If atmospheric genre flick A Classic Horror Story proves anything definitively, it’s that Italian cinema is capable of executing meta commentary on a sophisticated level. The familiarity in the setup and storyline is purposeful, with the actual filmmaking a true bright spot. The deep bright red color scheme and lighting means the cinematography is practically a character in itself. The roster of potential victims are dumb as tacks, and lack defining personality traits, but when each kill rolls around, any issues fall completely by the wayside. A Classic Horror Story has a firm grasp on what makes a memorable genre favorite. Blending Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Midsommar, and Wrong Turn has never felt so sublime.
Carpooling to a distant destination, a group of travelers are piled up in a big camper. Each has come along the journey for their own reasons—Elisa (Rings starlet Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) is going to stay with her parents; Fabrizio (Francesco Russo) goes to film school, and is recording everything for use on his travel blog; Ricardo (Peppino Mazzotta) is a doctor going to visit his family; Mark (Will Merrick) and Sofia (Yuliia Sobol) are on their way to attend a friend’s mariachi wedding. In the dead of night with Mark behind the wheel, they swerve to avoid a dead goat carcass in the road, and crash into a tree.
When they awaken, the group realizes in terror that they are in the middle of the woods, with only a creepy wooden house that looks straight out of Midsommar or Gretel & Hansel to greet them. They soon discover a young girl with no tongue wrapped up in a nest in the house’s attic. With no cell service and increasingly unnerving discoveries, the travelers are forced to grapple with a deadly cult in a dense, secluded forest…
A Classic Horror Story is all about atmosphere—from the second the group begins their travels, that creepy factor builds and builds. They drive past a disturbing milk advertisement with a family that has their eyes blacked out completely. A discovery of rows of cars is very Wrong Turn and 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The kills are nasty practical effects, executed with a high cringe factor that makes the viewer feel each slice, crunch, and eye gouge. The first real death sets the bar high for what’s to follow, establishing stakes from early on in a grueling and bleak torture sequence.
The dialogue and acting is wildly varied from scene to scene and person to person. This might have to do with the Netflix dubbing as well. A couple of the lines here had me laughing at their absurdity. Ricardo compares their crew to “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” When they discover all the dumped cars, Sofia obviously observes: “We’re not the first people!” On the flip side, when the talk turns meta, including some Pennywise trivia and a riff on the title itself, A Classic Horror Story is bold and, most crucial of all, a cerebral and engaging watch.
This would flow stronger with better characters, or at least ones that had a few more layers to them. You learn little outside of their core concepts, like the fact that Sofia makes 3D-printed jewelry. Only Elisa and the young girl they find in the nest, Chiara (Alida Baldari Calabria), have any dimension. Elisa is still hard to get behind due to her very dumb choices she makes throughout the film. When they have to pull over the camper early on, Elisa walks practically a mile into the woods to throw up. Similarly, Fabrizio has to pee at one point, and also walks deep into the dark trees to do so. This crew must have a death wish!
Despite a few minor faults, A Classic Horror Story has all the makings of an actual horror classic. A left-field twist in the final act propels originality into the script, and delivers a signature revenge moment that is beyond satisfying. It lives up to its name with a simple setup, brutal kills, a beautiful bright color scheme, and intriguing mystery. I don’t know what more you could possibly want out of modern horror. “If we were in the states they’d sign me for a sequel!”
A Classic Horror Story rips out your tongue when it premieres on Netflix Wednesday July 14th.