NOTTE NUDA (2018) BY LORENZO LEPORI

Reviews

AKA: Nude Night
Director: Lorenzo Lepori
Writers: Lorenzo Lepori, Antonio Tentori
Year: 2018
Starring: Pascal Persiano, Henrj Bartolini, Yana Proshkina, Concetta Pagliarella, Simona Vannelli, Antonio Tentori

Synopsis:
Things spiral out of control for old friends Paolo and Andrea when they find themselves in the woods and in possession of a girls body. But are they alone?

Review:
Benefitting from an uneasy atmosphere, the very start of NOTTE NUDA places the viewer  on edge as it successfully builds tension. This feeling is formed from a fairly mundane and straight forward sequence in which a man slopes off from his marital bed, leaving his buxom wife, to go collect firewood from the nearby forest.

However the audio-visual choices chosen by director Lorenzo Lepori tell us that something is not quite right and when a heavily decomposed body is discovered by our male actor things begin to take horrific shape.

Hinting at erotic horror, think in the vein of Jess Franco, but delivering perhaps more in the way of a creature feature, the strong opening eight minutes of NOTTE NUDA encompass multiple influences that tease us with which direction things will go but also leave us wondering how they will be blended together.

Due to this it is perhaps more curious as to why NOTTE NUDA then decides to take an unexpected turn by seemingly moving away from what has been established and becoming almost a dark drama of sorts with the introduction of lead character Paolo (Pascal Persiano – DEMONS 2; PAGANINI HORROR; THE SWEET HOUSE OF HORROS; VOICES FROM BEYOND; CATACOMBA), a man missing his wife and in the midst of a downward spiral.  

Alone, run-down and presumably lonely it is hardly a shock that when Paolo heads out of town to meet up with his old friend Andrea (Henrj Bartolini – CATACOMBA) and his latest girlfriend Milena that it takes just one night of booze and drugs before all three of them end up in bed together.

Through these sequences NOTTE NUDA instills both character background and wider context but due to the length of time spent on this and the subsequent partying scenes the momentum does seem to drop and the film loses its focus somewhat. But thankfully with the (direct) introduction of a few more of the bar patrons the story is driven forwards giving us action, drama and what I would term dark humour before returning to horror territory which concludes a neatly worked if light story.

NOTTE NUDA is a commendable effort but one that ultimately attempts to fit in too much which proves more frustrating for the viewer hoping for more exploration of scenes as opposed to anything poorly executed.  That said I did like how the main tale of Pascal was concluded but I believe that Lepori and Tentori should have found the film in the development of the aftermath of Paolo and Andrea’s night out. To me, this is the films real strength due to the strong performances and chemistry between Persiano and Bartolini. Of special note is the lead actor Pascal Persiano who shows his experience at playing this type of character several times before.

Through its mixture of cheese, nudity and violence NOTTE NUDA will have moments that appeal to fans of 80s Italian horror, European erotic horror as well as Italian fumetti and will do enough to appease fans of all three, even if areas such as the Franco-esque eroticism appear if ever so slightly underplayed.

I say this last bit simply because although it technically fulfils its purpose in relation to the story as is presented in the final film, some of the shots used I found quite captivating and I wished that there was an alternative film that focused on this. The irony is that had this been a segment in something like Lepori’s previous release, the anthology CATACOMBA, that the restrictions and compromise forced on the director through shorter time limits would probably have seen this avenue separated and pursued a little more.

On a final note, the two feature length releases of Lorenzo Lepori are peppered with genuine talent and if the writer/director can continue along this path I can see a modern cult classic coming in the not too distant future.

NOTTE NUDA will be released this December on DVD. Check the usual places and follow the film on Facebook.

CATACOMBA (2016) BY LORENZO LEPORI

Reviews

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

Synopsis:
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.

Review:
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.