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An Introduction to Modern Italian Horror Cinema

by Jim Pyke

Though the U.S. horror market has dwindled to a handful of remakes and sequels to films from the eighties, the genre is alive and well in Italy and most of Europe. While Hollywood insists on directing all of their horror films toward pubescent teens, the Italian market is open to intelligent, psychological, and adult-oriented horror with one foot in the present and the other firmly in the past that brought us the gothic horrors of the 1950s and 1960s.

Phil Hardy's indispensable horror film encyclopedia duly credits Italians Ricardo Freda and Mario Bava with lighting the fuse for the explosion of horror films that began in the mid-1950s with their film I VAMPIRI (1956). The history of Italian horror is a history of stylish sub-genre cycles ranging from repulsively gory jungle cannibal tales and zombie gut-munchers to supernatural gothics, and, best of all, the uniquely Italian giallo (literally: "yellow"). As European Trash Cinema's Craig Ledbetter explains, "It was the lurid yellow covers of [certain] Italian mystery novels that now designates a certain type of thriller film." To reach beyond this basic definition, we urge the reader forth to explore the giallo and enter the multi-faceted nightmare world of the Italian fear film. Once the taste for these rich Italian horrors develops, there are numerous fringe-dwelling mail order sources upon which to feed. For the first course, however, we offer the following films by two of Italy's most accomplished and influential directors: Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Mario Bava (1914-1980)

Dario Argento (1940- )

With this introduction we invite the brave reader (who has perhaps outgrown Stateside horror franchises like Jason, Freddy, and Chuckie) to take a nightmare journey to the far-off shores of Italy. Once you have arrived, you will find Bava and Argento keeping company with the like of Lucio Fulci, Joe D'Amato, Umberto Lenzi, Michele Soavi, and many others—each beckoning you to explore their uniquely stylized worlds of fear on film. What unites them is their love for their work; these filmmakers creatively and passionately explore the darkest corners of their minds and make no apologies for the brutal and beautiful images they find there.

For more on Mario Bava, check out Deep Focus.
Or, go here for more info on both Argento and Bava.   </end>
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