Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Paganini Horror

Happy Halloween, folks. We come to the end of another glorious month of blood, gore, supernatural threats, silly plots, and fun. Early on in preparation for The Italian Horrorshow, I was focused on the big names and the big titles from Europe’s boot. But, it didn’t take long to regress to the mean. This site’s bread and butter is bad cinema, and the final film of the Horrorshow reflects that. Oh, boy, does it.

From writer/director Luigi Cozzi comes Paganini Horror, a story about a pop band that gets more than they bargained for when they use a previously unknown composition by famed violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini as the basis for their new song.

The film opens in Venice, where a young girl practices her violin, then kills her mother by dropping a hair dryer into the tub while her mother bathes. Something like this is not an uncommon way to open a horror flick, but it remains a head scratcher up to the final scene, as there is never a hint this introduction relates to the plot in any way. That’s a hint at the kind of storytelling a viewer is in for.

In the main plot, the band — singer Kate (Jasmine Maimone), guitarist Elena (Michel Klippstein), bassist Rita (Luana Ravegnini), and drummer Daniel (Pascal Persiano) — have been read the riot act by their manager, Lavinia (Maria Cristina Mastrangeli). Their new single stinks, and if they want to stay hot, they’d better come up with Paganini Horror movie postersomething quick. Daniel takes this threat to heart, and purchases the unknown Paganini sheet music from the mysterious Mr. Pickett (a poorly dubbed Donald Pleasence).

Music now in hand, the band hatches a scheme to hire a horror filmmaker, Mark (Pietro Genuardi), to shoot a music video in a house in Venice where Paganini supposedly sold his soul to the devil for riches and an eternity of fame. Look closely, and one will see it’s the same house from the intro sequence. The title of their new would-be hit is, of course, Paganini Horror.

During the first day of shooting things go awry. It’s implied, but never really shown, that playing the Paganini composition opens a gateway to hell or somesuch. What crawls through is Paganini himself, maybe, donning a mask and knifing his way through the gathered characters, one by one. That ensemble now includes Daria Nicolodi as Sylvia, the owner of the house. Nicolodi also received a writing credit, alongside Cozzi.

By the time the first person at the house meets their end, this flick has staked its claim as a shitty movie. The broad outlines of the plot make sense, I guess, but when it gets down to actual film storytelling, Cozzi and company seemed lost as to how to proceed. Sure, there are deaths, but maneuvering the characters into danger is pretty half-baked. In one instance, a character death required exposition to explain what had just happened to them. This particular character died a rather moldy death, and it’s explained that the type of mold which overwhelmed them was endemic to a special wood once used to make violins, just like the kind Paganini played when he was alive. We know this because another character saw it in a documentary once. What kind of shit storytelling is that? It’s the kind we like here at Shitty Movie Sundays, that’s what.

Despite this being set and shot in Venice, Paganini Horror is very much a cabin-in-the-woods flick, where a mysterious and unstoppable killer, with unknown motivations, cuts a swathe through an isolated cast. Sure, Venice is a bustling tourist hub, but there’s a magic barrier surrounding the house preventing anyone from leaving. It’s such an effective barrier that Cozzi didn’t feel the need to show his characters trying to use a telephone to call for help, or make any other effort to flee.

As the movie goes on, the need for exposition continues to grow. That’s not a good sign. Cozzi’s storytelling was so weak and nonsensical that the movie stops dead at regular intervals so the cast can explain to the audience what is happening. The cast wasn’t up to the task, either. The body language from all involved was more reminiscent of adolescents in a Halloween fun house than characters in a movie. That’s the kind of naturalism audiences don’t want.

There are many moments of hilarity and schadenfreude to be had in Paganini Horror, and a couple of nicely gooey deaths for us sickos to enjoy. I can’t say this film was mailed in, but it does seem as if everyone involved could have done better, had they been turned around and told to try again. Once this film starts to go wrong, it can’t be stopped. The problems pile on, one after another, until denouement when Donald Pleasence reappears for one last bit of exposition to tie up the plot and finally explain to the audience how the intro relates to the rest of the movie. Once we learn why these particular characters were chosen for their fates, it becomes clear that much more character development was needed, which means more exposition, since Cozzi would rather tell than show. It’s circular, like Hegel after too many glasses of grappa. What a mess this flick is. Paganini Horror slots into the Watchability Index at #260, displacing Inmate Zero. It’s a train wreck, and we all like watching train wrecks.

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