Like Japanese cinema, Italian films have a certain flair all there own and there tends to be nuances that reflect a general style. Referred to as Giallo, these crime/mysteries have a slower pace compared to North American horrors, more scenes with nudity or sex and most notably, the murder scenes are extended and much more graphic. The stories twist and turn, bringing out strong psychological elements of the characters and as the layers are peeled away for each suspect, they seem to be knocked off one by one. Until, we find the killer, who is wrought with madness and brings the case to a full boil.
During the 70's, Italian filmakers taking elements of giallo, also created some of the most outrageous and graphic cannibal and zombie films, having a number of their films on the infamous Video Nasties list. Mostly set in the jungle, these films showcased some of the most graphic human mutilation and animal stock footage imaginable.
So with that in mind, here are 5 Intense Italian Horror Films:
5. Don't Torture A Duckling (1972) - Someone is murdering children in a remote village in southern Italy. The police are baffled and all their leads are turning up to be dead ends. There are several suspects, the old witch and her warlock boyfriend in the mountains, the sexy heiress, who just arrived in town or maybe it's the town buffoon, who ended up burying one of the boys by mistake. Only with the help of veteran journalist, Andrea Martelli can they find the truth behind the murders and bring the killer to justice. This is the first film, director Lucio Fulci shot where he uses extreme gore effects. The film is good but the story like most Fulci movies, pretty convoluted. It's mixed up and I think, one of the kids who dies, shows up again later in the film but nobody watches Fulci for plot. There is a surprising high death count, some gory scenes and the ending is pretty bitchin.
4. Eaten Alive (1980) - A native from the jungles of New Guinea is hit by a car after killing 3 people in New York. The police bring in Sheila because the people who were killed were former followers of this cult leader Jonas, who dated Sheila's sister Diana, who has been missing. Sheila decides that she should find Diana and with the help of a professor, tries to find out where in the world she is. After getting some valuable information from a junkie/hooker and leaving her behind while her pimp beats her for talking, Sheila flies to the jungle to hire a guide for her adventure. In a bar, she sets her sights on the winner of an arm wrestling match named Mark and offers him 80 thousand dollars to help find her sister in New Guinea. He rips up the check and says he only takes cash! So the next day, Mark (?) and Sheila go to the last known residence of Jonas, Diana and his many followers but they have packed up and gone deeper into the jungle, to be away from civilization. Using a gun, Mark forces the people of that village to give them a canoe, supplies and 2 guides to venture in the jungle. On their way, they are attack by crocodiles and Cannibals! dun dun dun. Luckily, Mark and Sheila are saved by Dick, a follower of Jonas (what a coincidence) and brought to their village. There Sheila is reunited with Diana, get to watch a traditional raping and are given mind controlling substances by Jonas. Can they ever escape Jonas and his crazy followers and make it through the jungles filled with wild animals and tribes of Cannibals? You'll have to watch and see! This film is pretty crazy, directed by Umberto Lenzi, he actually uses footage from a previous cannibal film of his "Man From Deep River" and from Sergio Martino's "The Mountain of the Cannibal God". It has all your classic traps of jungle cannibal films, stock footage scenes of animals being torn apart alive my men, animals attacking animals, rape, penis mutilation and of course, a river. There are some serious gore scenes in this film and the evil Jonas has this strange dildo covered with snake blood, so it's not for the faint of heart. Worth watching, if you can stomach it.
3. Hell of the Living Dead (Virus, Zombie Creeping Flesh) (1980) - A chemical plant in New Guinea called the Hope Centre #1 has a chemical leak and turns the people of the plant into, are you ready for it, Zombies! Somewhere in Europe, a group of people have taken over an embassy and are demanding that the close down all to Hope Centres because they are dangerous! Luckily, a crack SWAT team, consisting of 4 guys go in, kill the hippies and are now being sent to New Guinea for their next mission. However, in a village in New Guinea, a car has broken down leaving a reporter, her camera man and a family of three stranded together.(?) The crabby mom leaves the car frustrated and heads off, while the reporter, Lia & cameraman Max look for water. The father stays in the car and holding his sick son in the car, unfortunately the child dies becomes a zombie and attacks his father. At the watering hole, Lia & Max run into some strange dudes and high tail it back to the car, only to find the father being attack by the savage zombie child! Luckily, our SWAT team guys have arrived and know what to do. The kill the child and start a search for the mother, who has disappeared. They soon find her dead and discover the whole village is filled with these flesh eating parasites (zombies, not reporters) and make a harrowing escape. They come across a tribe, Lia says she'll check them out and to come into the village in an hour. She then, takes off all her clothes and walks into the village, she is a brave stupid girl. There she finds out that the dead are returning to life and that the villagers won't burn the bodies because of traditions. An hour later everyone shows up, they find out what's going on and stay for supper. To everyone's surprise a few hours later, they are overcome by zombies and make yet another escape. The SWAT team knows that they must complete their top secret mission, but they don't feel it right to leave the hot journalist and her mustached camera man behind in the jungle with the whole zombie thing going on. This is a funny film and if you like bad B-movies, this is right up your alley. It's a mix between, Dawn of the Dead and Zombie. The story is Ok, the acting is horrible but the special effects are pretty good. Lots of zombies, lots of blood and they even steal the theme for Dawn of the Dead by Goblin. Cheap, quick and fun.
2. Phenomena (1985) - Jennifer Corvino, is the daughter of a famous movie star and has been sent to live in a exclusive and eerie boarding school in the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, there has been a number of recent murders there and everyone is a little edgy. Luckily the police have a bug expert, Professor John McGregor and his helper monkey are able to pinpoint the time of death of all the victims. Back at the school, Jennifer isn't having any luck. She is walking in her sleep, her roommate has disappeared and some girls found a letter to her dad saying that she controls insects with her mind. It's too bad you don't control ponies or rainbows, Jennifer. Anywhoo, the other girls give her a right ribbing until Jennifer unleashes her mighty bug power on the lot, destroying any chance of making friends with these people. The teachers decide she needs to go to a mental institution and Jennifer runs away, ends up at Professor McGregor and is put on the case to find the killer using her special power. Can this 15 year old psychic girl find the killer who has evaded the police for so long by following a fly? Can Professor McGregor actually deputize a 15 year old girl? and what about the monkey? Originally cut and sent to North America under the name Creepers, Dario Argento does a great job, working with Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasence in creating this eerie tale. Lots of plot twists, good violence and an excellent soundtrack that includes Goblin, Iron Maiden and Motorhead. Must see for any Argento fan!
1. Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve) (1971) -The Countess is murdered in the middle of the night by her husband, who is then murdered. Now, the families want to know who will be inherit the bay but who will survive the night with a killer on the loose! Also, some teenagers have shown up and need to die. Mario Bava directs one of the bloodiest slasher films of the 70's. So, gory Christopher Lee walked out of the theatre in disgust. Friday the 13th has copied (stolen) scenes from this film and it has inspired countless other slasher tales like The Burning and Just Before Dawn (which I neeeed to see). Carlo Rambaldi (Profondo Rosso, Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Possession)(RIP) is brilliant with the make up effects and creates some fantastic gore scenes. The story can be confusing and there are a ton of red herrings but there is a large body count and the ending is just twisted. It's a great Giallo/Slasher cocktail.
These films are just a taste of the horror bolognese that can be found in Italian cinema. There are tons of films, but the directors most noted for this style are Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci and are great places to look to be introduced to Italian Horror cinema. It's always nice with a little cheese on top!