UNDERCOVER MISTRESS (2016) BY GIULIO CIANCAMERLA

Reviews

Director: Giulio Ciancamerla
Writers: Giulio Ciancamerla, Lucio Massa
Year: 2016
Starring: Stefania Visconti, Leonardo Pace, Asia Liguori

This review first appeared on my older website Cosi Perversa.

Synopsis:
During a photo show, a man enjoys scaring a girl until she decides to leave the exhibition. The man runs after her along increasingly dark and isolated streets. A man and a woman? Which one is the dominant genre?

Review:
This short film opens in a contemporary art gallery with a handsome man catching a woman’s eye, if only for a second. Shy and retiring she is clearly too nervous to do anything but steal frequent glances. However she has also caught the eye of another, a sexual predator, who carries a look of disgust and lust over his face and the pursuit of only one action on his mind.

The performances of our two leads, Leonardo Pace and the Cinecittà graduate & transgender model Stefania Visconti, are terrific. Working without dialogue both are still able to convey the required complex emotions required allowing the viewer to innately understand their thought processes. The ability of both helps provide an added level of believability to the films set up.

Now with director Giulio Ciancamerla having established these, sadly prevalent, social norms he immediately sets about subverting the role of gender as a discordant soundtrack emphasises both the sadistic and non-conventional approach the film takes to tacking its subject matter. It is this ‘torture’ sequence that is vaguely reminiscent of the way a couple of giallo masters would frame their sexual transgressions as the activity builds up to a disturbing climax that undoubtedly will elicit a reaction from the viewer.

At the most simplest, base level this is an empowered and violent role reversal of the sexes but Ciancamerla imbues the film with much more complexity for those willing to delve further down the rabbit hole, beyond the preliminary visual layer as he strips away the social concept of gender roles and masculinity in particular as our male (Leonardo Pace) is emasculated rather than dominant.

What we are left with is the realisation that our identities are a performance piece, sometimes for the admiration of others and sometimes for our own gratification at the expense of others. To paraphrase British playwright Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts” and this is never truer in UNDERCOVER MISTRESS where our projected self may in fact be very different and our capabilities exceed that of even what we expect when pushed.

According to the press release the idea behind Undercover Mistress is a contamination of “gender studies” with “erotic…psychological horror” and as such tackles subjects such as sexual identity, harassment and roles. 

It is a challenging movie that no doubt will alienate many but for a few, it will raise societal questions and realisations as ugly as the violent acts it depicts. The fact that UNDERCOVER MISTRESS will appeal just as much to the arthouse liberal as the horror fan provides verification that the film has succeeded in its objectives perhaps even lending creedence to the subjects it tackles.

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Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the 13-minute short film which was at the time was winning several awards on the festival circuit. The film is nicely shot with clean, modern visuals and clear sound.

VAMP STALKER (2017) BY EROS BOSI

Reviews

Director: Erosi Bosi
Writer: Eros Bosi
Year: 2017
Starring: Eros Bosi, Serena Meloni, Giovanni Tasca, Maurizio Bolli

VAMP STALKER is the latest short film from upcoming Italian writer-director Eros Bosi and continues in the same vein as his previous horror-comedy EVIL SELFIE.

Opening with a young woman, Serena Meloni, going to watch a horror film at a local cinema, it doesn’t take long after sitting down for her to notice a pale-faced guy, played by writer/director Eros Bosi, beginning to watch her rather than the film. Turning to face her admirer she notices not his looks but his sharp fangs and that is enough to cause her to quickly leave.

Panicked she soon realises that she did not leave alone as our young Dracula gives chase but every time it looks as if he is about to catch his prey she manages to avoid his grasp, building the tension until a delightful twist turns what could have been a linear two-dimensional horror into a comedy in the same vein as the the terrific WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS.

This tonal shift and payoff works well thanks to the build-up being played straight, and in doing so allowing the resulting vampiric love triangle to act as a catalyst for the remaining hilarious action. On the subject of comedy this is a genre that often struggles to cross cultural borders but here the comedic dialogue comes across as intentioned thanks to being based in horror lore as opposed to some geographical understanding.

Furthermore this short film also utilises much physical comedy which is borderline splatterstick thanks to action such as an offending finger getting bitten off, an eye getting gouged out and, well, I don’t want to say what is done with a snooker ball. Although where VAMP STALKER does fall down is in regards to the brief physical confrontations which come across as too restrained and fake with the ultimate result being that it takes the viewer out of the whole experience. The humorous violence being unrealistic is one thing, that is all part of the low budget package that we know and love but sadly that does not extend to hand-to-hand combat.

