Color, 1981-1992, 441m.
Directed by Fabio Salerno
Bleeding Skull (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Oblivion (Blu-ray & DVD) (Italy R0 HD/PAL)

While monster kids and The Other Dimensionpint-sized slasher fans were churning out plenty of DIY genre films on America The Other Dimensionwith Super 8 cameras or VHS camcorders, Europe wasn't slacking off either with France and Italy featuring some of the wilder offerings reflecting its own national horror culture. One who went very under the radar outside of Italy for ages was Fabio Salerno, who banded together friends and colleagues for a slew of Super 8 shorts and two (sort of) feature films before he committed suicide in 1993 at the age of 29. Sort of in the same vein as ambitious amateurs like Nathan Schiff, he was unabashed in his love for Italian horror maestros with plenty of nods to Dario Argento and unexpected tips of the hat to films like The Visitor. In 2022, Italian label/store Oblivion issued all of his extant filmography across two Blu-rays or two DVDs of his two feature-length titles and a DVD of his shorts, Salerno Splatter Shorts Show; the two full movies had English subtitle options for the main features, but otherwise everything was Italian only (not counting fuzzy burned-in subtitles on one of the shorts). In 2024, Bleeding Skull finally brought all of Salerno's work to the U.S. as a two-disc Blu-ray set with everything featuring English subtitles at last, and it's a heck of a wild ride if you love scrappy homemade horror.

Disc one is devoted to his two features starting with the 1992 horror anthology The The Other DimensionOther Dimension (L'altra dimensione) (78m24s), The Other Dimensionwhich is obviously three short films stitched together with an off-camera Salerno spooling them up on a projector while issuing a bit of ominous narration. The result actually works though, kicking off with the first story, "Delirium" ("Delirio"), starring Francesco Rinaldi as a young man chain-smoking and drinking his pain away three months after losing his girlfriend (Maddalena Vadacca)-- which leads to a fateful trip to Milan with a sting in the tale. In "Mortal Instinct" ("Istinto Mortale"), Elvira fan Luigi Sgroi provides shelter to his best friend (Nadia Rebeccato) from her abusive boyfriend (Piero Belloto)-- with some occult shenanigans thrown into the mix. Finally in "Eros and Thanatos (Amore e morte)," the longest of the bunch by a long shot, a musician (Marco Monzani) faces an unusual dilemma when his girlfriend (Giorgia Chezzi) passes away but is far from being out of his life. None of the stories overstay their welcome, and as with his other work, Salerno does the effects himself including some great old-fashioned monster and splatter gags guaranteed to raise a smile.

Also here is is sole single-narrative feature, 1991's Deep Night (Notte Profonda) (68m53s), which is less effective and feels awfully stretched out even with its brief running time. That said, it still has that Salerno charm though as Sgroi (again) stars as Paolo, a comic book artist who gets his hands on a mysterious pyramid thing that, in the best Lucio Fulci and Clive Barker tradition, turns out to be a malignant supernatural totem tied to an otherworldly evil. In this case it all stems from a homicidal tragedy at a bar near where he lives, and even an attempted exorcism isn't enough to stop the evil from growing stronger. As usual for the director, this is also a fun showcase for loads of horror pop culture references including posters and movie clips flitting by in the background, and the gore when it hits is lots of fun. Both films are transferred from what's cited as the only 16mm film elements in existence, and they look fine with punchy colors and pretty decent detail considering they basically look like backyard films made with a lot of heart. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono audio for both is fine given the very basic nature of how they're mixed, and the optional English subtitles are good. The biggest extra here is "Fabio" (48m19s), a great retrospective doc (previously on Oblivion's The Other The Other DimensionDimension release but thankfully subbed here) about the filmmaker created by Oblivion, here subtitled in English as collaborators like Vittorio Rifranti, Enrico Vanossi, and Maurizio Casula chatting about the collaborative process The Other Dimensionof making all the Super 8 shorts, other artistic pursuits among them, the engineering of effects via latex and stage blood, and plenty more. Also included is a very lengthy (and thankfully subtitled) VHS-shot making of Deep Night (71m51s), plus a 3m15 photo gallery with some especially cool handmade VHS art and local media ads.

Disc two is devoted to all of Salerno's Super 8 shorts, here presented as English-friendly as they can be given what survives and taken from the best surviving sources (mostly VHS copies of varying quality). First up is the most famous and widely shown of the bunch 1987's Arpie ("Harpies") (36m44s), an effects extravaganza about a predator named Veronica whose killing spree seems to come to an end when she's cornered by a couple of cops... but the mayhem is just beginning. Memorable and gleefully excessive, it's a great intro and might actually be the best place to start in this set overall. Then the same year's Oltretomba (1987) (15m34s), presented with burned-in English subtitles, is essentially a one-man precursor to Flatliners (plus a dab of Zeder) with a guy trying to die temporarily and see what's waiting on the other side. Of course, it turns out to be an extraordinarily bad idea including more Italian horror nods right down to some wriggling guest stars. 1986's Mezzanotte ("Midnight") (1986) (24m1s) is a spooky look at a late night nursing shift that intersects with a sick child in urgent need, while 1985's Extra Sensoria (29m2s) is a Jean Rollin-ish tale about two siblings whose childhood encounter with a nasty coffin affects one of them severely in adulthood. The same year's Tre sagome in nero ("Three Silhouettes in Black" (27m9s) charts the exploits of an amnesiac The Other Dimensionserial killer while Vampiri (18m26s) is an atmospheric look at modern Slavic bloodsucking. 1984's Incubo ("Nightmare") (24m34s) depicts a man being tormented on his birthday by horrific The Other Dimensionvisions in his apartment, and Notte ("Night") (20m58s) from 1983 is a borderline abstract dialogue-free barrage of giallo-inspired imagery. 1982's Cadaveri (45m53s), one of a handful of titles in which the director amusingly credits himself as "Fabio Argento," is a very entertaining zero-budget giallo that opens with a makeup salesgirl getting attacked with a cleaver while making a house call. Then we follow the young culprit going about his business alone and with his best buddy, all while keeping track of his latest crime and figuring out what to do next. 1981's extremely lo-fi La paura esiste giĆ  (Un natale rosso sangue) ("Fear Already Exists: A Blood-Red Christmas") (16m50s) has some kids getting together to listen to music and watch George Romero movies before horror spills over into real life. In a similar vein and also from '81, Magic (9m42s) has some kids get their hands on a mysterious book of black magic that unleashes some killer doll mayhem; this one also comes with an enthusiastic optional commentary by Bleeding Skull's Joseph A. Ziemba, who explains why some of the earliest films exist only as digital files made from camcorder-shot projections with far less than optimal quality (including projector noise!). Finally we close out with 1981's La signora del 5 piano ("The Lady from the 5th Floor") (23m48s), which is about... well, the dialogue is all unintelligible (as the option subtitles confirm!) but it's another creepy vignette about kids falling in with a supernatural Suspiria-inspired menace in their building and getting offed, including a pretty nutty demise involving hanging and a pair of scissors. All told, it's a real treat sitting through these shorts going more or less in reverse chronological order-- and enjoying the wonderfully chosen borrowed soundtracks that will tickle the hearts of anyone reared on Argento and Bava. Also on the disc is a vintage making-of featurette for Oltretomba (13m12s), including an ADR studio session and an interview with the director in stylish Argento-style lighting.

Reviewed on May 7, 2024