Judge Daryl Loomis thinks of a new horror story every time he looks in the mirror.
Our review of Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show (Blu-ray), published June 16th, 2012, is also available.
The horror is inside of you.
Over the past decade or so, I have been consistently impressed with the horror films produced in the international market. Filmmakers from Spain, Mexico, and many countries in the Far East have helped to reinvigorate the genre in ways that seem impossible by the deluge of remakes in the domestic market. Italy, though, once the go-to nation for artistic and extreme horror, has not returned to its rightful seat at the splatter table. If Gabriele Albanesi (The Last House in the Woods) has anything to say about it, though, they may have to set a place. The young director's second feature, Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show, awkwardly titled as it may be, is smart, nice to look at and, at times, very gory. This may not rival the best work of Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but it's a start.
Facts of the Case
Alessio Rinaldi (Giuseppe Soleri), a young director looking to get a horror film made, faces interference from his producer, who doesn't want his studio tied to some retro splatterfest. Instead, he wants something classy, something that will sell to a large market, so he sends him to live with Ubaldo Terzani (Paolo Sassanelli, What the Hell Am I Doing Here?), a horror novelist with worldwide popularity, where Alessio will write the film's story side by side with the author. They sit down to work and things start great, but Alessio quickly learns the hard way how Terzani gets all these good ideas for his books: his own psychopathic life.
The original title of Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show was "In the Mouth of Ubaldo Terzani," and while that title is even more unwieldy, it does describe the literary nature behind the film. By no means is this even close to a remake of John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, but it uses the idea of horror writing as its horror plot. The film starts slow and remains slow until the final act. Much of that time is spent talking about horror, where it comes from, and what it means. That might not play so well with the newbie teenage horror fan, but for a jaded old crank like myself, it works pretty smoothly. When it all blows up, there isn't a whole lot of surprise, but the slow burn makes the finish nice and satisfying.
What makes that finish so good is the special effects by Sergio Stivaletti, who is basically the Tom Savini of Italian cinema. He has worked for three decades with the likes of Dario Argento (Opera), Lamberto Bava (Demons), and Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man), so it's no wonder that they look so good, but it's definitely a coup that Albanesi was able to score such a great effects man. Stivaletti doesn't skimp on his work here, either. There isn't a ton of them, but what's here is dang gruesome, with severed limbs and excised hearts that look really good. He even throws in the classic Italian eye gouge that Lucio Fulci made one of his hallmarks.
Because there is so much time to kill before the grue starts to fly, though, the movie is dependent on the story and the performances. On that front, though I feel mostly positive, it's something of a mixed bag. There's no suspense in the story at all, everything has been telegraphed by the time it comes around. Not the exact details, but when Terzani, asked by Alessio's girlfriend (Laura Gigante, Italian Ghost Stories) how the story is coming, describes that they're at the end and there has yet to be a murder, but a big bloodbath is coming, it becomes pretty clear what's about to happen. That fact doesn't kill the thing, but that's always going to be the pitfall in stories with meta pretensions. Otherwise, it works just fine, but suspense is paramount to horror and Albanesi misses the boat on that front.
The performances are a little better than that, with Paolo Sassanelli as the real standout. As the title character, he brings a real Count Dracula feel to the table with a darkly seductive charm that sets him up as the clear villain long before he's actually done anything wrong. As a character, Alessio is kind of a tool, but Soleri plays it up pretty well and is believable in the part. Laura Gigante doesn't have a big role, but she does have a hand in the finale and is a sweet force in an otherwise sinister world. There are a few other characters, but they're involvement is minimal. The two stars have a good chemistry, though, and keep the story moving to its eventual, bloody conclusion.
It's not surprising to report that Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show has received a stellar release from Raro Video, whose care in restoring and distributing obscure Italian film is second to none. The anamorphic image looks very good, especially for the film's budget, with a nice grain structure and warm colors. It still looks like the cheap movie it is, but the transfer makes it look as good as it possibly can. Of the two sound mixes, the surround track is preferable, with good separation among the channels and a nice amount of ambient sound in the rear speakers. The dialog is clear and the music sounds strong. The stereo is a clean and crisp mix, but there is a lack of atmosphere that the surround brings.
The strong slate of extras begins with an audio commentary featuring Albanesi and critic Antonio Tentori. The track is in Italian, so you have to change the subtitles, but it's a good discussion about the film, the director's influences, and the horror genre. We also have a screen test for Laura Gigante, and she does a pretty good job. It's interesting, but inessential. The best extra is Albanesi's first short film, called "The Hunted." It's a kind of western horror mash-up that shows a whole lot of skill, especially given how young the director was when he made it. The essay booklet the label always includes is here and a pair of trailers fills out the disc.
Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show is definitely worth a watch. It hearkens back to the golden age of Italian horror, but not so much that it feels like homage. It's not perfect and those looking for blood spraying about constantly won't find it here, but it's smarter than your average horror picture and finishes with a bang that should satisfy most bloodhounds. I would hope that this could signal a return to prominence for Italian genre filmmaking, but that remains to be seen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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