Alternative Titles: N/A
Director: Lorenzo Lepori / Roberto Albanesi
Writers: Roberto Albanesi, Lorenzo Lepori, Antonio Tentori
Year: 2016
Starring: Antonio Tentori, Pascal Persiano, Giovanni Pianigiani

A guy looking for an haircut finds himself trapped inside a strange barber shop. Waiting for its turn, he reads a comic book. The four stories he reads, will lead him inside a world of fear, sex and horror.

There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence for horror anthologies in recent years, although some of these segments appear to pre-date this having been filmed back to 2013, and so it comes as no surprise to see the Italians getting involved thanks to this effort from writer-directors Lorenzo Lepori and Roberto Albanesi. Although I believe Albanesi only directed the wrap around story leaving the segments themselves to Lepori.

Before we get started it is worth noting the key influences that help frame and contextualise the film. The obvious starting point are the main film and TV anthologies such as TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and the CREEPSHOW releases however Lepori adds an Italian twist to the proceedings as he calls upon his nations erotic horror comics, also known as fumetti, to help guide him stylistically and as a result what we get are more grotesque and sexually explicit tales of revenge, greed and infidelity.

Opening with Albanesi’s tale of a young, comical but likeable man searching for a haircut our hapless guy comes across a new barber where he takes his chances, and in the process picks up the comic Catacomba thus introducing us to four tales of horror.

The first of which is ‘Evil Tree’, featuring well known scriptwriter and film writer Antonio Tentori (DRACULA 3D; A CAT IN THE BRAIN; VIOLENT SHIT) once again in a role that twenty years ago would surely have been given to Giovanni Lombardo Radice.

Tentori plays a scriptwriter who has escaped the city to write a new story about the mysteries of the legendary tree that he is sat by, only to be rudely interrupted by two satanic biker chicks and it doesn’t take long for things to escalate into lustful embraces, blow jobs and unfortunately for poor Antonio – violence, as the women seek to summon Satan and are prepared to do anything and anyone it takes in order to make it happen. Even if the love would not be reciprocated past the physical.

Evil Tree provides a strong start to the proceedings thanks to the work of Fx artists Davide Bracci (SLEEPLESS; MORTHER OF TEARS; VIOLENT SHIT) and the legendary Sergio Stivaletti (THE CHURCH; DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE; SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED) as well as a driving narrative that never lets up.

This narrative is further enhanced thanks to the powerful audio/visual combination that compensates for an unsurprisingly thin plot in this brief but highly entertaining and violent story of vengeance.

‘Alien Lover’ follows and the name more than implies what to expect. Once again the driving force behind the story is conventional in tone, this time infidelity but the methods employed are somewhat less traditional thanks to the combination of eroticism and science fiction. Showing its low budget roots at points ‘Alien Lover’ centres on a married woman and her husband who has recently discovered that she is having an affair. Humiliated and angry he and his friends concoct a plot to teach his wife a lesson, but unbeknownst to them the lover is not your usual guy, in fact it’s an alien-man hybrid who enjoys stabbing people.

Despite starting like a low budget sci-fi slasher, Lepori shifts the tone quite quickly into that of a dysfunctional relationship touching on adultery and jealousy and thereby reducing the opening to a sub-plot and this works well for the short run time. Despite the terribly cheap looking alien everything else works in this segment thanks to strong acting from our lead characters, a relatively decent script and some strong violent Fx.

Now while I thoroughly enjoyed the first two segments, it is the third, ‘Una Messa Nera per Paganini’ that really stands. Interestingly Tentori also worked on this script and so it may not be a stretch to presume that it is his experience of writing feature length films that helped formulate the cohesive and well-paced story arc. This is the only segment that feels that it is ready made to be expanded into a feature length of its own. Yes I know Cozzi already had a similar starting point with PAGANINI HORROR back in 1989, which coincidently starred Pascal Persiano (DEMONS 2) who also pops up here.

We learn that a collector has recently obtained several unpublished scores by the revered composer Paganini and after a recent performance he offers to display some of his collection to an upcoming star violinist. Upon seeing the collection, the young violinist notes that these unearthed scores seem to have been written on modern paper. Quickly hurried along and away from the collection the story then takes a darker turn incorporating lust and greed before a heavy handed twist is thrown in.

However Lepori is not done and still manages to shock us thanks to strong pacing, a great ending and a terrific but brief performance by Alessandro Mollo in his first feature length. Not to forget the terrific location chosen for the filming displaying both opulence and history and allowing the viewer to buy into this constructed reality.

Inspired by gothic cinema and THE TORTURE GARDEN by Freddie Francis amongst others, Lepori perfectly imbues the feel of late Italian horror into this piece that is worth the price of admission alone for any modern Italian horror fan.

The final segment is ‘La Maschera della Morte Rossa” which unfortunately was the least engaging of all four due to the dramatic shift in tone and style from the previous entries. Riffing off Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death by way of Spanish directors Franco and Larraz, ‘La Maschera…’ is the most challenging and adventurous of all the pieces but sadly is let down by some of the brave artistic decisions taken. Although, some of these decisions did manage to work beautifully with one scene almost reminiscent of David Lynch and Twin Peaks but unfortunately this moment is only fleeting unlike some of the prolonged erotic scenes that felt like they added little of value to the film or its message.

Opening with the depiction of a broken down relationship and an almost assisted suicide we are led quickly to a bizarre ritual being performed on the corpse. Seduction, necrophilia and resurrection follow along to a pulsating electronic soundtrack that keeps us engaged until Lepori really lets go in a scene of graphic violence. No doubt taking influence from Italian contemporaries Lucio Massa and Luigi Pastore, this segment will no doubt have an audience but sadly in the context of this anthology it felt out of place.

Our final story over, we return to the hairdressers and our hapless comic book reader soon discovers that the cost of his cut is a lot higher than he had expected. That said his return to his reality would not have been much better.

Overall Catacomba provides trashy, low budget b-movie fun that was clearly a labour of love from all involved. Benefitting from the fumetti style, Lepori and co. do not shy away from the eroticism and gore when needed helping give this film that all important Italian feel.

One thing that does stand out about this collection is its diversity and this is something to celebrate. Normally this is to be expected when each segment comes from a different director (V/H/S; The ABC’s of Death) but when it is from the same creative minds there is something admirable in the attempts to explore, to experiment and towards the viewer, to entertain. In this respect Lepori is definitely one to keep an eye on and Catacomba one to pick up.

Version Reviewed:

I watched a 2016 digital screener of the film with the only issues being a few minor errors with the English language subtitles. However this is minor and may be fixed in the final version but regardless had little impact on the overall enjoyment of the film. The retail release is accompanied with the actual (physical) comic containing all of the stories.

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