Let’s be frank; horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to the history of Italian film-making – the closest the country gains to infamy within the genre is a cross-section of cheap paper-back adaptations of thrillers, or Gialli (which to their credit have turned out some spectacular films). No, when one conjures the world of ‘horror’, they see the slasher tropes of Hollywood, the camp gothic aesthetics of British Hammer Horror, or indeed the masters of the genre Spain and Japan where folklore ties directly into troubled history of their nations. No, it would seem that Italy isn’t rolling heads or stirring nightmares, and the latest Netflix piece A Classic Horror Story is certainly not helping.
So, where to start? A suitable place would be to merely list the superior movies from which this film borrows – sorry – pays tribute to. A road trip goes array, forcing a camper van of wedding-goers into an isolated cabin alone in the woods, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and stories. From smashed ankles, to a deer-head in a cabin, cultish family dinners and creatures collecting body parts – A Classic Horror Story cobbles itself as a golem of cinema’s finest (and worst) examples of gore, torture, terror, and monster magic.
Survival is never the key here, nor does there seem to be the intention of remorse or educating moral fractures – nothing is fuelling the plot outside of stock character backgrounds and a sense of violence and macabre glee in murder. This isn’t an unusual device, as it’s a standpoint other films have taken, but they tend to revel in the madness and accept their gory nature. A Classic Horror Story wants to be clever. It woefully attempts to frame a meta-narrative, going as far as to comment on how aspects of the film aren’t cohesive and blatantly lift from other movies. The principal issue here is that Lucio Besana, Roberto De Feo and co-director Paolo Strippoli’s writing isn’t satirical enough to carry this thought process.
And don’t suspect the cinematography will make up for this, at least not all of it. More frustrating than a complete failure, there’s a division of misunderstandings that come with the film’s framework and lighting, occasionally pressing into the psychosomatic angle of obsession and bloodlust. But more often than not Emanuele Pasquet’s cinematography is nothing to pay much attention to – derisive, obvious, and serving to push the audience into supposed uncomfortable situations via close-ups.
But that isn’t to say merit cannot be unearthed while diving through the muck. Despite their minor influence on the plot, Yuliia Sobol manages to rip at the audience’s grief and investment for a short space of time. Despite her lug-headed boyfriend’s prior death being of little significance, Sofia’s fate is one the audience can rally behind. As too is our lead Elisa (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), who is woefully underutilised until the film’s final moments. Though for once in De Feo and Strippoli’s direction, there’s method behind the withdrawn characterisation. The gradual build until her final snap is underplayed and methodical, the agony Lutz demonstrates a taster of what the film should have been.
And perhaps most insultingly, is that the film’s climactic moments, as the knife twists and the revelations are made, achieving something satisfying and intriguing, occur a whole five minutes before the credits. From the moment the focus shifts from the predictable and into the table scene with the Mayor and her townsfolk, A Classic Horror Story shifts the dynamic from painful rip-off to horror pastiche. Finally, the film learns to adapt and manipulate the game-changers before, rather than sucking on their influence, but what an absolute waste of potential and intrigue it is to come in the final moments.
But as you might suspect, it’s too little too late. Audiences have likely tuned out or lost any sense of investment, and no quick pace alterations to the script or pacing are making up for this. A Classic Horror Story magnificently demonstrates how easy some filmmakers suspect the genre to be, but ultimately reminds audiences that a true horror classic isn’t genre-locked, and that the likes of The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tigers Are Not Afraid, or Audition transcend the label of horror into icons.
Available on Netflix now