When it comes to horror movies, many different cultures develop certain aesthetic and narrative characteristics that make categorization interesting. When it comes to the Republic of Italy, local flavors feature some of the weirdest, bloodiest, and most visceral movies of the past few decades.
Italian horror cinema is often best defined by a subgenre known as Giallo, which typically involves gory stories of murder and mystery. The Giallo wave of the 60s and 70s inspired the overwhelming craze for American slasher movies. These “spaghetti slashers” were extremely common and often very well done, but were far from the only Italian horror innovation.
Most people have heard of Suspiria, especially after its standout 2018 remake, but Dario Argento’s spiritual sequel isn’t as well-known. Released three years later, Hell is the second of Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. This film did not have the box office success or cultural impact of its predecessor. Hell is the story of Mark and Rose, two siblings who investigate a series of mysterious murders. Mark is studying abroad in Rome, while Rose lives in New York, and the duo discover that they are both in the domain of a coven of witches.
What follows is mostly disturbing chaos. It’s really hard to follow, but while it’s spinning, it’s almost best not to even try. Technical weaknesses and logical inconsistencies are effectively drowned out by the sheer manic violence of the experience. They only come to the surface after the credits. The movie is a cult hit with a very specific audience, they know who they are, and anyone who fits the bill should seek this one out.
Lucio Fulci’s groundbreaking debut film has nothing to do with the disorienting zombie movies he’s probably best known for. Instead, this Giallo masterpiece places its audience in a small Italian village that has been rocked by a series of child murders. It is full of interesting characters and the mystery is extremely well established.
Unlike the average American slasher movie, Don’t torture a duckling contains an invigorating, intelligent and honest social commentary thread. On top of that, it’s terribly cruel. The shock comes from the visceral violence, but the horror comes from the deep-rooted darkness of the seemingly banal. The acting is solid, the themes are smart, and the outlook is powerfully dark. It’s hard to say if this is Fulci’s best picture, but it’s one of the most suspenseful, effective, gripping, and powerful horror films of the modern era.
There are three directors most of whom have heard of Italian horror; Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Kill, baby, kill is a supernatural horror film that stands as one of the best of Bava’s production. It revolves around a village haunted by the vengeful ghost of a little girl. A pair of experts try to solve the mystery while a local witch works to keep the town safe.
Like most of the genre, what it lacks in the story it makes up for in overwhelming atmosphere. It’s a gothic tale, turning an oppressed village into a nightmarish world where anything seems possible. These films are characterized by bizarre, yet engrossing cinematography, and Kill, baby, kill is no exception. There’s a dreamlike sense of detachment that the camera lends to the narrative, adding even more surreal elements to a largely manic story. Who invented, refined or perfected Giallo is a subject of endless debate, but Fulci, Bava and Argento are the three figures who stand atop the resolute mountain of genre gore and madness.
This film is the first film by Aldo Lado, who went on to make thirteen other Italian films, including one barely ten years ago. This bizarre journey of psychological horror begins with the protagonist, battered journalist Gregory Moore, found dead and on his way to the morgue. It turns out that Greg is still alive but trapped in a paralyzed, motionless body. The story unfolds as he tries to retrace his steps and encounters a dark reality in his own mind.
Greg’s beautiful girlfriend is one of many young women who have gone missing, and he’s teamed up with a detective to crack the case. The film is bizarre, well paced, unnerving and deeply dark. In a bizarre twist, the movie is completely devoid of gore, but it’s just as scary as the rest. Through inventive storytelling and strong filmmaking instincts, Lado found a new twist on the genre.
Newer Italian horror has some hidden gems too, it’s not all classic Giallo. Ivan Zuccon’s loose adaptation of HP Lovecraft color out of space finds humanity in cosmic horror. The story centers on a small family of poor farmers who accidentally discover something inexplicable under the family well.
Color is a central theme and one of the most interesting cinematic choices on display. The color grading washes the whole experience in sadness and misery, powerfully influencing the film. Like many Italian films, this was made on a low budget, so some of them look cheap, but the capable direction makes for a truly unique experience.
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