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Shiverin' 6: Great Italian Horror Movies
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When we decided on "Foreign Horror" as the overall theme for our Shocktober review marathon this year, we made a conscious decision to leave out Italy for the most part, despite it having the second-highest horror output for a non-English-speaking country (after Japan). The fact is, we have plenty of Italian horror covered on the site, and we devoted two and a half weeks of last year's Shocktober to two of the country's best-known horror directors, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava.
However, we would be remiss if we didn't at least acknowledge the vast contributions that Italy has made to the horror genre, so we've compiled another Shiverin' 6, saluting six of the greatest (although not necessarily the six greatest) Italian horror films. To give a good range, we allowed only one film per director and attempted to select movies that might get passed over, usually, for a better known movie. We hit the big three of Italian horror -- Bava, Dario Argento, and Fulci -- and managed to keep ourselves to only two zombie films. Anyway, without further ado, here's the list:
Black Sabbath (1963)
Director: Mario Bava
Screenwriters: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato
Stars: Boris Karloff, Michèle Mercier, Mark Damon
Typically the anthology format is used as a reason to tell a series of largely unrelated stories without having to stretch any of them unnecessarily to fill a feature. Bava's Black Sabbath differs from this in that there is definitely a thematic pattern running through its three segments, which is pointed out in its Italian title, which translates to The Three Faces of Terror. Each bit is a different take on horror -- man-made horror, supernatural horror, and psychological horror. Bava uses the full extent of his cinematic know-how to bring together this thoroughly atmospheric and chilling experience. Read Julia Merriam's full review.
Castle of Blood (1964)
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Screenwriters: Sergio Corbucci, Giovanni Grimaldi
Stars: Barbara Steele, Georges Rivière, Arturo Dominici
When Edgar Allan Poe tells an incredulous journalist that every one of his stories is true, it sets in motion a conversation that will end with said journalist accepting a bet to stay in a castle on All Souls Night, an ordeal no-one has ever survived. This is probably because the place is lousy with revenant spirits, determined to claim the writer's life so that they will be allowed to return again next year and retell the sad stories behind their deaths. Castle of Blood is an atmospherically directed Gothic chiller that benefits from the ethereal presence of Steele, possibly the most beautiful woman to ever grace the horror genre with her presence.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Writer/Director: Dario Argento
Stars: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi
Argento's output certainly became more stylized and bombastic in films like Deep Red and Suspiria, but there's something to be said for this taut giallo, about an American writer who witnesses a serial killer's handiwork and becomes obsessed with stopping the reign of murder. Although Argento draws inspiration from Hitchcock films like Psycho and Rear Window, he uses a certain fascination with the mechanics of the whodunnit to concoct one of the most elaborate obfuscation campaigns in cinematic history just to keep us off the scent of the killer. This would be a worthy film for a director at any point in their career; that it was Argento's first time behind the camera makes it that much more special. Read Nate Yapp's full review.
Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenwriters: Lucio Fulci, Gianfranco Clerici, Roberto Gianviti
Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian
A series of child murders rock a rural Italian village. It's a very simple plot explanation, but it aptly sums up Duckling. While it doesn't work on the levels Fulci might've liked it to -- as a mystery and a horror film -- it does act a scathing social commentary, exploring the painful cycle of retribution and questioning the arrogance of modern "civilized" thinking. Watching Duckling, you'll definitely take something from the experience, even if it wasn't what you expected. Read Julia Merriam's full review.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Director: Jorge Grau
Screenwriters: Juan Cobos, Sandro Continenza, Marcello Coscia
Stars: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy
Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie isn't always the most sensical of zombie movies -- the origin of the undead uprising is pure sci-fi, but their method of propagation appears to be supernatural -- but it is one of the most visually impressive. Filmed on location in the English countryside, Corpses (also known as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and Don't Open the Window) is filled with lush green imagery which acts as a contrast to the decaying dead pallor of the walking dead. Additionally, there is a fantastic subplot about the conflict that arises between the arrogant youth (Lovelock's hippie) and the bigoted establishment (Kennedy's police inspector) that adds an additional layer to Corpses beyond man vs. zombie.
Cemetery Man (1994)
Director: Michele Soavi
Screenwriters: Gianni Romoli
Stars: Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi, François Hadji-Lazaro
Just to show we're not too firmly attached to the 1960s and 70s, we move to Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore). It's sort of a zombie movie in that there are, in fact, zombies, but more often than not, it's a darkly comedic mediation on life, death, and all the places in between. The main character -- the sardonic Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) -- is the caretaker at a cemetery where the recently dead have a tendency to return to life. Dellamorte, not much for the living and even less concerned for the re-living, takes on their disposal as just another part of the job. Running through this is a thread about a woman (Falchi) who Dellamorte falls in love with, only to lose her -- a situation made worse by the fact that different women keep showing up looking exactly like her. Best bit: Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro), Dellamorte's assistant, falling in love with a very talkative severed head. Read Nate Yapp's full review.
Agree with our choices? Disagree? Have your own favorites you'd like to tout? Leave a comment below!