Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show
Director - Gabriele Albanesi
Cast - Giuseppe Solari, Paolo Sassanelli, Laura Gigante
Country of Origin - Italy
Discs - 1
MSRP - 29.98
Distributor - Raro Video
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
Up-and-coming filmmaker Alessio Rinaldi (Soleri) has hit a snag in his young career: audiences are no longer craving the wild and depraved splatter horror epics Alessio grew up loving and wanting to make himself. His seasoned producer Curreri (Antonio Iuorio) suggests he make a classier and more accessible kind of cinematic fright and puts him in touch with Ubaldo Terzani (Sassanelli), a best-selling writer of horror novels who Alessio has never even heard of. Desperate to make a name for himself in the Italian film industry Alessio reluctantly accepts the assignment. Before he meets Terzani Alessio buys several of the author’s most popular novels and begins to read them; he gets hooked on Ubaldo’s vivid storytelling but as he’s reading the books Alessio starts to have gruesome nightmares. He travels to Turin to move into Ubaldo’s estate where the two will collaborate on the screenplay for Alessio’s next film. Although the older man is undeniably egotistic Alessio finds himself charmed by Ubaldo, but as the work on their script intensifies the director finds his bloody nightmares start to (at times literally) bleed into his waking life. Soon Alessio finds it difficult to determine what is real and what isn’t. To further complicate matters his girlfriend Sara (Laura Gigante) is invited to Ubaldo’s house for a weekend visit that begins cordially but is destined to end in unimaginable bloodshed and the culmination of a creative partnership made in Hell.
Once upon a time the drive-ins and grindhouse theaters of the world were overflowing with the best (and worst) horror and gore flicks Italy had to offer. Nary a week would go by without some cinema offering up the latest giallo, zombie, or cannibal epic from the ranks of “the boot”’s finest scare-mongering filmmakers - Mario Bava and his son Lamberto, Lucio Fulci, Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento, and Michele Soavi to name a few of the most influential of those directors. But as those offbeat cinemas were drying up and closing shop due to the increasing influence of home video sales and the rise of multiplex theaters the masters of Italian horror were faced with the threat of industry extinction. Fulci and Mario Bava died, Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi went mainstream, D’Amato moved into hardcore porn and then also died, and Argento was reduced to a sad parody of his former glory, making increasingly awful flicks that were little more than perverted exercises for him to film his daughter Asia in various states of undress. Films that once enjoyed the glory of widescreen theatrical exhibition were forced underground in virtually every nation save their own, until video companies like Anchor Bay and Blue Underground made it their mission in life to bring those marginalized genre movies to the masses in the best viewing format available.
Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show is a fitting tribute to those horror filmmakers and the grandly ludicrous but terrifying barf bag epics they once built upon a foundation of foam latex and Karo syrup, and on occasion does display some killer - pardon the pun - chops of its own. Despite its reputation Gabriele Albanesi’s film is not an all-out gorefest that would doubtlessly satisfy his peers and their legions of admirers, but it has an entirely different agenda. Alessio, our hero, is a devoted acolyte of Argento, Fulci, etc. and wants to model his career after theirs only to find out that no studios or financiers will bankroll those kinds of horror films anymore. That’s more than just character motivation, that’s the actual state of Italian horror. The film’s production designer pays homage to Alessio’s legendary idols by decorating the character’s apartment with posters for movies like Fulci’s New York Ripper, Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore (better known to U.S. audiences as Cemetery Man), and even Fernando Di Leo’s The Boss - more of a crime drama than a horror film. Alessio also wears a Fulci Lives T-shirt and watches a clip from Cat in the Brain, arguable the director’s last truly great film, early in the movie. What makes Ubaldo Terzani stand out from the movies that influenced is that it is a purely Italian feature; you won’t find any English-speaking actors or poor dubbing here. The country’s exploitation output from decades past often depended on those films finding audiences outside of Italy, typically in nations where the market for them was much stronger such as the U.S., Germany, and Japan. But the imposition of censorship laws, stricter ratings systems, or merely the lack of desire for any kind of horror movie produced outside those countries’ borders unless it was dirt cheap and could turn a quick profit resulted in the market for Italian exploitation imploding.