This however is only a minor and brief issue and all is quickly forgotten thanks to the films charm, which is no doubt enhanced thanks to the love of the genre from Eros Bosi, who goes as far as to reference contemporary Italian horrors E.N.D by Domiziano Cristopharo (via a poster) and NON NUOTATE IN QUEL FIUME by Roberto Albanesi (playing in the cinema) within the brief ten minute run time.

Employing a nice level of genre self-awareness and plenty of humour, for what VAMP STALKER lacks in budget it more than makes up for in fun, similar to those VHS amateur pioneers back in the early eighties. The horror-comedy genre is a notoriously hard one to get right and it would be interesting to see if the young writer/director can make that step up when the time comes to make his first feature film as he manages to get the balance spot on here.

Version reviewed:
I watched an Italian language online screener of the film.

NYCTOPHOBIA (2017) BY FRANCESCO LONGO

Reviews

Director: Francesco Longo
Writers: Francesco Longo, Paolo Mercandante
Year: 2017
Starring: Roberto Ramon, Michael Segal, Roberto D’Antona

Synopsis:
When the darkness comes at night a man is tormented by visions of the past but are they only visions or something more?

Review:
The third in a trilogy of short films looking at phobias (with SKIZOPHRENIA, 2014, and CLAUSTROPHOBIA, 2015, coming before) from upcoming director Francesco Longo, NYCTOPHOBIA unsurprisingly focuses in on the fear of darkness and wastes no time with preamble, immediately introducing us to our main character, the man, as he returns home and gets ready to go to sleep. While attempting to doze off the film INSANE plays, a nice nod not only to co-star Roberto D’Antona but also perhaps indicative of our man’s mental state and with it perhaps an analogy of what is about to occur – namely a psychological journey in which the darkness may or not be playing tricks.

One of the strengths here is that the setup is surprisingly very normal and grounded in reality, from the mysterious, unspecified creaking in the dark to the lying silently in bed trying to pin down the logical cause of the noise, helping make the situation more relatable and safe to us…that is until Longo introduces a few supernatural flourishes and things start to get a little creepy.

A menacing tone starts to pervade throughout the film, suddenly we are unsure as to what is real or imagined as things start to go south for our man and surreal for us pretty quickly. It is worth noting here in the realisation or rather visualisation of events that things do come across a little like I imagine they would in the mind of Rob Zombie from the crazy blonde chick to the interpretation of the devil and from this it has to be noted that the success of this film on a personal level may depend on your own stylistic preference for this type of horror. Although for my British readers imagine the writers of PSYCHOVILLE and INSIDE NO.9 playing it a little straighter and that would give some indication of what to expect.

In short NYCTOPHOBIA is a decent watch that will entertain and one that ultimately achieves what it sets out to. It is not a mindless dull literal translation of the concept of a ‘scary dark’ à la recent Hollywood hogwash horror but rather a more thoughtful, internalised and dare I say European approach as to the true horrors brought about by the impenetrable mysterious darkness, one’s own mind…and perhaps some supernatural forces too.

Throughout the films brief run time Longo manages to expertly craft a decent amount of tension within a short amount of time thanks to an intelligent use of audio and strong pacing (aided by the editing choices) although perhaps the narrative itself is a little too obvious for the seasoned horror fan with the turn being seen from a mile away nonetheless this minor gripe does not detract to much from the film.

Oh and check out what time the lead character wakes up. Amityville or Italy – evil is the same everywhere (and disregards time zones).

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Version Reviewed:

I watched an online screener of the film.

MORGUE STREET (2012) BY ALBERTO VIAVATTENE

Reviews

Director: Alberto Viavattene
Writers: Emiliano Ranzani, Alberto Viavattene
Year: 2012
Starring: Mario Cellini, Dèsirè Giorgetti, Roberto Nali

Synopsis:
Two prostitutes, mother and daughter, struggle against a mysterious creature who breaks into their house after their john has left.

Review:
After that brief synopsis there really is very little one can add in regards to the story or narrative without giving anything away about this eleven minute film.  Although the film poster and inspiration might hint at it.

Director Alberto Viavattene reinterprets the general theme of the famous story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’  by Edgar Allan Poe but does so with not only a contemporary kick but also added malice and artistic licence.

