2021 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Francesco Russo | directed by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli | 1 hr 35 mins | In Italian with English Subtitles |
A Classic Horror Story is a typical horror story. The group of young(ish) friends in an RV travel across the countryside only to find themselves lost in the wilderness and soon at the mercy of a mysterious and powerful pagan cult that picks them off one-by-one for sacrifice. In A Classic Horror Story, the group in the RV are strangers who hitch a ride across the Italian country side as part of a youtuber name Fabrizio’s (Francesco Russo) online travel show. During a night of drunken partying they crash into a tree and wake up in the middle of a field, unable to escape the woods surrounded by pagan artifacts. It sounds familiar and as the meta title suggests, that’s by design, but in this case Classic Horror Story doesn’t pay off as a self referential horror movie would, making it’s imitations come off more like laziness than an opportunity for genre commentary.
Our obvious-from-the-jump final girl here is Elisa (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) who is traveling to see her parents for the holidays. Lutz is again in a role with a lot to do and little to say, last seen in the blazing kinetic French thriller Revenge. Revenge is a solid comparison to this film because also hits some familiar beats of the horror (rape-revenge) film, but that movie spins away from them with energy, style and a habit of twisting the details in brutal new ways. Classic offers a twist you’ve seen, with only the distant dreams of being as clever and fun as something like The Cabin in the Woods. It is part The Wicker Man, part Wrong Turn and part the Wrong Turn remake with an approach to livening up the genre already covered very directly a decade ago in 2011’s Scream 4.
Exactly twice, this movie swerves into an idea that it could have spun off into something different and both times it is when it leans away from Hollywood and British horror tropes and into it’s Italian perspective. The movie seems to come out of filmmaker frustration that Italy hasn’t had it’s new wave horror renaissance. The British had one, the French certainly had one, Japan and South Korea had one, and Poland seems to be in the middle of one, but as wannabe filmmaker Fabrizio comments in the film, the Italians didn’t create their Jason or Freddy. Italian horror is spoken of in terms of Dario Argento or Fulci’s Zombi, instead of any contemporary auteurs.
While the script is weak the direction isn’t. Those technical merits push the film up beyond it’s silly mess of ideas. It, admittedly, looks great. The movie excels at that Speilbergian technique of lingering on a character’s shocked face before revealing what they are so shocked about. A few of those reveals here are effectively creepy and the film knows how to best use silence in the Wicker Man scenes. But to what end?
As 4th-wall breaking, self-referential stories go this thing wraps itself in knots in the final obnoxious moments. A Classic Horror Story is all over the road, wanting to be all things to all horror fans, none of it sincerely. After strongly suggesting something supernatural is going on here, where it ends up going is disappointingly down to Earth and leaves a lot of holes in the story. The film mounts something of a Trojan horse call to horror filmmaker action without the creativity to create that breakout Italian horror film itself.