AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.

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.