Directed by Gabriele Albanesi
Distributed by RaroVideo
I can honestly say that it has been quite some time since I’ve seen a contemporary Italian horror flick which I’ve enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong; I adore all of the classics – the gialli, the zombie gut-munchers, the cannibal flicks, the garish-hued nightmares of Argento and the horrific and dreamlike worlds of Fulci. Bava, Deodato, and Avati – oh my! But yeesh! I can’t tell you the last time I sat down and enjoyed something new from that country, at least in the way of horror cinema. Cemetery Man, perhaps? The Stendhal Syndrome?
At last, though, we have a film that renews my hope in modern Italian horror. Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show, a creepy, cerebral, and utterly blood-soaked horror/drama, is the new film from Gabriele Albanesi, the director of the Ghost House Underground release The Last House in the Woods (a film as yet unseen by this writer). Intense, gory, and darkly comic, this film is not only one of the better Italian horror films I’ve seen in some time, it’s one of the better horror films of the year.
Terzani follows young film director Allessio Rinaldi (Giuseppe Soleri, quite good here) – a horror film enthusiast through and through, wearing “Fulci Lives” T-shirts and adorning his apartment walls with posters of Italian horror classics. However, his attempts at making a genre film on his own terms are thwarted by his producer, who believes that Allessio should enlist another writer to help him fashion a story built more on atmosphere than the splatter Allessio prefers. Enter Ubaldo Terzani (the fantastic Sassanelli), a middle-aged, Italian Stephen King of sorts, who takes Allessio under his wing to help him craft a screenplay that will satisfy both the director’s artistic predilections and his producer’s dreams for a more commercial work.
Prior to meeting Terzani, our young hero does a bit of research on his new writing partner by delving into the man’s many works. As a result, Allessio begins having vivid nightmares, which only worsen after meeting Terzani in the flesh. Before long, the writing collaboration and Terzani’s debauched behavior begin to take their toll on Allessio, who begins to wonder if the sort of depraved acts and sordid violence in Terzani’s fiction exist solely in the author’s mind…
I was truly shocked at how much I enjoyed this film. I had seen a trailer for it some time ago, and it did not impress. But with its mix of genres, its nods to classic Italian horror and genre fan culture, and its charged direction and solid performances, Terzani is a welcome addition to the Italian fright scene. And while I wish the film would have delved a bit deeper into the macabre relationship between Allessio and Terzani, I applaud Albanesi for focusing as much on the drama as he did the bloodshed.
While the budget clearly had its limitations, the film never really seems to suffer for it. The image screams “prosumer digital video!”, which usually tends to annoy, but the film is always well shot and never looks cheap. The sound design is bold and features a great deal of synthy music which evokes the Italian horrors of the ‘70s and ‘80s. And while the film is mostly set in one location, the movie never seems confined for it. The filmmakers may have had little money to work with, but they clearly made the most of it.
Also noteworthy are the special effects, which were created by the legendary Sergio Stivaletti. The various dream sequences sprinkled throughout give Stivaletti the opportunity to execute some truly shocking effects, some of which managed to turn even this jaded writer’s stomach. Bravo, sir.
RaroVideo has given Terzani a great Blu, with a straight razor sharp image, dynamic sound, and a damned fine collection of bonus features. Included here is an audio commentary with director Albanesi and noted Italian genre critic Antonio Tentori, which is an energetic and enjoyable talk, in Italian with full English subtitles. It should be noted that Tentori’s presence on the commentary is invaluable, as he ably places numerous moments of the film in context with their filmic influences. Between this insightful commentary and those that Roger Ebert has contributed to, this writer wonders if studios and home video distributors shouldn’t offer audio commentaries to film critics more often.
Also included in this package are a screen test with the lovely Laura Gigante, a couple of uninteresting trailers for the film, and a short film of Albanesi’s entitled Braccati (The Hunted). The short is an interesting piece, detailing a shootout between a band of outlaws and the lawmen tasked with hunting them down. The first half of this twenty-minute short is genuinely intense, with good acting and an unrelenting pace. Unfortunately, an injection of the supernatural at the halfway point drags the film down all the way until its unsatisfying ending. Still, it’s worth a look to check out Albanesi’s developing style in its infancy.
In addition, there is also a thirty-five-minute making-of featurette, chronicling not only the nuts and bolts of the production but also its genesis. It seems as though Terzani is a rather personal film for Albanesi, as it is loosely based on a real experience the young director had with a mentoring novelist. He also points out two films which further inspired him: John Carpenter’s brilliant In the Mouth of Madness and Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap.
Rounding out the set is a booklet featuring a critical analysis of the film written by current Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander. This write-up is fantastic, offering not only a critique of the film but a brief history of Italian horror cinema as well. Just be sure to read it after viewing the film, as an included photo within the booklet is quite spoilery (but then, for that matter, so is the dreadful Blu-ray cover art).
To be honest, this film isn’t going to appeal to all tastes. If you’re not much of a fan of Italian horror and its particular charms, chances are you’ll likely find this a waste of time. However, if you’re at all like this writer, I think you’ll find Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show a surprisingly vital entry in this year’s horror offerings. Here’s hoping you enjoy.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5