Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Italian Horror Movies

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Italian horror movies are most famous for their distinct visual style, surreal music and producing directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci. Thought to have originated with Eugenio Testa’s Il mostro di Frankenstein in 1920, Italy has produced horror classics such as SuspiriaBlack Sabbath, and Cannibal Holocaust. Here’s ten interesting facts you might not have known about Italian horror movies.

10. Italian horror has a long history.

Horror was being made in Italy before even the Universal Monsters on the scene. Although now renowned for it’s colorful visuals, Italian horror existed in black in white form as early as 1920.  Il mostro di Frankenstein (The Monster of Frankenstein) is considered a lost film, although promotional material and stills still exist. It was a silent film that supposedly faced heavy censorship with one version being cut to just 39 minutes.

9. Italy’s loose attitude to copyright has produced some bizarre horror rip-offs.

If you thought The Asylum were the first to try cashing on big budget blockbusters, by making low budget remakes and sequels of popular franchises, you’d be wrong. Due to the lack of copyright laws,the Italian horror movie industry decided to say “fuck it”. Bruno Mattei’s Terminator II is not in fact a Terminator movie, but a remake of Aliens. Hell of the Living Dead borrows music, costume and zombie effects from Dawn of the Dead. Allmovie described the film: “Dawn of the Dead spawned many an Italian-made ripoff but none of them were ever as awful or crazy as Bruno Mattei’s jaw-dropping Hell of the Living Dead.  [The film] is so incredibly, cluelessly bad that it makes perfect fare for cult-flick fans to use on their next ‘bad movie night”

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8. Quentin Tarantino’s films are full of Italian horror references.

He has cited Italian anthology film Black Sabbath as the main influence on Pulp Fiction’s anthology-esque structure. The theme for Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic, known as Seven Notes in Black appears in Kill Bill. The movie features several other Italian horror references including the blood tears which original featured in City of the Living Dead. 

7. Many Italian horror movies appeared on the UK’s infamous ‘Video Nasty’ list.

‘Video Nasty’ was an infamous period of Brittish horror film history, involving the banning of a list of 72 films. Many of the films contested were low-budget Italian movies. Antropophagous Beast made the list, and was infamous for it’s gore, including the cannibalism of a fetus (which was in reality a skinned rabbit). Zombi 2 was also placed on the Video Nasty list, with the British Parliament objecting tothe eye gouging, and zombie feast scenes.

6. As well as banning Italian films, the BBFC have studied their effect.

The House on the Edge of the Park was another controversial Italian title which starred David Hess (most notable for his role in The Last House on the Left). It was rejected for cinema certification in the UK by the BBFC, and was still considered so extreme in 2006 that it was used in a study of the effects of sexual violence in film. The ratings board commissioned research from the University of Wales, which aimed at “studying the ways audiences understand and respond to films that include scenes of sexual violence.” As well as The House on the Edge of the Park, the study looked at À Ma Soeur, Baise-Moi, Irreversible, and Ichi The Killer. 

5. Despite the controversy, ‘Zombi 2’ has an interesting legacy.

Although it was dubbed a ‘Video Nasty’ in the 1980s, footage from Zombi 2 was used in 2010 in a commercial for Windows 7. In the ad, a man explains that: “mowing down zombies is cool and all, I kind of want to know what they’re like — on the inside.”  Using Windows 7, he is able to simultaneously play his zombie game and stream a documentary on the creatures. The footage in the ‘documentary’ is lifted from the Italian film, and you can watch it here.

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4. Many big name actors have appeared in Italian horror.

 Dario Argento’s Phenomena (pictured above) is an interesting film starring Donald Pleasence alongside a chimp and Jennifer Connolly as a woman who can communicate insects.  Interestingly, the soundtrack for the movie featured Iron Maiden and Motörhead.

Rupert Everett starred in Cemetery Man an Italian horror-comedy centered on a cemetery caretaker who has to fend off the living dead. Even legendary horror icon Boris Karloff served as the narrator to Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath.

3. Italy’s most famous horror film was inspired by Disney.

Suspiria is considered Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece. One of the last movies to be filmed in tectechnicolor, Argento fought to have Suspiria filmed using this technique in order to emulate the vivid colours of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in real life. There are several references to the poison apple, and Jessica Harper was selected to play the lead role partly due to her resemblance to the Disney Princess.

2. Italy invented the Found Footage horror sub-genere.

Although Blair Witch Project often gets the credit, the controversial Cannibal Holocaust is in fact the first ‘found-footage’ horror movie. Released in 1980, the film focuses on the found tapes of a documentary crew who disappeared while filming in the Amazon jungle. Considering it’s the earliest example of the sub-genre, it must have succeeded in it’s goal of looking like recovered footage – since the crew were investigated to ensure none of the on screen deaths were real.

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1. Italian movies are still influencing horror today.

Set for release at the end of the month, Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is set to be a loving tribute to Italian horror movies of the past. The title is actually taken from the working title of Cannibal Holocaust and the look of the film draws heavily from the lush, vibrant, colorful world of Italian cannibal films. In an interview with Time Out, Roth explained he wanted to honor the traditions of these films, stating that it was a “kind of adventure where you take a camera and a machete and trek into the jungle and come out with a movie.”

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