Paganini Horror

Color, 1989, 83 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Starring Daria Nicolodi, Jasmine Maimone, Pascal Persiano, Donald Pleasence, Maria Cristina Mastrangeli, Michel Klippstein, Pietro Genuardi
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.66:1), NSM Records (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1)

For reasons Paganini Horrorbest left a mystery, Italy found itself Paganini Horrorin the throes of a minor Paganinisploitation craze in 1989 with no less than two completely wacko films revolving around Niccolò Paganini, the legendary violinist whose virtuoso performances spawned rumors that he was somehow in league with the devil. The more ambitious of the two was Paganini, the final film by Klaus Kinski (as well as his sole venture as a director) and a truly wild mixture of arty excess and softcore sex. Incredibly, that wasn't even the craziest Paganini film that year thanks to Paganini Horror, a rock-flavored supernatural slasher film by Luigi Cozzi made back to back with his absolutely insane 1989 quasi-Suspiria sequel The Black Cat. Both films were intended to have a spacey cosmic angle (thanks to footage shot for Starcrash), though in the case of this film that was almost entirely jettisoned by producers by the time it barely hit theaters and home video (mostly in Japan and a handful of European countries). Shot in 16mm and presented by famed Lucio Fulci collaborator Fabrizio De Angelis, it's a wild ride for seasoned Italian horror buffs featuring a really crazy Donald Pleasence performance as he gets to cackle "Little demons, fly away!" while tossing money off a roof.

Pop star Kate (Maimone) and her band are suffering from a serious lack of inspiration, so her producer orders her to go back to the drawing board. Opportunity presents itself when their pal Daniel (Persiano) acquires an unknown, unplayed piece of Paganini music furnished by the mysterious Mr. Pickett (Pleasence) -- and it'll be just the thing to turn into a big hit rock song. Naturally they decide to bring it to life at a sprawling old house once inhabited by Paganini himself where they're welcomed by Sylvia Hackett (Nicolodi), who regales them with tales about the most famous inhabitant including his penchant for using human intestines for violin strings. The house has been home to a number of macabre events over the Paganini Horroryears including a young girl electrocuting her mother in the bathtub (the film's precredits scene), but it does the trick for Kate and company Paganini Horrorwho mount a colorful, morbid music video extravaganza involving a masked Paganini stabbing her while she flits around in a wedding dress. Unfortunately the horror soon becomes real as the performers and crew are stalked by a killer wielding a violin with a sharp retractable blade, but that's just the start of a crackpot night of demonic mayhem and gore galore.

About as nonsensical and endearing as you'd expect from a Cozzi film made during the last gasp of Italian horror's glory days, this one earned a pretty sorry reputation among fans when it hit the bootleg circuit but absolutely delivers the entertaining goods if you're in the right frame of mind. Outrageous music video performances? Yep, you get a couple of those. Nicolodi and Pleasence spouting out ridiculous dialogue with Shakespearean gusto? Definitely. Lots of super saturated colorful lighting and random graffiti ("E=MC2?") to distract from the lack of budget? You bet. The whole thing builds up to a truly insane twist ending that has to be seen to be believed and earns points for daring even if you'll spend about an hour trying to put it all together afterwards.

The first DVD release of this film turned up in 2006 in a two-disc edition featuring the standard export version of the film with English audio (flat letterboxed) and the shorter German version (cropped 1.33:1), plus the English and German trailers, a gallery, and alternate German title sequences. Paganini Horror eventually bowed on Blu-ray (by a nose) in 2019 from 88 Films in the U.K. as the 52nd installment in its ongoing "The Italian Collection" line (with the first pressing featuring an o-card slipcase and liner notes booklet by Eugenio Ercolani). The transfer (a 2K scan of the 16mm negative) looks terrific with what appears to be the correct framing; the flesh tones look great here and the late '80s music video-style colors pop Paganini Horrornicely where they should. The LPCM 2.0 stereo English and Italian tracks sound fine and come with optional newly translated English subs for the Italian track; it isn't the most vigorous sound mix in the world either way but gets the job done. A new audio commentary by Troy Paganini HorrorHowarth is entertaining and amusing as always as he goes into Cozzi's traits as a director, the backgrounds of the various players (including a lot about Nicolodi), and the "endearingly goofy" qualities of this production (without overlooking its shortcomings or the modesty of its production values). On the video side you get the English trailer, the Cozzi interview "Bloody Violin" (30m48s) and a chat with actor Pietro Genuardi (25m52s), but more on those below.

Severin Films quickly followed suit soon after with the U.S. premiere of the film (in any format) with a limited 3,000-unit Blu-ray containing a soundtrack CD identical to the earlier Beat Records release of Vince Tempera's crazy score (and those two epic songs, "Stay the Night" and "The Winds of Time"). The video quality looks very close to the U.K. one, taken from the same scan but a couple of notches brighter and with colors a little bit more on the golden side. It's not a major difference in motion though so you're really good with either release. The DTS-HD MA English and Italian 2.0 tracks both sound great here as well, with English SDH and English translated subs provided for the two tracks respectively. The new "Play It Again, Paganini" (30m31s) in the basement exhibit of his Profondo Rosso shop is a great, informative dissection of how the film came about, initially much earlier as a Paganini biopic starring Christopher Lambert(!) before going through an aborted deal involving drug trafficking and an attempted kidnapping(!!). Eventually it had a few familiar writers picking up their pens to help out by the time cameras rolled in Rome for three weeks, with De Angelis chopping out the interstellar snippets soon after. And as you'd expect, Pleasence shot his part in three days even though his footage is scattered throughout the entire film. "The Devi's Music" (15m33s) with Genuardi goes into his own limited familiarity with horror (restricted to loving Argento movies) and his warm memories of Cozzi even if the part didn't exactly require a ton of characterization. The facts covered in both interviews are essentially the same, but they're different interview sessions and both working checking out. A reel of deleted scenes and the spacey alternate ending are also included (8m53s) from Cozzi's personal VHS copy, which is great to see, followed by the English trailer.

SEVERIN (Blu-ray)

Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror

88 FILMS (Blu-ray)

Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror Paganini Horror

Reviewed on October 24, 2019.