(Italy - 1989)
Directed by Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi). Written by Luigi Cozzi and Daria Nicolodi. Cast: Daria Nicolodi, Jasmine Main (Jasmine Maimone), Pascal Persiano, Donald Pleasence, Maria Cristina Mastrangeli, Michele Klippstein, Pietro Genuardi, Luana Ravagnini, Roberto Giannini, Giada Cozzi, Elena Pompei, Perla Agostini. (Unrated, 83 mins)
In the tradition of SHOCKING DARK, ROBOWAR, NIGHT KILLER, and KILLER CROCODILE, films that only seemed to exist in the pages of the Midnight Video bootleg VHS catalog back in the day, Severin unveils another never-released-in-the-US, late-period Italian horror obscurity in an impressive Blu-ray presentation, because physical media is dead. This time, it's Luigi Cozzi's ludicrous PAGANINI HORROR, a film that serves as a virtual case study for why--with the exception of Dario Argento and his protege Michele Soavi--Italian horror was on life support by 1989. Using his trusty pseudonym "Lewis Coates" as if we couldn't tell an Italian genre flick when we saw one, Cozzi, best known for the 1979 STAR WARS ripoff STARCRASH, the gut-busting 1980 ALIEN knockoff CONTAMINATION, and Cannon's 1983 CONAN-inspired HERCULES with Lou Ferrigno, had been planning a departure project in the form of a biopic of legendary Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini as far back as 1984, with the intention of nabbing GREYSTOKE star Christopher Lambert for the lead. As explained by Cozzi in the Blu-ray's bonus features, the serious Paganini film fell apart in pre-production, prompting the director to abandon his artistic ambitions and return to his genre comfort zone, reconvening with Ferrigno for the 1985 sequel THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES.
THE PSYCHIC). Additionally, there's a certain garish style that makes it an interesting companion piece to Cozzi's next film, THE BLACK CAT, which was shot immediately after PAGANINI HORROR, shares co-star Maimone, and also involves evil goings-on in the entertainment industry. Shot as DE PROFUNDIS but retitled to cash in on the ill-fated Poesploitation craze of 1989-91, THE BLACK CAT was written by Cozzi and Nicolodi and intended to be an unofficial final entry in Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy (following SUSPIRIA and INFERNO), but Nicolodi left the project over the usual "artistic differences" and took her name off the finished film (Argento would eventually complete the trilogy in an official capacity with 2007's MOTHER OF TEARS, which really isn't any better or worse than Cozzi's fake Three Mothers opus). With PAGANINI HORROR, Cozzi takes some of the cosmic bullshit he would use in THE BLACK CAT for a third-act, deus ex machina test spin, with Nicolodi's Sylvia babbling about "the harmony of the spheres," and "enormous radio telescopes," and "the stars making music," and other assorted batshittery that sounds more at home in a Marianne Williamson campaign speech. It makes as much sense as anything else in PAGANINI HORROR, whether it's Cozzi's recurring shout-outs to Argento (Lavinia crawling through a blue-lit, PHENOMENA-inspired tunnel or someone else finding a room with an illuminated hourglass that bathes the whole thing in a SUSPIRIA red glow), the endless, time-killing shots of people walking around, Elena being found covered in a strange mold that Lavinia recognizes as the same kind of unique fungus used in violin construction in the 18th century, and Pleasence standing on top of St. Mark's Campanile in Venice, throwing wads of US cash out of a bag and yelling "Fly away, little demons!" Obviously enticed by a free trip to Venice, Pleasence only has a few scenes and was paid $20,000 for three days' work on the film (was that his own money in the bag?), and at least one of those days had to be devoted to the extended gondola ride his character enjoys, if the actor's goofy grin is any indication.
"Someone Like You") and represented the last narrative work of Cozzi's career until his little-seen 2016 mockumentary BLOOD ON MELIES' MOON. For the nearly 30 years in between, the now-72-year-old Cozzi directed a couple of documentaries about Dario Argento, has stayed busy managing the Italian horror memorabilia store and museum Profondo Rosso in Rome, and regularly appears at fan conventions.