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Best of Italian Horror

by Chris Goodwin
This is a brief history of the Italian Horror genre, including a list of films I would consider MANDATORY VIEWING… (in progress) The early days of Italian Horror started and ended in 1921 with IL MOSTRO DE FRANKENSTEIN, which was basically just an Italian take on the Frankenstein legend. Once the movie was completed, the crew and visionaries from IL MOSTRO DE FRANKENSTEIN moved to Germany in search of more lucrative offerings. Which they found quickly. The Italian/German crew from IL MOSTRO continued to make successful pictures in Germany for many years. But what was to be the beginning of a new Italian legacy faded out with a single picture… Read more

This is a brief history of the Italian Horror genre, including a list of films I would consider MANDATORY VIEWING

(in progress)


The early days of Italian Horror started and ended in 1921 with IL MOSTRO DE FRANKENSTEIN, which was basically just an Italian take on the Frankenstein legend. Once the movie was completed, the crew and visionaries from IL MOSTRO DE FRANKENSTEIN moved to Germany in search of more lucrative offerings. Which they found quickly. The Italian/German crew from IL MOSTRO continued to make successful pictures in Germany for many years. But what was to be the beginning of a new Italian legacy faded out with a single picture fizzle, and another horror movie wasn’t made in Italy until 35 years later…

Horror was brought back to life In 1956 with I VAMPIRI (Lust of the Vampire). The movie was given to sword and sandal expert Riccardo Freda. His job was to bring horror back to life in Italy. The only problem was Freda hated horror movies! Freda’s only hope of directing an effective piece was to hire a cinematographer who could bring the images some depth and disease. He found that person in veteran cinematographer Mario Bava. Bava had shot films for Rossellini among others. He was an ex-painter and a master with a camera. Bottom line; the perfect cinematographer to breathe a new spirit into the horror genre. Bava would end up “ghost directing” I VAMPIRI almost entirely. Freda couldn’t care less about the movie, and in fact didn’t even bother to show up on set for the last two days of filming. I VAMPIRI maybe a Freda film in name, but only name. Bava’s footprints are all over the film; from it’s stark lighting and gothic set design to it’s smokey corridors and under lit corners, it is 100% a Bava film. The dialog nowadays maybe a little cheesy at times and the plot is a little pedestrian, but overall the vampire movie still holds up as precursor to darker Hammer horror films. Historically it’s an incredible viewing; this would mark the beginning of both Bava’s celebrated career, and Italy finally re-finding it’s love for the horror genre…








Even though Italy had finally made a horror film with I VAMPIRI, no one was seeing it. The box office for the picture was incredibly low. So understandably, it was another three years before the Italians gave it another go at the horror genre. They knew they had talent with the combo of Freda and Bava, they just weren’t sure why they didn’t have the box office numbers. This all became clear to Freda one day as he wandered into the lobby from a complete empty screening of his picture. He saw some possible tickets buyers staring at the poster for I VAMPIRI. Riccardo recalls their reaction to the poster in detail “Freda? But he’s an Italian, this must be very bad, Italians can’t make films of this kind”. As it turned out Italians didn’t want to watch films by Italians. Knowing this, the battle plan for 1959 was going to be very different…

This time they would market an Italian made horror film as an American made production. Complete with cast and crew name changes; “It was from that day on that I began thinking of using a pseudonym”. And so Riccardo Freda turned into Robert Hampton and his cinematographer (and ghost director) Mario Bava turned into John Foam. The film they made was CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER. As suspected with the name changes and dubbed voices the Italian audience complete bought it as an American product. And being American, they rushed in droves to see it. It was a huge hit. The films plot was a darker more ambitious telling of THE BLOB, nothing too special. But what stands out is its incredible gruesome effects, which still hold up today. Including one death scene they may actually be the forerunner to the “found footage” sub-genre (ala Cloverfield, Blair Witch etc.) Bava would once again orchestrate all this madness in everything but title only. He was learning his craft perfectly and it was almost time to break away and direct something for himself. For now though CALTIKI would shock audiences everywhere and help vitalize the Italian horror film industry to levels unseen….


Here’s the trailer for the less-than-good;
VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA

(released May 23 1960)




Here’s a trailer for the unheralded masterpiece entitled
MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN

(released Aug 30 1960)






Afterwards, the doors were burst open and Italy flooded the gates with many sub-genres of horror film.

From the giallo film….

To the fantasy feature…..


To the grindhouse gore flick…

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to the nasty sub-genre of Italian cannibalism…

The Italians main concern was always style over substance. And with that attitude they came up with some of the most original movies of all time. The funds this small family of filmmakers lacked, they made up for with immense imagination.

Italian Horror of course still exits to this day, but it hasn’t had the same freshness and vitality since Michele Soavi’s CEMETERY MAN, which came out in 1994.

Since then the Italians have tried but have been unable to produce pictures with as high of a standard as the golden days.

These are the MANDATORY FILMS to watch…
Listed chronologically by year of release….

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