You probably can’t tell from the films I tend to write about, but I love Italian horror. They just get me. But I tend not to write about these things. First of all, I prefer watching them subtitled in Italian (which makes note-keeping a bit trickier), and sometimes – just sometimes – I like watching movies for my own enjoyment.
I made an excuse for Paganini Horror, as my copy from 88 Films had sat on my shelf unwatched a few weeks too many.
This was a complete blind buy. I had never seen this 1989 film before but it had all the right ingredients: Venice, Daria Nicolodi, fictional bands, Donald Pleasence and Luigi Cozi. Plus the slipcase promised this would be my new favourite bad movie. What isn’t inciting about that?
And for one, this actually lived up to all my expectations and more!
Singer Kate is a bit washed up, and her manager isn’t happy with it. Kate continues to churn out uninspired music. But her drummer, Daniel, gets an idea and makes a trade with the mysterious Mr Pickett.
In exchange for money, Daniel is given a sealed, unpublished work by the Italian composer Niccolò Paganini. It was apparently written for some sect after selling his soul to the Devil (very Faustian of him).
Kate immediately takes to the music and agrees to use it. She’s inspired to create a “Thriller”-style music video and call the song (surprise!) “Paganini Horror”. The score sounds exactly like ELO’s “Twlight”, but I guess we’ll keep quiet about that (sorry, Jeff). Paganini was clearly well ahead of his time.
The band go to an old house in Venice to create the music video. They’ve got a larger budget than Bonnie Tyler for white cloths and a whole lot of mannequins. While the video seems to be going well, it doesn’t take long for things to start going south.
There are strange going-ons in the Venetian home. The group find a room full of strange light and noise that terrorises them. Band members and crew start getting killed off by the ghost of Paganini, dressed in a skull mask.
Though, this isn’t some typical slasher affair. The deaths are creative (even if they are off screen): death by violin mould, being incinerated next to an hourglass, electrocuted by invisible barrier.
When we spiral into explanation-territory, the story begins to become a bit of a head-scratcher. Kate discovers true secret to defeating Paganini: playing his piece backward. Why? Well, something about music being the key to the universe (I think).
Paganini Horror is an ambitious horror movie, quite clearly hindered by time and budget. It certain gets convoluted, but it’s worth it for the excellent Italian cheese.
Cozi apparently wasn’t happy with the film’s outcome, and if you read about the original story, it’s quite clear why. Paganini Horror may well be a part of the “horror movies that never were”, joining the ranks of Book of Shadows and Deadly Friend. We’ll never know what the film would have been like if producers allowed his original vision, but I certainly think what we did get is memorable and entertaining.
For me, Paganini Horror will certainly go down in the books as a classic. Maybe not for the reasons it wanted to be, but that’s fine, right? If you can parallel the mastery of Pod People, I really think you’re doing something right.
Definitely not down as a classic (like say, Halloween) and definitely a “what might have been” flick, but it has, as you say, all the right ingredients. I love that Donald P. was game for anything. I rented so many films because of him. And Cozzi. I’ll never pass a Cozzi flick. This from a guy who loves Starcrash–talk about your (non) classics!