(1989, Dir. Luigi Cozzi)
Why did no one tell me Paganini Horror was so much fun?
It’s probably because not many people have actually seen it. A film better known for its Enzo Sciotti poster, this fabulous nonsense is a must-see for fans of late 80s Italian schlock like Ghosthouse and Witchery.
Luigi Cozzi is, at best, an unreliable director. He’s made some good films, like the nasty giallo The Killer Must Kill Again, and some fun trash like Starcrash, but he never managed to make a truly great film. Paganini Horror was made the same year as Cozzi’s embarrassing pseudo-sequel to Suspiria, The Black Cat, making 1989 an unusually fruitful year for dear old Luigi.
Luckily, Paganini Horror is one of his most entertaining films. In fact, right up until the last act, when things finally fall apart, I was having an absolute ball.
After a silly opening bathtub electrocution, we get to the meat of the story, and when I say story, I mean ‘ridiculous series of events.’ There’s a rock ’n’ roll girl group recording their latest hit song, and fuck me if it isn’t Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name with different lyrics. Already, I’m in love.
Their manager Lavinia chews them out, saying the song is terrible and that ‘there’s nothing original about it.’ No shit, Lavinia! I have Richie Sambora’s lawyer on the phone right now, and he’s not happy. The band, led by Kate (one of the kids in the movie screening in Demons) need a hit, and so contact a shady businessman played by a slumming-it Donald Pleasance, who crouches on the ground like a troll for the duration of his first (and damn-near only!) scene.
Donald sells them an unpublished piece of music by real-life Italian violinist and classical composer Nicolo Paganini, reputed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his talent. Oddly, everyone seems to know about this secret piece of music used in satanic rituals, but that’s by-the-by in this film. Nothing makes sense, nor does it have to. Because we’re about to reach the greatest moment in Italian horror film history.
No, no, not the sexy-spandex-dancing-devil, that comes later. I’m talking about when we first hear the extraordinary, beautiful Satanic music. The music played during virgin sacrifices, music so occult and fantastical it had to be hidden from human ears for centuries. The band gather around the piano to listen, their faces in rapt wonderment at the otherworldly music emanating from the keys. It’s strange…it’s magical… It’s Twilight, by the Electric Light Orchestra.
I’m not kidding. Did Jeff Lynne sell his soul to the devil? Paganini Horror says YES! It’s wonderful. Twilight has always been one of my favourite songs by one of my very favourite bands, so hearing it in this context was the most extraordinary gift I could receive. It’s the sort of moment that can make a film for me, and from this point I was in all the way.
Kate and the band decide to film a video for the song, which they call — wait for it — Paganini Horror. ‘No one has ever done anything remotely like this before, except for Michael Jackson and Thriller, and his fantastic video clip,’ exclaims a breathless Kate, her enthusiasm matched only by my own. And so they rent a mansion from Daria Nicolodi, which should set alarm bells ringing for fans of Euro horror.
Daria was, of course, married to Dario Argento, starring in several of his films and co-writing Suspiria (uncredited). She’s having a lot of fun here, as are most of the game cast. It’s brilliant, and then we get the music video. So what has Kate done with the Paganini song? Well, she’s turned it into a synth-pop number, or, in other words, turned it back into ELO’s Twilight. Oh sure, the lyrics are different, but it’s ELO alright. Cozzi films the video like an homage to Argento and Mario Bava, with neon lighting and mannequins and women being stabbed repeatedly in the heart.
Inevitably, the video opens a gateway to hell, and the crazy supernatural shenanigans begin in earnest. Cozzi keeps the momentum going for a while, with the band being knocked off by such novel methods as killer fungus (which Lavinia recognises as 18th Century moss from a tv documentary she saw!) and a violin with a concealed blade.
Things peter out a bit by the end, but so what? Haven’t you had enough entertainment, you greedy people? Look, it’s never gonna be held up as a great example of Euro-horror, but if you’re looking for a good time, this is one to seek out. It reminded me at times of a goofball version of Michele Soavi’s deadly serious masterpiece The Church. Once a very difficult to find film, my favourite genre label 88 Films have announced this one for a Blu-ray release in September, and I for one will be snapping it up.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018 to critical acclaim. Up next is Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle has just recently been released.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
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