Directors Lorenzo Lepori and Roberto Albanesi bring us Catacomba; an Italian horror anthology influenced not just by the classic anthology films and TV series but also by the Italian fumetti— erotic horror comics that provide a more grotesque and sexually charge take on the usual tales of revenge, greed and infidelity.
Opening with Albanesi’s wrap around tale of a young, idiotic but likeable man on the hunt for a haircut, our chap happens across a new barber shop where he notices a comic on the side – Catacomba: thus introducing us to four tales of horror, all directed by Lepori.
The first of which is ‘Evil Tree‘; featuring Antonio Tentori (Dracula 3D, A Cat in the Brain, Violent Shit) as, conveniently, a scriptwriter out for some peace and quiet while he attempts to pen a new story about this very tree and its dark past. His tranquillity is quickly broken however by two satanic female bikers who, tired of the bike, appear to want to ride something else or at least they do in poor Antonio’s mind. Pulling no punches director Lepori jumps straight into the graphic detail displaying sex and violence simultaneously, as the two women seek to summon their master Satan.
‘Evil Tree’ provides a strong start to the proceedings, thanks to the fast paced narrative and the (overall) terrific Fx of artists Davide Bracci (Sleepless, Mother Of Tears, Violent Shit) and the legendary Sergio Stivaletti (The Church, Dellamorte Dellamore, Symphony In Blood Red) with both elements combining to gloss over the unsurprisingly thin vengeance plot in a highly entertaining and violent tale.
The segment ‘Alien Lover’ follows, and doesn’t really deviate from what the name suggests. Once again following a conventional theme, this time infidelity, the execution of this story is anything but conventional in its combining of eroticism with science fiction.
Despite opening like a low budget sci-fi slasher, Lepori shifts the tone quickly to that of a dysfunctional relationship where adultery and jealousy are rampant. With an engaging story and some decent acting from our lead characters ‘Alien Lover’ manages to easily entertain even if the actual alien itself could do with a little work.
The cream of the crop however is the third segment ‘Una Messa Nera per Paganini’. Interestingly, Tentori also worked on this script, which may explain why it feels the most complete of the four tales in terms of pacing and story arc. Interestingly this segment features Pascal Persiano in his second Paganini outing, having starred in Luigi Cozzi’s Paganini Horror back in 1989.
In the story, a collector has obtained several unpublished scores by the revered composer Paganini and after a recent performance he offers to display some of his collection to an upcoming star violinist. Upon seeing the collection, the young violinist becomes suspicious, but is quickly hurried away from the collection. Cue a tale of betrayal, lust and greed before Lepori reveals all. Benefiting from a strong structure, a great ending and a terrific, if brief, performance by Alessandro Mollo, ‘Una Messa Nera per Paganini’ is a delight to watch and really captures the spirit of Italian horror.
We end with ‘La Maschera della Morte Rossa’ which represents a significant shift in style from the previous stories. Taking influence not only from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death but also the Spanish directors Jess Franco and José Larraz, by way of some almost Lynchian aesthetics. ‘La Maschera...’ is certainly the most challenging and adventurous of all the pieces but also the most unengaging.
Opening with the depiction of a broken down relationship and an assisted suicide, we are quickly thrown into an experience of seduction, necrophilia and resurrection, accompanied by a pulsating electronic beat, to keep us focused until Lepori really lets go with some brutal action. But this is not enough to lift the prolonged seduction sequence. No doubt taking influence from Italian contemporaries, Lucio Massa and Luigi Pastore, this segment will have an active audience, but sadly in the context of this anthology it felt out of place.
Catacomba is trashy, low budget fun that perfectly lives up to the Italian fumetti style, thanks to the eroticism and gore peppered throughout. The diversity shown by director Lepori is to be celebrated, he takes risks and changes style in the name of artistic development and entertainment. For these reasons Lepori and Catacomba are worth checking out.