Film Review: A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Also known as: House of the Dark Stairway (alternative English title)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy – Mystfest)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza, Lamberto Bava (cameo)

National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica, 110 Minutes


“Tennis balls?” – Bruno

This was an early film for director, Lamberto Bava. While it’s a giallo picture, it has a real grittiness to it and isn’t as stylized as other pictures of that distinctly Italian horror subgenre. In fact, it looks more like an American slasher flick than something with a strong Italian flavor.

Having his father, Mario Bava, and giallo maestro, Dario Argento, as mentors, the younger Bava was savvy enough to put together a better than decent picture, even early in his career. Sure, he had some missteps like the Jaws wannabe, Monster Shark, but he usually proved he was a capable horror director.

A Blade In the Dark is a fairly strange film that deals with a transvestite serial killer, slashing beautiful women to ribbons. By 1983, this wasn’t anything new and I think that Bava may have been directly influenced by Brian De Palma’s neo-noir serial killer thriller, Dressed to Kill. However, Bava went the hardcore horror route and turned up the gore quite a bit.

The earliest encounters with the killer had him using an old fashioned box cutter, which I thought was visually cool, as those things just have a gnarly look to them. Those old school blades break really easily though, so it was probably a poor choice for a murder instrument but the killer does graduate to more practical and bigger tools, as the film progresses.

The kills are generally pretty good and Bava did a stellar job in building suspense in these scenes. The bathroom murder around the midpoint of the movie was exceptionally well-crafted and executed.

For the most part, the characters in this are all pretty likable. Even the ones that pop in just to get killed fairly quickly.

Now I can’t say that the twist ending was unpredictable or shocking, as I figured it out almost immediately with the movie’s opening scene. Maybe it was a surprise for viewers in 1983 but frankly, it’s nothing new, even by 1983. Still, it doesn’t in anyway wreck the story or the film, overall.

This is a pretty decent film for its type and while it’s not Lamberto Bava’s best, it really displayed his talent and prowess pretty early into his directorial career.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian giallo and slasher pictures, as well as other films by Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes


“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.” – Kazanian

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Devil Fish (1984)

Also known as: Shark – Rosso nell’oceano (Italy), Monster Shark, Monster from the Red Ocean, Devouring Waves, Shark: Red in the Ocean
Release Date: September 7th, 1984
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Dardano Sacchetti, Herve Piccini, Vincenzo Mannino, Luigi Cozzi, Sergio Martino
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Michael Sopkiw, Gianni Garko, William Berger

Filmes Cinematografica, Nuova Danis Cinematografica, Filmes International, National Cinematografica, Films Du Griffon, DLF Distribution, Lanciamento Film, 90 Minutes


This is an Italian ripoff of Jaws. Except in this film, we have a giant sharp-toothed fish that also has squid like tentacles. This was pretty unique for 1984 and the Syfy Channel, whose new spelling I will never get used to, pretty much stole the concept with all their weird hybrid creature features such as  SharktopusDinosharkCrocosaurusPiranhacondaSharktopus vs. Pteracuda and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf. What in the holy hell is a “whalewolf”?

For a film boasting the talents that this one does, it should have been better. Director Lamberto Bava, the son of Mario Bava, went on to make the Demons film series and those were fantastic. But maybe like James Cameron, this is Bava’s version of Piranha II. It certainly feels similar to that film.

This movie also has the acting talents of spaghetti western regulars Gianni Garko, known mostly as Sartana, and William Berger. But then, Luigi Cozzi was also involved in the film and he was responsible for the horrendous Lou Ferrigno Hercules movie, as well as Starcrash, which is mostly watchable because the angelically majestic Caroline Munro is scantily clad the entire picture.

Devil Fish or Monster Shark or whatever of the half dozen other names it’s called is not a good movie. It is amusing in some parts but there just isn’t a lot to sink your teeth into (pun actually intended). It is full of a lot of sciencey mumbo jumbo that isn’t very engaging. Most of the times the creature actually does show up, it is pretty obscured or shot with such tight closeups that it is hard to get a grasp of what this monster looks like. Nothing about the creature makes much sense. Even the poster doesn’t make sense, as it shows the fish coming out of the water to swallow its victim but the victim’s arms are in front of and under the fish’s jaw. That is not the attack of a skilled predator.

As is customary with the films I review that have ended up riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000, I should mention that you can watch this in an episode of that show. You’ll find it near the end of season nine.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: The Church (1989)

Also known as: La chiesa (Italy), Cathedral of Demons, Demon Cathedral
Release Date: March 10th, 1989 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, Lamberto Bava, Fabrizio Bava
Based on: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M.R. James
Music by: Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, Goblin, Fabio Pignatelli
Cast: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Reteitalia, Cecchi Gori Distribuzione, 110 Minutes


There are a lot of quasi-sequels to Laberto Bava and Dario Argento’s Demons and Demons 2The Church is the one film, that is considered to be the true third part of the film series.

