AUGUST 13, 2012
Had I realized that Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show was from the same director as Last House In The Woods, I wouldn't have put off watching it for so long (I got the DVD for review like 8 months ago - I suck). But there's a fun little silver lining - in that time Gabriele Albanesi has shot a sequel to Last House called Kid In The Box, so if I watched the DVD when I got it I might have missed out on this info. Supposedly it's coming out in Italy next year; hopefully it won't take 2-3 years to come to the States.
Anyway, Ubaldo Terzani is an interesting but somewhat stock attempt at a modern giallo, fused with the all too common "Guy gets into the head of a killer" sub-genre. If you've seen enough of either type of movie there's not a lot here that will surprise you - our hero meets a strange but arrogant author (Terzani), starts having vivid nightmares about killing people, realizes his new friend might be dangerous, etc. "Is there a scene where he is seduced by women he never would have spoken to prior to the film's events?" you might ask, but you really don't need to (yes). It's a good thing they changed the title, too - discovering some parallels to In The Mouth Of Madness (Terzani is sort of a Sutter Cane type) was one of the few surprises, and later I discovered the original title was "In The Mouth of Ubaldo Terzani"!
Now, Last House was also kind of derivative, but in addition to a great score, it had a real energy to it, plus some surprising minor twists in the 3rd act. This one never matches that level of energy - if anything it's kind of slow-paced and with an abrupt ending, and the "twist" is pretty obvious from the start. The ironic ending is a nice touch, but even that is kind of "Oh, of course that's what happens." The concept itself is fine, but Albanesi's script lacks ambition, and thus it feels like a missed opportunity.
And it's a shame, because it starts off great, with the real world problems of modern Italian filmmaking playing a part. Our hero is a horror aficionado who wants to make genre films, but his agent has to break it to him that it's impossible to get funding for such things anymore. And this is true - how many recent Italian horror films do you see on HMAD outside of Argento's (hardly stellar) productions? They focus on other areas, so guys like our fictional hero feel kind of held back, unable to fulfill their creative needs in their own country. Hell I'd rather the movie was just a drama about this guy trying to find funding in an unfair system, as I found this section of the film far more interesting than the murder stuff, especially since there's no doubt as to what is going on.
Then again, if there weren't any kills, we wouldn't get to enjoy the work of Sergio Stivaletti, who did the work on classics like Demons and Opera (plus most of Argento's films after), and even directed Wax Mask, which was supposed to be Fulci's comeback film (the script was written by him and Argento). There are some great prosthetics here, and lots of grue - so nice to see a fully practical horror film again. But Stivaletti had nothing to do with the film's most special effect - the impossibly gorgeous Laura Gigante as the hero's girlfriend (and object of desire for Terzani). The best thing about the script is that it expands her role as it goes on, as she was not only wonderful to look at but also the one minor question mark in the plotting. Would Terzani seduce her, or have the hero kill her? Or both? I'll leave that up for you to discover, but I assure you that you couldn't ask for a more appealing wild card in something like this.
Someone on the production must have felt the same way, as the DVD offers her screen test but no one else's, and is in fact the only behind the scenes type material here. The other extras are two trailers and a short film called Braccati that Albanesi had made in 2001. It's a bit long, but it's a fun western story about a standoff that takes an odd turn, with Albanesi giving some props to Sam Raimi with his camerawork and editing. Finally there's a commentary track by Albanesi and Antonio Tentori, a screenwriter who was behind Fulci's Cat in the Brain (as well as Argento's upcoming Dracula 3D). The two mostly discuss the various influences and analyze the characters' actions ("He is like Dracula here", one says of Terzani's attempts to seduce Gigante), and compliment the actors and crew when appropriate. It's all very pleasant, but didn't give much insight (other than the fact that we're apparently supposed to wonder if parts of the movie were all a dream? I thought it was pretty cut and dry). One odd thing though - it's great that they provide subtitles for a commentary track (though you have to switch them on manually), but why don't the subs translate the titles they mention? I can tell what a few are ("Il Padrino" is The Godfather), but other times it's hard to understand the context of what they are discussing because they used an Italian title that will likely not mean anything to the English speaking viewer who is reading the subtitles.
Perhaps Albanesi had bigger ideas that he couldn't afford to pull off (the film is noticeably cheap looking, though his actual direction has improved since Last House - he's way less zoom-happy for starters), so I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. It's not a bad movie by any means, but I felt I had seen it all before, and the lax pacing didn't help. Still, it's great to see modern Italian horror films being made, and hopefully these will lead to bigger and better things down the road. Viva la Italian horror!
What say you?