No doubt with his hand forced by the short running time Viavattene wastes no time in showing the degenerate filth of modern society and the cinematography perfectly captures this mood with its dark shades and grimy tones bathed in neon red light. However this haste to get to the point may also be a hindrance for many viewers as the brutal events that unfold do so almost without any recognisable context meaning that there is a high probability that MORGUE STREET will be taken at face value as a superficial rape horror, one that will be judged on one base sequence that comes to not only dominate but perhaps define it.

This is a shame because on subsequent watches and analysis MORGUE STREET is much more than this and is in fact a competent (technical) piece of work, particularly its opening act. Sure it completely eschews the traditional mystery element (something that is extremely tricky to replicate in a short film format) and perhaps rather than being seen as an adaption of Poe’s classic it should be taken as a harsh look at the reality of our animal instinct as well as addiction. One in which there very often is no redemption for those who are it’s victims.

Viavattene clearly has talent (which is unsurprising considering he has worked with Paolo Sorrentino and Dario Argento) and is certainly a director to look out for should he ever get his  big break into feature films and although MORGUE STREET no doubt made a good calling card for him it is perhaps the most unconventional, anti-commercial show reel for the cast – all of which put in strong performances, English speaking aside.

Undoubtedly this is a short film that will divide, even for myself on the initial watch I was impressed with the technical abilities but left wondering if certain scenes had to be shown the way they were. However the film stayed with me, there is more going on underneath the surface and one has to give the director the benefit of the doubt.

A grim and stark take on an aspect of modern humanity framed around a brutal and bizarre adaption of a Poe penned story. You can make up your own mind and watch the film here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched a free to watch version hosted by the director on Vimeo. This short film is also accessible via the FilmDoo streaming platform and rather surprisingly it looks fantastic not just for a short film but one that is streamed online. It has English audio.

EVIL SELFIE (2016) BY EROS BOSI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: N/A
Director: Eros Bosi with support by Luca Alessandro
Writer: Eros Bosi
Year: 2016
Starring: Gene Gnocchi, Chiara Palombi, Eros Bosi, Diletta Vedovelli

Synopsis:
Isabella is a young girl who lives in a small town. Through a strange series of events, caused by a broken mirror, she meets Fabiano and Mara, mad like her for “selfies”. But all new encounters hide something, and sometimes a mobile phone can show the truth…

Review:
EVIL SELFIE is the debut short film for upcoming Italian rookie Eros Bosi who was mentored during this process by the more experienced Luca Alessandro (E.N.D THE MOVIE; THE PYRAMID). It begins with the lovely Isabella (Chiara Palombi) doing what many of her peers do constantly, that’s right take a selfie. However when the mirror in front of her breaks she knows she is due some bad luck. Isabella’s a smart cookie however and looks up ways to break this curse or so she thought.

Seven days later (almost like THE RING here) while out finishing the steps to ensure no misfortune befalls her she collapses and dies. Her father obviously worried when she doesn’t return home begins to search for her only to find a bloody piece of mirror and visions of his dead daughter. This opening act certainly has a bit of the J-Horror genre about it and is played pretty straight but once established it allows Alessandro and Bosi  to develop the story into new territory and inject a sly sense of humour to the proceedings.

A little while later, an amorous couple (Bosi appearing in front of the camera alongside Diletta Vedovelli – both of whom put in good performances) pull into the field looking for a bit of alone time but before the guy is allowed to have his way his girlfriend insists on a selfie but her pictures end up  showing more than just our couple.

Although EVIL SELFIE is slightly lacking in the effective scares department it more than compensates for this through its humour and take on contemporary society with the concept almost (but certainly the trailer) channelling Carpenter’s THEY LIVE  but almost ironically despite the almost blind compulsion of using it the only thing that can save you is your phone…although then it might just be your girlfriend that kills you!

EVIL SELFIE is a fun watch thanks to a decent story that has the potential to be expanded into a much more serious piece of work or even go the other way into a parody of modern culture and even the J-Horror genre films (THE RING, SHUTTER etc.) which are not a million miles away.

Furthermore the entire crew do themselves justice with competent direction and strong editing underpinning some decent performances from a largely inexperienced cast. Eros Bosi is certainly one for horror fans to keep an eye on and if he continues to learn from the likes of Alessandro then we look forward to him appearing both behind and in front of another camera soon.

Finally of note the short film features Gene Gnocchi in a cameo role, and although not familiar to audiences outside of Italy, they may recognise him from roles in several TV series as well as a handful of feature films.

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