Italy

Editors’ Note: The Coroner’s Report and Foreign Objects are distinct columns covering horror and foreign films respectively, but a mash-up of the two feels more appropriate on the rare occasion when we cover a foreign language horror film. You wouldn’t know it from Italy’s film output these days, but there was a time when the country was home to filmmakers keeping the horror genre alive and well for the rest of us. That time was a roughly three decade span from the 60s through the 80s when filmmakers like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava delivered movies that paired violence and sexuality with style and atmosphere. The result was a list of movies that continue to excite fans to this day including A Bay of Blood, Suspiria, The Beyond, Demons and more. Giorgio Ferroni and his 1972 film, La Notte dei Diavoli (aka The Night of the Devils) aren’t nearly as well known, but both he and the movie truly deserve to be. It’s bloody, sexy and atmospheric horror that manages to be both graphic and frightening on its way towards a surprisingly strong finale.

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Italian auteur Lina Wertmüller is in a category all her own. After working as an assistant director for Federico Fellini on 8½, Wertmüller began a directing career that established her as a confrontational, no-holds-barred artist. Her films often mixed sex and violence, as well as humor and dark themes, to disturbing, challenging, and mesmerizing effects. She didn’t do this in the name of exploitation, or to deliberately discomfit her audience, but to illustrate how comedy and tragedy in life are often inseparable, and the all-too-comfortable categories that distinguish them in film genres are far too convenient to reflect this reality. Wertmüller’s best-known works are the international hit Swept Away (1974, but unfortunately better known today for the failed Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake) and the astounding Seven Beauties (1975), a film about a fascist-sympathetic Don Juan who spends time in a German concentration camp and attempts to seduce the camp’s imposing female officer-in-charge in order to gain food and, perhaps, freedom. Seven Beauties gave Wertmüller the distinction of being the first-ever woman nominated for the Best Director Oscar. It also provided a nomination for its star, Giancarlo Giannini (perhaps best-known today for his supporting roles in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), who starred in many of Wertmüller’s films as her bumbling, promiscuous muse. Now, three previously unavailable films by Wertmüller, The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love & Anarchy (1973), and All Screwed Up (1974), have been made available in a DVD box set and separate Blu-Ray releases from Kino Classics. These […]

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The Dario Argento Blu-ray train keeps right on rolling over in the UK thanks to the fine folks at ArrowVideo, and their latest release just so happens to be my favorite feature from the Italian director. Common perception would argue that Suspiria is Argento’s finest hour while purists might point to his earlier giallo work with Deep Red or The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (and those of you with a predilection for wild women may claim that Asia Argento is the man’s greatest creation), but none of these are correct. No, Argento’s most entertaining movie is Phenomena, aka Creepers, aka the one where Jennifer Connelly fends off a maniacal killer thanks in large part to her ability to communicate telepathically with insects.

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They say if you’ve seen one Italian horror film set in an old Louisiana mansion you’ve seen them all, but is that because there’s only one? No one knows, and if they do they’re not talking, but whatever the case it would probably be difficult to top Lucio Fulci’s late career entry into the sub-genre, The Beyond. Louisiana, the late 1920s, a man works silently before a canvas as an angry mob approaches outside. They burst through the door, drag him down to the hotel’s basement, and crucify him to the wall. He’s accused of being a warlock and quickly punished for his presumably wicked ways. Decades later a young woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits the old hotel and begins renovations, but not even multiple viewings of Tom Hanks’ The Money Pit could have prepared her for the hell this remodel is about to put her through.

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The seventh annual Another Hole In the Head Film Festival is currently running in San Francisco from July 8th through the 29th. It’s a genre fest featuring domestic and international horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films, and it just may be the first and last chance to see some of these on the big-screen. There are thirty-two films at the fest this year, and we’re trying to see and cover as many as possible. (And by we I mean me…) Shadow – directed by Federico Zampaglione, Italy; upcoming screenings 7/19 7pm, 7/23 5pm Synopsis: A soldier finishes his tour of duty in Iraq and heads to the Alps to decompress with some mountain biking. A chance encounter with a beautiful woman in a cafe brings the wrath of two local hunters onto their heads, and soon the couple is being chased through the woods by murderous men with rifles. But the hunters and their prey quickly realize there’s something even more evil than drunken, euro-trash rednecks. There’s a fifth player in this game, and his toys include scalpels, acids, and tables suitable for autopsies. Check out our review after the jump…

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Italy grew to be a powerhouse in the 1960s and 1970s when Italian cinema became a rite of passage, but the powerhouse has lost a step since then. Luckily, it is represented by a fantastic film in Il Divo. Unfortunately, it had the luck of drawing against Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – a heavily favored film in this competition. The New Zealand representative easily defeated historical drama Bathory, and the Italian politician beat the Cannes selection Paraguayan Hammock in Round One. We may be saying “Ciao” to Italy unless they can pull off a stunning upset.

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The relatively unknown Cannes selection Paraguayan Hammock represents its home country against the resurgent spirit of Italian cinema found in Il Divo. Paraguay doesn’t have a film industry, and this film is the first completely Paraguayan offering in decades, but Italy has lost most of its power-house status that it earned in the 60s and 70s.

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