Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Italian Horror Film Directors

“The Italian horror film has had its heyday. It has passed… [T]he purpose of this book is to recount the origins of the genre, celebrate ten specific auteurs who have contributed enormously, mention the many who have made noteworthy films in this genre, and also discuss the seminal influential genres associated with the Italian horror film. Hopefully you will enjoy reading about the obscure films, as well as reading about those that you may already be familiar with.”

Thus states Louis Paul in the second paragraph of the introductory essay that opens Italian Horror Film Directors by way of providing criteria for evaluating the work; criteria by which, unfortunately, the book only emerges as a qualified success at best.

The essay itself, which follows lively forewords by Jess Franco – once again confirming his lifelong passion for the B-cinema – and Lucio Fulci's daughter Antonella, is one of the better sections.

Beginning his survey in the silent era with the influential Theatre du Grand Guignol and its Italian offshoot, Paul charts the development of Italian horror through the seminal films of Freda, Bava, Argento and company with the appropriate name-checking of I Vampiri, Black Sunday, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and so on, whilst also identifying less-well known and downright obscure films awaiting rediscovery.

Although Paul's knowledge of the form thus comes through, some of his remarks also raise questions as to his broader awareness of the Italian cinema and ability to more fully contextualise these films and film-makers.

He suggests that I Vampiri is marred by "an infatuation with the concerns of the cinema of neo-realism," an evaluation that would surely surprise Riccardo Freda with his explicit opposition to that movement and remarks that "I am not in the least interested in banal humanity, everyday humanity" (cited in Pierre Lephoron's The Italian Cinema, p. 179).

Discussing the apparent anachronism of Freda's Maciste All'Inferno with its 17th century setting (p. 17), Paul meanwhile seems unaware of the existence of Guido Brigone's 1925 film film of the same name and the precedent it established in placing the mythical strongman in 19th Century Italy.

Turning to the the directors profiled in detail we find a list largely comprising of the usual suspects – Dario Argento, Lamberto and Mario Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Antonio Margheriti, Aristide Massaccesi and Michele Soavi – with the notable exception of the absence of Riccardo Freda and the surprise inclusion of Bruno Mattei. (Freda is later controversially evaluated as “a problematic figure in the history of Italian horror films [...] his earliest works in the field [...] considered by many Italian horror cinemaphiles as prime examples of the finest directorial achievements in the genre, are, in fact, pedestian and rigid exercises in filmmaking.”)

Things get off to a bad start as, on the first page of the Argento profile Paul states that his daughters Fiore and Asia Argento were the products of their father's marriage “ a woman named Marisa," which must come as something of a surprise to Dario, Asia and her mother Daria Nicolodi!

While I did not spot any errors quite as glaring as this elsewhere, with Argento admittedly being the film-maker whose life and work I am most familiar with, it is the kind of thing that hardly inspires confidence, making you wonder what to make of the rest of the facts presented – are they facts or factoids? – especially in relation to those film-makers who are less familiar.

Paul's evaluations of the film-makers respective oeuvres follow a fairly conservative line for the most part: The Beyond is "as close as Fulci has come to a masterpiece of horror" whilst The New York Ripper is "a disappointing and gruesome work [that] reveals little imagination," for example.

Predictably the two directors who come off worst are Deodato and Lenzi on account of their association with the cannibal film.

Paul does offer a surprise in Lenzi's case through a positive evaluation of Nightmare City – “a highlight of Lenzi's horror filmography” – but then goes on to relegate the director's crime films, outwith his purview despite the marketing of Almost Human in the US as a horror film, to a single four line paragraph. This results in the overall verdict of someone who “never consistently excelled at any one genre” rather than – as I would argue – a solid action and gialli film-maker who has unfortunately become typed as the guy who made Cannibal Ferox.

The last two sections of the book, profiles of 39 other directors and a filmography of significant films by other filmmakers not otherwise mentioned, are an improvement.

While some of the filmmakers under discussion, such as Sergio Martino and Aldo Lado will be be well known to genre aficionados, fewer are likely to have heard about the likes of Gianfranco Giagni or Mario Colucci.

The same can be said of the genre filmography through the inclusion of not only Frankenstein's Daughter but also No Thanks, The Coffee Makes Me Nervous. Again, however, there are some curious choices – if Django is included on account of its grotesque and horrific elements where is Django the Bastard?

Overall, there is about enough in Italian Horror Directors for it to be a worthwhile volume to have on one's cult film bookshelf. But therein lies the rub: it is not an indispensable volume that the reader will keep close to hand and, given the price of the volume and the growing competition in the marketplace, that is likely insufficient.


ID said...

I'm reading "Gli artigiani dell'orrore. Mezzo secolo dagli anni '50 ad oggi" by Paolo Fazzini. Is a good work with interviews with Margueriti, Polselli, Simonetti, Avati, Bido, Crispino, Lado, Deodato, Argento, Soavi, etc, etc, etc. You can find it in

K H Brown said...

Thanks for mentioning this - I go to their site and what do I see but a book about Edwige Fenech :-)

Whiggles said...

Thanks for the write-up, Keith. I picked up a copy of this myself after reading this post. I haven't had a chance to take more than a brief look at it yet, but I'll do my best to collect my thoughts together once I've read it cover to cover.