"Italian horror" is one of my favorite sub-genres. These lurid European imports are some of the most entertaining gems of the 1970's and 80's. I know that classifying movies created in a particular country might not constitute a "genre" but I'm rolling with it anyway. Many horror neophytes and even some seasoned mainstream fright fans haven't experienced the insanity from the country shaped like a boot, and I'm here to tell you why you NEED to watch some classic Italian horror cinema. Click the jump to find out why!
Extreme GoreIf you're a self-professed "gore hound" and haven't seen the likes of Zombi or Cannibal Holocaust you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Back in the 1970's, for some reason everyone in Italy with a camera decided that making exploitation movies about cannibals was the most brilliant idea ever. This netted us classics like Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and Eaten Alive! These were the films that had "BANNED" labels slapped all over them, and with good reason. These movies were doing things four decades ago that some modern franchises are still afraid to touch. Things like kids being murdered and everyone's genitals being eaten were par for the course and the directors seemed to revel in how far they could push the boundaries. You're also going to find some of the straight up grossest practical effects ever. Live maggots, horse parts, and a ton of frightening makeup effects that you'd probably never see in modern American horror cinema due to CGI and insurance regulations. For the splatter fan, Italian horror is gold mine.
Hilarious TranslationsThe term "lost in translation" applies. There's something really endearing about poorly dubbed and translated films that create unintentionally classic quotes. The Italian directors and screen writers weren't known for subtly, so you'll hear all manner of hilarious dialogue that stems from goofy and nonsensical, to over-the-top. No matter how offensive some of this stuff might be though, it always comes off as hilariously naive. Among my personal favorites is the ridiculous script from 1985's Demons.
Camera Work and PacingA lot of modern horror movies give you the impression that they were filmed during an earthquake. "Found footage" and countless shaky chase scenes are a staple nowadays. The design and pacing of classic Italian horror movies is a complete antithesis to that. Steady camera shots, slow zooms and panning, and scenes of extended dialogue are a welcome escape from the chaotic presentation of modern American fright flicks.
Amazing MusicFrom the hard rocking heavy metal soundtrack of Demons to the awesome synths of Zombi and the wildly offbeat disco music in Cannibal Apocalypse so many Italian horror films have incredible scores. They are definitely products of a particular era, and rival the fantastic work of John Carpenter and Goblin. It's undeniable that many modern horror movies are taking musical inspiration from these outlandish retro tracks.
If you've never had the pleasure of seeing a zombie fight a shark, or Jennifer Connolly thrash around in a pool of melted corpses, then you MUST seek out some classic Italian exploitation and horror movies. A quick search should net you good places to start like Suspiria, Phenomena or Zombi, but feel free to leave some comments below if you're looking for others or have your own favorite suggestions!