Once Alessio enters into his collaboration with Terzani the movie quickly begins to find its footing. Giuseppe Soleri gives a believable and sympathetic performance as the young filmmaker eager to kick his fledgling career into high gear, but it’s Paolo Sassanelli who steals his every scene as the famous author Terzani. He makes Terzani a figure of great charisma and imagination, a magnificent monster possessed of a towering ego (he cruelly dismisses Clive Barker as a “mediocre writer”) and an insatiable appetite for wine, women, and murder. Sergio Stivaletti, the gifted special effects make-up artist who has worked with many of the fictional Alessio’s real-life influences, is given a fine canvas on which to bring to life some genuinely horrific gore sequences, including a eye puncturing that would make Fulci giggle like a schoolboy. The third of the film’s key performances is by Laura Gigante as Sara but she is given little to do but be a nagging girlfriend. Then when she returns to the story in the third act Gigante hurriedly falls under Ubaldo’s spell, her relationship with Alessio be damned. The actress does what she can with a thinly-sketched role in a film that is essentially a two-character story.
That brings me to several noticeable flaws I found in the movie. The relationship between Alessio and Ubaldo is never as defined and realized as it needs to be. From the moment Alessio meets the eccentric writer he is almost immediately ill at ease, despite everyone else finding Terzani to be quite the opposite, but soldiers on with the collaboration anyway for the sake of his career. It’s never explained why Terzani’s writing causes Alessio to experience horrific visions; at first I thought Albanesi was borrowing a plot device from John Carpenter’s 1995 literary fright classic In the Mouth of Madness but it’s an idea that never pays off. In fact the movie spends its first two acts slowly building up to a classic Grand Guignol conclusion that sadly never happens. When a film like Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show prepares you for a epic finale guaranteed to scar you for life (or at least give you the heebie-jeebies for a few days) and fails to deliver it’s either because the production lacked the proper funding to give us the ending we crave or because its writer-director didn’t have a clue about how to bring their story to its rightful conclusion. In the case of Ubaldo Terzani I like to believe that Gabriele Albanesi, a filmmaker who is infinitely more talented than most of the schlock horror hacks working today, simply ran out of money at the end. That's what I like to believe anyway, but these days you never know.
Raro presents Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85: 1, enhanced for 16x9 television screens. The quality of the transfer is outstanding to say the least and is relatively free of grain. Two Italian language audio tracks are included for our listening pleasure, the strongest naturally being the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 2.0 stereo track has its virtues as well. Considering that the film is a mostly dialogue-driven affair until the third act kicks into gear neither track is really given much to bolster. Valerio Lundini’s minimalist music score comes through sounding fantastic in the moments when it counts. English subtitles are included.
Director Albanesi is joined by novelist and horror film scribe Antonio Tentori - who cameos in the film as himself - for a conversational audio commentary that proves to be highly informative about the production and overflowing with the filmmaker’s love for the genre. Tentori’s has collaborated in the past with famed Italian horror directs like Lucio Fulci, Joe D’Amato, Bruno Mattei, and most recently Dario Argento. The track is in Italian but comes with English subtitles.
Next up is a screen test for lead actress Laura Gigante. The video runs three minutes.
Albanesi has included his original short film Braccati (24 minutes) as an extra. It’s worth a single watch but it does show the young director’s talent was already starting to take shape.
Next to the commentary the most essential extra on this disc is a making-of documentary (35 minutes) that gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at the production of Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show. There is much behind-the-scenes footage of several scenes being filmed and the creation and execution of the film’s special make-up effects.
Two theatrical trailers and a page of Blu-ray credits close out the supplements.
Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show will not likely give rise to a resurgence in Italian horror but it is a haunting and thought-provoking little feature with fine performances, witty scripting, and quality gore effects. Despite a massive letdown of a finale Albanesi’s film more than adequately blends both European and American cinematic influences spanning nearly six decades while providing us with a fascinating commentary on Italian horror cinema’s place in the modern era and some memorable moments of skin-crawling terror.