A Brief (and Bloody) History of Italian Horror

We scream, you scream, we all scream when it comes to Italian horror.
Black Sunday Mario Bava Italian Horror

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the history of Italian horror movies.

Terrible lip-synching? Extra-goopy eye gougings? Disembodied black leather gloves? Mama mia!

Italian horror boasts a bloody and indelibly stylish reputation. And yet, like most hyper-specific subgenres, Italy’s horror output might not be everyone’s cup of tea. A back-to-back marathon of Lucio Fulci’s greatest hits isn’t universally considered a cozy night in. But for some people, the bugbears of Italian horror movies are exactly what makes the genre so endearing: the melodrama, the candy-red gore, the garish interior design, the social criticism couched in extravagant sleaze.

Personally, I can’t help but hoot and holler every time Goblin plays over an opening credits sequence. I lean forward when a film’s title is longer than eight words (god bless you 1972’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key). And I feel like I’ve won the lottery every time I spot a cameo appearance from Dario Argentos protégé, Michele Soavi, the Where’s Waldo? of Italian horror. It is a niche territory, to be sure. But it is rich and referential; rewarding dedicated viewers by endlessly reinventing itself, challenging its own rules, and finding new ways to raise the ghoulish stakes.

The video essay below offers a brief yet surprisingly thorough breakdown of the main movements of the genre: from the gothic revelation of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1977) to the rise and fall of the giallo film and the endless hoards of cheaply-made zombie films. Fair warning: Italian horror movies are not known for holding back on upsetting imagery. And during the genre’s foray into docu-fiction, some of that visual shock careened dangerously into animal abuse. It goes without saying that any foray into the genre is not for the faint of heart, but if you (understandably) draw the line at fare like Cannibal Holocaust, I recommend pausing at 12:04 and resuming at 14:00.

Watch “A Short History of Italian Horror“:

Who made this?

This video is by One Hundred Years of Cinemaa video essay channel producing thoughtful deep dives on just that: a century of cinema. Each video in the series examines a different film from a different year, from the early experiments of the silent era to the tentpole franchises of today. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.