This review contains spoilers for A Classic Horror Story.
A Classic Horror Story opens with a classic horror setup. A group of mismatched strangers are brought together, dumped into unfamiliar surroundings, and forced to survive against malicious actors. For two-thirds of its runtime, Robert De Feo and Paolo Strippoli (both directed and co-wrote with Lucio Besama) deliver on this B-grade promise. However, the final third of the film collapses into an eye-rollingly stupid commentary on the state of Italian cinema. It’s one of the worst films I’ve seen in years.
The film is desperate to make you think about other, better horror films. This is accomplished through both having a filmmaking student explicitly state how similar an idea is to another film and by lifting things directly from other films. Here’s a sample exclamation: “We hit a tree a few metres off the road, then we wake up in front of Sam Raimi’s house.” At this point, you should be thinking about The Evil Dead, though I’ll forgive you for defaulting to Evil Dead 2.
It turns out this cabin in the woods – and you will later have to think about The Cabin in the Woods – is in fact haunted by malevolent forces. What the film lacks is the gleeful gore of the Raimi films, to say nothing of their humour. What we do get is a lot of squishy noises when ears are chopped off or eyes gouged.
In this way, you might start to think about Italian horror icon Lucio Fulci. One scene will make you think explicitly about Fulci, as a metal spike is cranked down into the eyes of one of our victims. What this lacks is both the tension and the payoff of the famous wood splinter from Zombi 2 (though I prefer Zombie Flesh Eaters). Of course, the scene also opens with the victim having his legs broken in a manner identical to Paul Sheldon in Misery.
By now you should also be thinking about Scream. This is, after all, a horror film that’s aware it’s a horror film. However, where Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson understood and exploited our familiarity with genre mechanics, De Feo and Strippoli are content only to incessantly talk about other films. There is critical potential in genre filmmaking, but this is entirely predicated on making a good (genre) film. A Classic Horror Story ignores this step.
What we get instead is a character, wearing a shirt that says “SPOILER!”, talking at the camera, decrying the state of the Italian film industry. We’re told cinemagoers only want to see crappy comedies and YouTuber movies (this character also evidently records a travel blog for Instagram). Spectators think horror films are “gross,” but will gleefully watch television news programmes about murder. Do you get it? If you’re having difficulty with this, might I suggest Videodrome or, perhaps, Benny’s Video.
The future of filmmaking? Well, here comes the twist. Turns out, the events of the film have been staged. The wannabe filmmaker is making snuff films financed by the mafia. These are then uploaded to Bloodflix, for all your viewing needs. That’s what the spectator wants, right? We’ve become so over-mediated that, were a severely battered woman to appear on a public beach, all we could think to do is point our camera phones at her. These final two paragraphs sum up what I take to be the thesis of the film. That gives it too much credit, but it does allow me to end on this: Teorema is an Italian film. This has nothing to do with A Classic Horror Story, but I’ll mention it while I have good films on the brain.