And I might not be an expert on Italian movies, but I sure am a die-hard fan of 70s and early 80s horror flicks: thus, this list will feature mostly movies from that era which I personally (underline the word “personally”, please) love the most. However, they’re laid here in no particular order, since I wouldn’t really be able to say which one is my absolute favourite among these titles. Without further ado, let’s now dive into the second part of the list:
Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò, o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975) – In a Nazi-Fascist dominated Northern Italy, in 1943-44, four senior members of government, aided by henchmen and Nazi soldiers, kidnap a group of young men and women. They hold them for 120 days, subjecting them to all manner of torture, perversion and degradation. Some people find this movie shocking for the sake of it, others say it’s downright disgusting more than it is disturbing. Even though Salò isn’t a perfect film – it really is flawed – I’d say it’s the real Italian horror/drama: what I mean is that you can’t fully appreciate the impact of such a movie unless you lived in Italy or grew up reminded of the atrocious crimes committed by the fascist regime. Salò is a two-hour-long social commentary that’s both potent and tough to stomach: in 1975, the film had an extremely limited release worldwide, and was banned in many countries. It received a wide release in Sweden, where it sold 125,000 tickets, meaning 1.5% of all Swedes saw the movie, grossing more than The Omen. 43 years down the line, Salò is still banned in some countries and not released in its full format in America, Italy and Spain. Since I work in Sky Italia, I could also verify that an attempt by Sky TV to televise the full uncut version in 1991 was vetoed by the BBFC. Salò thus became the only film to be rejected for TV screening amongst the works submitted by Sky. (Salò, 9/10)
A Bay of Blood (Reazione a Catena, Mario Bava, 1971) – This fantastic “crossbreed” of giallo and slasher by legendary Italian director Mario Bava – considered as a maestro by Dario Argento himself – revolves around the murder of a wealthy heiress by her husband, which triggers a series of brutal killings in the surrounding bay area. Although we can all agree that Halloween (1978) is responsible for the blossoming of the slasher subgenre, A Bay of Blood features many scenes later utilised (or shall I say “copy-pasted by”?) the Friday the 13th movies, the Halloween franchise and many subpar slasher flicks of the 80s. In this sense, A Bay of Blood represents a historical transition from giallo to slasher in horror cinema, and had a strong impact on Hollywood, which we can recognise even today. Besides, Bava’s masterpiece features slow but never boring pace, interesting and multifaceted characters, greediness and shocking scenes that were way ahead of their time. Yet, A Bay of Blood benefits from a story that, for once in Italian horror cinema, makes sense: thus, if you like your plots to be straightforward and filled with twists at the same time, this is the Italian film for you! (A Bay of Blood, 8.5/10)
Night Train Murders (L’ultimo Treno della Notte, Aldo Lado, 1975) – Or The Last Train on The Left, since this movie is literally (and I really mean literally) The Last House on the Left set on a train: same characters, same exact story – from the rape to the revenge – same gritty look and uneasy feel. As we’ll also see later on this list, in the 70s Italians loved to cash-in on the success of American horror films. Sneaky Italians! This rip-off, however, to me always stood out because of its unapologetic approach to the matter: the movie shows even less mercy than Wes Craven’s controversial work, since the rape and torture sequences are rougher and, most importantly for me, the revenge part is way more satisfying. If you’re into exploitation cinema, Night Train Murders is a must-watch. Besides, Lado’s flick is one of the only 39 titles successfully prosecuted within the video nasties movies, which gives it a status of immortality in the history of underground filmmaking. (Night Train Murders, 8/10)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) – do I really need to talk about the single most famous horror film in Italian (and maybe even European) history? Exactly what I thought! Check this post about Dario Argento’s Suspiria and its upcoming remake if you want to know more about the movie. Meanwhile, I’ll just explain why I love it so much: firstly, it’s a unique movie experience, a “style over content” motion pictures that works as a nightmarish vision you’re part of. In comparison to other Italian movies, I personally experience this one as a scary film, rather than a splatter/gore fest. Suspiria is definitely among my favourite Italian horror films, although there are other titles in this list I prefer over it. Nevertheless, this is a nearly flawless movie, strongly recommend it if you haven’t checked it out yet. (Suspiria, 9/10)
Contamination (Contamination – Alien Arriva sulla Terra, Luigi Cozzi, 1980) – If you’ve seen this one, you might think I lost my mind. Because Contamination isn’t a good movie, but it’s my pick for all-time best “so bad it’s good” horror flick. Why? Let me try to explain. Firstly, this movie is also known as “the one movie with exploding bodies” (Google this sentence and see what happens…). Secondly, the entire Italian cast and crew changed their names into English-sounding names to sound cooler. Thirdly, the original title translates to English as “Alien comes on Earth”, clearly to cash-in on the success of Ridley Scott’s Alien, which came out only one year prior to this. Contamination features some terrible – but amusing – performances and a few classic one-liners such as “Oh my God, it’s an egg!”, “Listen, Aris, if I have to die with the rest of the world then I want to have a proper dress on and clean underwear”, and so on… this movie is hilarious. Besides, the practical effects of the exploding bodies are genuinely impressive and, for such a cheap movie directed by an unknown filmmaker, the movie is never boring nor dull. For this one, I have two different grades: an honest one (5/10) and a “so bad it’s good” one (10/10).
Demons (Demoni, Lamberto Bava, 1985) – Are you in search of ballistic nonsense? Demons, directed by Lamberto Bava and written by Dario Argento, delivers that and surrounds it with a heavy metal soundtrack that surely will please fans of that music subgenre. The movie’s plot is just an excuse to display some amazing, breath-taking action scenes and fantastic practical gore: a group of random people are invited to a screening of a mysterious movie, only to find themselves trapped in the theater with ravenous demons. When hell breaks loose – literally – Demons becomes fast-paced, exciting, scary, funny and entertaining. My best way to describe the film is like an amalgamation between slasher and supernatural horror, Italian-style (hence, filled with gore, surrealism and beautiful women being gruesomely killed). This is the perfect film for those of you who don’t care about traditional narrative nor compelling characters – personally, I love the movie for what it is and, for some reason, if someone asks me for suggestions for Italian horror flicks, the first one to come to my mind would be Demons. (Demons, 10/10)
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