That being said, other than people being trapped somewhere, dealing with demons, The Church really doesn’t feel like it is Demons 3. It is its own movie, the tone is different, the demons are different and it has a much slower pace than those “balls to the wall” Demons films. It also has a lot of gore and disturbing imagery but it isn’t nearly as gross as Demons and Demons 2.

If I am to compare it to the other two, which I have to, it is the weakest in the series.

To start, the film is really slow. If you are accustomed to the pace of the two movies before it, you will be left wondering when the hell the shit will finally hit the fan. The shit never really hits the fan, though. Yes, there are intense moments sprinkled in and the finale is totally bizarre but it doesn’t play like a Demons film. In fact, it feels a lot closer to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. That being said, Carpenter’s film is far superior to The Church and much better paced.

I enjoyed Asia Argento in this. I also really liked the heroic priest. Everyone else just felt kind of flat.

I also liked the opening sequence with the German knights destroying a village in an effort to eliminate witchcraft. Actually, the people were just sick but hey, that’s religion in the dark ages… or now, really.

The Church is worth a watch if you are a completist and you liked the Demons films. However, it really isn’t a continuation of those movies. It is a decent late 80s Italian horror picture but I doubt I would ever watch it again unless I felt compelled to show it to another fan of the series.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Demons 2 (1986)

Also known as: Dèmoni 2 (Italy)
Release Date: October 9th, 1986 (Italy)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: David Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Asia Argento, Dario Casalini

DACFILM Rome, Titanus Distribuzione, 91 Minutes


A year after Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento collaborated and brought us Demons, we got its awesome sequel. This is also the only sequel, of the many, that is a true continuation of the events of the first installment.

I hadn’t seen this movie until just recently. It was hard for me to get a hold of, back in the day. The original was sort of a cult film but I was lucky to have access to it at one of the video stores I used to frequent as a teen.

It is hard to say, as the original movie was so good, but I think I actually prefer Demons 2 to its predecessor. It is more fun and still just as gruesome and insane. Plus, it benefits from a soundtrack that boasts great songs from The Smiths, Peter Murphy, The Cult, Art of Noise and other edgy 80s artists.

Demons 2 is actually more surreal than Demons. The scene where the demon literally comes through the television set is fantastic. I feel like it was obviously inspired by Videodrome and the visual effects were similar. It was a very cool way to start the mayhem in this movie though.

While the movie theater set from the original was a great idea, Demons 2 takes place in an apartment building. It is still a confined film but there are more options with the apartment building setting that allow this film to step outside of the box a bit more. Plus the parking garage scenes feel more wide open, even though the soon-to-be victims of the demon army still can’t escape the locked down fortress.

I really love the inclusion of the gym and the bodybuilders, who all try to buck up and fight back. At least they try and their sequences are ludicrous in the best way possible.

You also get a freaky little kid demon, as well as some weird demon monster that emerges from the child host like the xenomorph from Alien.

Demons 2 is a fantastic and lovably insane ride. It is non-stop once it gets going. I just wish that Bava and Argento would have kept the narrative of the first two films going in other sequels.

Out of all the sequels, the only one that is officially a follow-up is The Church (or La chiesa in Italy). It was not directed by Lamberto Bava but it was produced by Dario Argento. I will review that one, when and if I can find a good copy of it.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Demons (1985)

Also known as: Dèmoni (Italy)
Release Date: October 4th, 1985 (Italy)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Michele Soavi

DACFILM Rome, 88 Minutes


Demons is an Italian horror film that was co-written and produced by Dario Argento. It was directed by Lamberto Bava, who is the son of legendary Italian horror director Mario Bava.

Released in 1985, it came out during a slew of great horror flicks. The genre was at an all-time high and the Italians were just as capable of showcasing dread and horror, as their American counterparts.

This film is creepy as hell and it still brings me back to that place I was when I saw it for the first time when I was certainly much too young to handle it.

It is intense, borderline gross – at times, visually mesmerizing and well executed. It is a little known masterpiece that probably deserves more than just cult recognition.

It carries a similar vibe to the films Argento directed around that time but Bava’s influence led to more insanity, more action and many more monsters.

The majority of the film takes place in a movie theater, which I am sure was effective for those seeing this film in the theater when it first came out. It would probably make me uneasy watching it in a theater now, to be honest.

The special effects are practical and top notch for a budget restricted foreign 80s film. With that, there is something more organic, natural and terrifying when seeing these zombie-like demons roaming through the dark theater with their glowing eyes than if some modern filmmaker tried to recreate those scenes with CGI.

Even at their cheesiest, practical effects still bring a level of realism that CGI can’t tackle and this film is a perfect example of that.

Also, the music is superb.

Demons is an interesting and unique horror film. It is also one of the best zombie-style movies ever made, even though they are demons as opposed to traditional zombies. Truthfully, the demon twist adds a very real sense of terror that you don’t get from regular zombies.

I feel like the visual style and the demons themselves went on to influence a slew of pictures after this. Not to mention the seven loose sequels this movie spawned.

If you are looking for something different to indulge in, this may be your flick.

Rating: 8/10