Ronnie Angel’s Top Ten Italian Horror Films
Anybody that knows me knows how much I love horror films. I can sit and geek out and debate the subject with anyone for hours, days even. Being such a horror freak, I decided to devote my latest article to one of my all time favorites in the horror genre: Italian horror! Here lies proof that the Italians always do it better, apparently. Some of the best and most stylish horror films of all time come from Italy and I rank it as the country with the most to offer in the world of horror. Here are some of my particular favorites and some of the most notable. These are the quintessential staples of Italian horror cinema. Check them out if you are a horror fan and haven’t seen these!
10. A BAY OF BLOOD (1971)
-If you ever wondered where many ideas for the slasher film genre came from, then look no further than Mario Bava’s extreme A Bay Of Blood (aka Twitch of The Death Nerve). Groundbreaking is understatement, as this one upped the levels of violence in film to a level not seen before. The story is a perfectly executed Giallo (an Italian genre based on the whodunit murder mystery factor in the films, named Giallo or Yellow in Italian after the color of the many early detective and murder mystery novels they were based upon), with an incredible air of mystery and intrigue to it. Plus, it has enough twists and turns in it to make M. Night Shyamalan crap his pants! There’s little doubt that he and many others took notes from it. I know that many slasher films owe a lot to it. The kills in this are all very vivid and brutal. In fact, a few were later copied on Friday The 13th Part 2! This is one of my all time favorites and never gets old. Plus, those twists are amazing and just keep on coming! See if you can try to keep up with all of them.
9. DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
-Famed director Lucio Fulci has always been synonymous with zombie and extreme gore films. From Zombie to City of the Living Dead, he has always been more well known for his gory films than anything else. It may surprise many then that he actually tried his hand at the classy Giallo film genre in the early 70s with this surprisingly effective, yet often forgotten film. Don’t Torture A Duckling is still one of the more taboo films out there even today. Imagine what people thought back then! Actually, I know what they thought, hence why it was so controversial. The victims in this one are of a variety not usually seen in horror films as they are young boys. The movie touches on a lot of social taboos throughout its runtime focusing heavily on pedophilia, the dark side of the Catholic Church and more. It really is a powerful film and well done though, with lots of feeling and emotion. The locations are amazingly picturesque, the cinematography is beautiful and the sweeping music is powerful. It’s amazing how Fulci is able to make such a dark subject so captivating. Truly one of the best Giallo films out there.
8. DEEP RED (1975)
-When writing an article on Italian horror films, there is no way I could leave this one out! This was the movie that really cemented Dario Argento’s reputation as one of the masters of horror. It’s creepy, it’s thought provoking, it’s clever and it can be very brutal at times. It follows the usual Giallo formula often employed by Argento in his other films as an American musician in Italy witnesses a brutal murder and soon finds himself deep in the investiagtion, thus making himself a target of the killer as well. Deep Red is as stylish as they come. All of the usual amazing visuals of Argento are on full display here as is the frenetic score by Goblin, adding to the mayhem. The kills are as brutal as they come and there are some downright terrifying sequences. Watch for the incredibly creepy doll as proof of this. Deep Red is a classic through and through and one of the more clever Giallo films out there.
7. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)
-Without a doubt, Mario Bava is the Godfather of Italian horror. He paved the way for all of the others and was truly ahead of his time. His films Black Sunday and Black Sabbath are considered true classics. With Blood and Black Lace, he further cemented his reputation for effective scare slicks and in the process created one of the most famous genres, Giallo films, which also paved the way for Slasher flicks later. The story follows a convoluted plot of blackmail and intrigue as we follow a mysterious masked killer (the first of the kind!) bumping off models, trying to keep a secret from getting out. Widely considered the first true Giallo film, this one is as stylish as you can expect from the man. Vivid colors and funky calypso music permeate the film, giving it a classy edge. Sure, it’s dated at times, but it makes a nice time capsule. It was also surprisingly ahead of its time. While tame now, it definitely pushed some boundaries in its time. This movie is as deserving of classic status as Psycho and Peeping Tom, and really deserves the same recognition.
6. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
-This entry is by far the most controversial of the entire list. Directed by Ruggero Deodato in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust pushed the limits of cinematic realism to a point never before seen at that time and blurred the lines of reality. It also marked the first instance of the now ever so popular “found footage” films. This one followed a group of filmmakers making a documentary who run afoul of a cannibalistic tribe in the Amazon rainforest and end up on the dinner menu. They really deserved it though, as they went out of their way to stir shit up in the jungle, to disgusting lengths. It just proves that when you travel abroad, try not to piss off the locals too bad. The movie was controversial not just because of its graphic and realistic depictions of extreme violence, but also due to the very real kills of several animals. The director even had to step forward with the cast due to accusations of this being a snuff film, as many thought he actually killed them for the film! That’s pretty damn effective when people think that you really killed your cast! This one is still a shocker to this day and can prove to be a hard watch at times. In fact, there are several parts I will still fast forward through. To be honest, I prefer the similar Cannibal Ferox to this. It’s a bit more fluid and definitely more harrowing. The notoriety pales in comparison to this one however, hence why it made the list instead. It’s one that’s still as shocking and controversial today as it was then.
5. ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980)
-Speaking of extreme films, it doesn’t get much more extreme than this one! Director Joe D’Amato was already known in the Italian film world as the king of sleaze by this point. Movies like The Erotic Nights of the Living Dead were basically full blown porno films with zombies thrown in. In 1980, he decided to do like many others at the time and cash in on the slasher craze with this little forgotten gem… of course, he brought his own usual style of sleaze and extreme to it as well. The result was one of the most controversial and highly banned films of all time centered around a cannibal who made lunch out of the entire population of a small island in the Aegean Sea. In a perfect example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a group of tourists agree to give a girl a ride out to the island and end up right in the cannibal’s path. This one is best remembered for its extremely gory kill scenes. Like other films on this list, it really lets the gore fly and features some pretty extreme kill scenes including gut munching and a very cruel scalping of a blind girl. However, the one part that really set off the censors, and still continues to shock to this day, is the infamous fetus eating scene. Trust me, it has to be seen to be believed and you won’t forget this sickening part! There is so much more to the film than just the shocks though. This is actually one of the most effective of the slasher films and can be legit scary at times, thanks to George Eastman’s terrifying portrayal of the monster. There are a few scenes that are still downright terrifying! The setting itself also happens to be one of the more picturesque on the list. This little often fogotten film is well worth seeking out if you want some shocks and legit, old school scare scenes. It is also known in a more censored form under the title The Grim Reaper.
4. CEMETERY MAN (1994)
-I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) is a beautiful film. This may be the most poetic and beautifully shot film on the list. Even with all the beauty and amazing shots in it, this is still one hell of an oddball ride. The story follows Francisco Dellamorte (or St. Francis of Death if you will, played by Rupert Everett), a cemetery caretaker who leads a lonely life, living on site with his simple, yet lovable assistant (and highlight of the film in my opinion) Gnaggi. The monotony is broken up however, by the fact that the dead return to life every few days and have to be put down. Our lead also keeps having odd encounters with several women (all played by the boobtastic Anna Falchi, my vote for best boobs in a horror movie!) and things start to get even weirder fast. Soon, we’re knee deep in zombies, dealing with everything from random massacres, to impotence, to volunteer castration, to a relationship with a talking dismembered head. Yes, this one is insanely weird! At times, it’s even a struggle to figure out what exactly is going on. The ending itself leaves even more questions and has been hotly debated for years. I still couldn’t tell you what it means! What I can tell you though, is that even with the weirdness, it’s a hell of a fun film and you can’t look away. It can be funny, romantic and just all out bat-shit crazy all the same and it takes a truly special movie to be able to balance out that!
3. DEMONS (1985)
-There is but one term that can accurately describe Lamberto Bava’s 1985 film Demons… bad-ass! Hands down, this will always be one of the more high energy, action packed, balls to the wall horror films out there. It’s just fun, pure and simple. This is like a movie within a movie as a group of colorful characters gather to watch a horror movie about Demons in a Berlin movie theater. Life soon imitates what is on the screen as one woman (the ever lovely Geretta Geretta) catches the same curse on the screen and turns into a snarling, green goop spewing demon herself (great effects by the way!). It soon spreads like wildfire, resembling a zombie outbreak as more and more of the patrons are attacked and turned into demons. It turns into an exciting game of survival that is as fun as it is scary. The best part is that it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. It’s tongue in cheek many times and has a great sense of humor. One of the characters (Bobby Rhodes) may even be one of the best and funniest pimp characters ever. It’s a lot like the Evil Dead films in a way, just with a really cool different setting. The theater aspect makes it very surreal. Try watching it in an actual theater, it’s a bit unnerving! All in all, this isn’t just a good horror movie…it’s a fun film in general! For those looking a step further, Demons 2 is just as good and as fun as the original. Really, it’s the same, but with a different setting. They’re both worth a watch, or several watches!
2. ZOMBIE (1980)
-Whenever I tell someone who is not an avid horror fan what my favorite zombie movie is, it plays out like a bad “who’s on first?” joke. What’s your favorite zombie movie? Zombie. No, that’s what I’m asking. What’s your favorite zombie movie? It’s Zombie! If you know it, you damn well know it. If not, and you’re a fan of zombies, you NEED to see this one. Hands down, this one is my all time favorite. Sure, I love the Romero films, but this gorefest from Lucio Fulci really stands out. For one, it’s insanely gory. There are tons of vividly gory scenes, but the most memorable (and cringe inducing) is the eye impalement scene. It’s one that you’ll never forget! If eye stuff gets to you, then look away! The zombie effects are amazing as well. In fact, these are some of the best and most realistic zombies you’ll be apt to see. It also benefits from having a great story to it. In Zombie (itself an unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead in Italy), it follows the classic old school zombie legends with a voodoo background. The lonely island setting is a perfect backdrop and fits well. It also helps to set it apart from many other zombie films and makes it more unique. The tribal drumming heard throughout eerily enhances the movie and makes it one of the more effective out there. It has some legit scares to it as well and still holds up well today. In many ways, this one can even be looked at as a starting point or a prequel to Romero’s Dead films if you think about it. Those are all some very good reasons to like this movie! Plus, it has the infamous zombie vs. shark scene! You can’t go wrong with that!
1. SUSPIRIA (1977)
-Dario Argento has always been the most stylish of the Italian directors. His movies are always so surreal and feature the most amazing use of colors and stunning cinematogrophy. Never is his filmamking prowess more evident than in this, hands down his most memorable and captivating film. Suspiria should really top the list of any true horror fan and is a definite must see. It opens with a bang with one of the most shocking and memorable opening scenes ever and doesn’t let up throughout the whole film. The film follows Jessica Harper, playing an American student who enrolls in an exclusive dance academy in Germany. She soon finds that things aren’t all that they seem there and that the place is actually run by an ancient coven of witches. There are cool camera tricks aplenty, amazing color usage, things hidden in plain sight, and possibly the best horror soundtrack of all time thanks to the work of Goblin. It all comes together to give this one a very surreal, almost dream like state to it. It’s in perfect contrast to some of the more effective and terrifying moments in the film. It’s dark, it’s disturbing, plus it has several good old fashioned scares and some extreme kills. Suspiria just may be an example of a perfect horror movie and still stands up to this day as a classic and Argento’s best work.