This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
What is there not to love about an old school Italian genre film? Sure, it may aim to ape the style of Golden Era Hollywood, but it also has this earnestness, a harder-edged “Aw shucks” quality between the subgenre’s sensationalism that is both hard to describe and oddly endearing.
It’s this unusual discordance that helps make the subgenre feel out of this world. There’s always something that feels a little off, or out of place, like the famous usage of overdubbed dialogue, that casts everything in an eerie, otherworldly shadow. Which is exactly why the Italians make the best horror movies.
And while the prevalence of giallo films has become synonymous with the entire subgenre, it can be easy to forget that not every Italian horror film is a giallo. While it doesn’t have as catchy a name, the Italo-supernatural film is just as important to the subgenre as its procedural cousin. And when you factor in the bonkers AF minds of filmmakers like Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava, not only are they just as important, they are vastly more fun.
Take a peek at ten of the very best ghostly, witchy, and demony entries in the hallowed halls of Italian Horror, as voted on by Rob Hunter, Kieran Fisher, Meg Shields, Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson, Valerie Ettenhofer, Chris Coffel, and myself.
10. Kill, Baby… Kill (1966)
Superstition takes on science in this sublime Gothic chiller from Mario Bava, which takes place in an 18th-century village that’s being haunted by the ghost of a murderous little girl. The story is fairly simple, but like all Bava movies, the eerie atmosphere and hallucinogenic cinematography make for one unsettling experience. The film also established the ghost girl with a bouncing ball trope, which has been used in countless horror movies ever since. This might not be Bava’s most popular film, but it’s arguably his most influential. (Kieran Fisher)
9. The House by the Cemetery (1981)
When you’re looking to buy a house on the cheap, you have to accept a few minor flaws. Sure, the previous owner murdered his mistress and killed himself within its walls, but look at that gorgeous banister. Ignoring a little bloodshed is worth the price of all this slick wood flooring. Hey! A vampire bat just belched forth from the basement and scarred up your face and probably gave your rabies. Well, again, you don’t come across wood flooring like this every day. A quick trip to the hospital, a few shots, and you’re all good. Whoa! Was that a zombie mad doctor bursting forth from his grave to slice off the head of your real estate agent? Yes! Yes, it was. Hmmmmm… that wood flooring, though. Ok. You may have a problem. Your house is haunted by a ghoul named Dr. Freudstein, and he’s staying alive by feasting on fresh flesh. The House By The Cemetery is as hilarious as it is ghastly. As always, Lucio Fulci takes great pleasure in escalating the madness of his protagonists by thrusting them into one repulsive gore set-piece after the other. We all want to live in a nice house, but the moment the vampire bat shows up, you gotta run. Don’t wait for the ghoul and his butcher knife. (Brad Gullickson)
8. The Church (1989)
The Church comes to us courtesy of Dario Argento protégé Michele Soavi, the mad man single-handedly responsible for torch-bearing Supernatural Italian Horror into the 1990s. Originally slated as the third installment in the Dèmoni series, Soavi insisted that The Church was more sophisticated than, and I quote: “pizza schlock.” Is it too late to re-name this list? With eight writers — including Fabrizio Bava, grandchild of Mario, who wrote the film’s captivating medieval prologue —The Church concerns a forbidding gothic cathedral built on the foundations of an ancient burial site of devil-worshipers. Boasting gripping visuals and a rip-roaring prog-rock score composed by Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, and Goblin, The Church is a dreamy horror-show with an apocalyptic undercurrent and an unshakeable sense of unease. If you’re partial to stream-of-consciousness genre flicks that come screaming out of the gate mood-first, The Church is well worth a watch. (Meg Shields)
7. Inferno (1980)
Dario Argento’s Inferno, a thematic successor to Suspiria, is a neon-soaked fever dream of a film. This is a visual masterwork first and a film with a plot second, maybe even third. It follows a student in Rome who is beckoned to New York in aid of his sister, who believes she’s living in an apartment building that is under the spell of a powerful witch. The film is as visually rich as they come and has a pumping prog-rock score that lingers long after the closing credits. Haunting and beautiful and oh, so spooky, Inferno is a macabre masterpiece worthy of its supernatural notoriety. (Anna Swanson)
6. Phenomena (1985)
It’s an objective truth that Deep Red (1975) is Dario Argento‘s best film, but Phenomena (1985) is his most purely entertaining and my favorite. A creepy killer stalks a private school, a teenage Jennifer Connelly can psychically communicate with insects, Donald Pleasance has a razor-wielding chimpanzee butler, a crazy lady has a maggot-filled pit, and the magic is all set to a Goblin score and metal soundtrack. It’s obviously a ton of fun. (Rob Hunter)