The new Netflix Italian horror film, A Classic Horror Story, is supposed to be a tribute to the greats of the genre — The Texas Chain Massacre, The Cabin in the Woods, Midsommar, and more.
It also makes references to famous horror movie characters like Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. However, not every film that sets out to be a tribute to the cult hits achieves its goal.
In a bid to simultaneously emulate these films and throw people off track, directors Roberto de Feo and Paolo Strippoli’s ambitious horror film ends up being a contrived mess.
The film starts off with five strangers traveling to Southern Italy in a camper. The driver, Fabrizio (Francesco Russo), is an aspiring and overfamiliar filmmaker who is eager to befriend the rest of the group. Elisa (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) is traveling to her mother’s place to have an abortion that she is still unsure about; Ricardo (Peppino Mazzotta), a doctor uninterested in mingling with anyone, is desperate to see his daughter; and Sofia (Yuliia Sobol) and Mark (Will Merrick) are a young couple who are on their way to attend a wedding.
Their otherwise uneventful journey comes to a screeching halt when a drunken and fatigued Mark, who takes over from Fabrizio, causes the camper to hit a tree while trying to avoid a half-dead goat on the road.
When the group regains consciousness, they find that the road has disappeared and they are in the woods with a mysterious cabin at the centre.
Soon, they witness elaborate sacrificial alters, unnerving photographs of three demon brothers, and a young girl whose tongue has been cut off. At this point, they realise that they are amidst a satanic cult with no way out.
The first half of the film is engaging and ticks all the right boxes — terrifying satanic rituals, a great blend of supernatural and psychological elements, and a generous dose of gore.
However, the directors’ choice to comment on the pitiable state of horror films in Italy ultimately leads to the movie’s downfall. It causes the film to take a convoluted and strange turn in the last 40 minutes that trivialises everything that has been shown up until that point.
With tedious twists and mindless last-minute additions, the film drags on and the viewer hopes for the credits to roll already.
Even the characters are a let down. Rather stock and stereotypical in nature, they contribute very little to the story. Mark is a typical hot-headed, athletic man and Elise is the docile and caring woman (who, unsurprisingly, is the last one standing); it is nothing that the audience has not seen before.
However, the film is not entirely without merit. The various callbacks to the classics are a treat for horror film fans. The camper and the road trip cannot help but remind one of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while the eerie cult and satanic rituals take us back to films like The Village and Midsommar.
The movie is also visually rewarding. Red and black shots of the star-shaped cabin and deer heads mounted on the walls greatly help in elevating the mood of the film.
A Classic Horror Story could have been a neat and fitting tribute to horror cinema. Instead, the directors’ quest to make it a meta commentary on the current state of Italian horror cinema reduces the film to an overly complicated tale with an unimpressive message. And no, the irony is not lost on us.