My friend, Roberta, teaches Italian film, so when she says I need to have more Italian films on my long Halloween slog, I'm inclined to listen to her. Her recommendations were Dellamorte Dellamore (which I've seen several times, including the uncut version she recommended) and Shadow (2009, directed by Federico Zampaglione), of which, I knew nothing. Fortunately, it's on Netflix so into the queue it went. It's been a while since Italy produced any important horror films--the golden age of Italian genre film ended when the government decided to quit funding "entertainments" in favor of more highbrow fare--so I was curious to see what a contemporary horror movie from Italy looks like.
The story here follows David, an American Iraq War veteran, who is biking in the Italian Alps where he encounters a pair of redneck Brits on a hunting trip. He also encounters a woman, Angeline, who the hunters are harassing. David intervenes and incurs their ire. Later, out on the trail, David manages to lose his tent as a storm comes up, only to encounter Angeline again. She offers him shelter in her tent and they hit it off. The two of them encounter the hunters again the next day, and Angeline spoils their shot at a buck. Enraged, the hunters begin to hunt David and Angeline instead. All of them wind up in territory beneath a mountain called The Shadow, which has awful legends attached to it, legends that turn out to be justified, as David and the hunters encounter something far worse than angry rednecks...
This film is a shape shifter. It starts off like a rural massacre movie, in which city folk are tormented by degenerate hicks. This particular film seems a bit like a combination of Deliverance and Straw Dogs, with a bit of Rambo thrown in for good measure. Its second act morphs into a torture porn pastiche, with its medical tables and inventive ways of causing pain--one character, for instance, is grilled on the table by electric burners beneath it, providing the film with one of its ghastliest images a bit later on. This part of the film is very European, in line with films like Martyrs and (particularly) Creep. The last part of the film twists again, turning it into a geopolitical bad dream.
Throughout its various transformations, though, it never seems Italian, if you get my drift. The fact that it's in English--not dubbed, either--is part of that. The grotty visual aesthetic, both in its lost in the woods section and in its more traditionally Gothic torture chamber are of a piece with most other contemporary European horror films, especially British horror. It lacks the cool style of the giallo or the Gothic excrescences of Bava or Freda. It lacks the instinct for the jugular of Fulci or Deodato, too, though its gore scenes are nasty enough, I suppose. I'm not the gore hound I once was, so that's not an absence that bothers me. Still, what's here should hurt more than it does. It's a testament to this film's indifference to its violence that a scene in which a dog meets a grisly end makes no real impression.
This is a film that draws in broad strokes. The two hunters are pegged as dangerous redneck yahoos the first instant they're on screen, and the film isn't subtle with them. Our two romantic leads aren't much deeper. We don't know David's last name, for instance, and his only distinguishing character traits--that he's an ex-soldier and that he's biking in the Alps--are provided by the text of the movie in a voice-over at the beginning rather than from performance or interaction with other characters. Angeline is designated as the romantic interest by virtue of the fact that she's the only woman in the film. We know nothing else about her, other than the fact that she's kind to animals. There's a justification for all of this at the end of the movie, true, but it makes the act of watching the film to the end into an exercise in make-work. More interesting is Mortis, the film's villain, a toad-licking torturer who seems to have some vague connection to the Nazis. Mortis is played by Nuot Arquint, an actor so skeletal and so creepy that make-up effects seem superfluous.
In any event, Shadow is very Italian in one respect: it picks and chooses its influences like it's at an a la carte buffet. Italian genre filmmaking has always been a thieving magpie among film idioms, and this film does that tradition proud.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 22
First Time Viewings: 18
Around the web:
Expelled Grey Matter looks at the much belated 2001 Maniacs and judges it harshly.
Anna at Dreams in the Bitch House summarizes her third week of the challenge.
Fascination with Fear has some thoughts on sleep terrors.
Tim at The Other Side grooves on Mama, which he finds satisfying and creepy.