Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2014
Images from the Internet
60 minutes, 2005 / 2013
Images from the Internet
Hanging Shadows: Perspectives on Italian CinemaWritten, produced and directed by Paolo Fazzini
60 minutes, 2005 / 2013
Before the VHS explosion of the ‘80s, it was rare to see an Italian horror films either on the screen or especially television. What we did get was usually directed by Mario Bava, such as La maschera del demonio, aka The Mask of Satan, though it as more commonly known as Black Sunday (1960), and the terrifying I tre volti della paura, or as we knew it, Black Sabbath (1963), possibly Boris Karloff’s last truly scary role.
Of course, we kids didn’t know it was Italian, we just knew it was dubbed. Most of the films shown on this side of the Atlantic whatever the presentation medium, were highly edited, thanks to nudity, blood, and the last remnants of the Hollywood Code system. Besides, most horror viewers back then were teenage couples with the guys looking for reasons to put their arms around their dates.
In college, during the late 1970s, I was introduced to New Wave Italian cinema, such as Luchiano Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and the realism auteur Michael Antonioni. They were great, technically superb, but the left me kind of cold. I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to care about many of the characters and left me asking, “che cosa?” But it wasn’t until a few short years later that I discovered the piasan niche for which I was looking.
Italian horror cinema, as I said, really came into its golden days in the 1980s, when video stores were springing up every few blocks, its clients hungry for new products, with the two biggest sellers being horror and porn. It was easy to walk into any store and find campy and bloody delights. Names started to be known, like Leo Fulci, Dario Argento, and Lamberto Bava. The posters alone would become iconic, such as Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombi 2, 1979 .
What made these films so popular was the sheer audacity of them. Many of them were silly, campy, or made no sense, but we later found out that was because they were edited, and usually had multiple names with each version being slightly different. We were seeing lots of gore, but distributors seemed to think that the bleak endings would not fit well with Middle America. It took many years to finally see the real end of The Gates of Hell (aka City of the Living Dead aka Paura nella citta dei morti veventi, 1980); in fact, it wasn’t until it was released on DVD.
The gore effects in these films were stunning: maggots falling out of zombie eyeholes, eyes yanked into shards of wood, bodies pulled apart, bugs eating away at flesh, heads pulled through a drill press, and blood spontaneously pouring out of eyes. Again, they ran from realistic to “fakey,” but it was always mechanical rather than digital. I used to love to try and figure out how they did it. I remember seeing a film where a women spews out her entire intestinal tract and laughing, and then not being able to look at work the next day when someone cut her finger.
If you talk to most of the up-and-coming filmmakers I’ve reviewed, such as Sean Weathers, Dustin Wayde Mills and Richard Marr-Griffin, they will all proudly bear witness to their Italian horror viewing backgrounds. This genre’s popularity has not changed over time, either. Just this past fall, a pal had a day of zombie film viewing with his friends (I was included), and two of them (Zombie and Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man [aka Delamorte Delamore, 1994]) were of Italian origin, and it was still visceral.
This hour-long documentary is an Italian import as well, created nearly a decade ago, but only recently released in a non-academic forum. We meet many of the directors, writers, and special effect artists that contributed to the field, most of them among the most cherished by the genre’s fans, such as Argento, Bava, and late-comer Soavi.
The film explores the methods behind the madness. For example Soavi explains he hates horror films, but is more into realistic images, so cannibals, rather than zombies, eating people is not horror, and he posits that he does not like the title of horror he is often labeled. .He interestingly comments on the comparative and real graphic images often shown on the television news.
Lamberto Bava tells how he came up with the idea for Demons (aka Demoni, 1985), comparing it to mass media: The first film takes place in a movie house where the demons come out of the projected images; in Demons 2 (aka Demoni 2… l’incubo ritorna, 1985), they come out of the even more accessible television; and in a planned but unrealized third film, it was to come out of the press.
In Italian with English subtitles, the talking parts are pretty short and jump from person to person often, though gratefully the subject’s name is presented often. It comes out a bit disjointed, but once you get the rhythm, it’s fascinating.
Mixed in with the taking heads are many shots from the films, usually the gore scenes and often with nudity, though it’s rare that any clip lasts longer than 10 seconds, and there is hardly any that have dialog.
There are two extras here, focusing in on one director each
The first is of my favorite director of the period, “Leo Fulchi, Italian Godfather of Gore.” Lasting a mere six minutes, it delves into the man rather than the movies, which is great. One of the three people discussing Fulchi (d. 1996) is his daughter, Antonella. The second short is “Mario Bava: Wizard of Fear” is slightly shorter, but again, three people describe Bava (d. 1980) and part of his process, such as his use of quick close-ups, that was copied into spaghetti westerns. The main clip they show is from Black Sunday¸ as they call it here, with the lovely Barbara Steele.
If you’re a fan of these kinds of film, and we are legion, this is a must see. Otherwise, you might find the visuals quite shocking.