REVIEW: "A CLASSIC HORROR STORY" ON NETFLIX
"Scream" introduced us to an entire generation of post-modern horror and slasher films, movies that both re-create classic genre tropes while also gleefully name-checking them and pointing them out to viewers as they float by. Though "Scream" was, of course, a brilliant movie that scored both scares and laughs, many subsequent filmmakers who aren't quite on Wes Craven's level have tended to lean on being tongue-in-cheek or arch about scary movies because it's easier than actually making something truly scary. Still, there have been some highlights in the genre -- the equal parts brutal and clever "Cabin in the Woods" springs to mind -- that understand the balance, and manage to work on multiple levels.
"A Classic Horror Story" once more revisits this world, but with a seriousness of intent that I came to admire. It's certainly a post-modern and winking take on horror films (made clear just from that title), which is composed with the full knowledge that viewers will recognize the expected tropes and conventions. But rather than just sending up horror films, and parodying their sameness, co-writer/directors Robert De Feo and Paolo Strippoli's film concocts a viscerally unsettling scenario all on its own, and as a pleasant bonus, it also serves as an intriguing character study about a particularly maniacal and deluded sociopath. (I'm not going to say who, as that would ruin the fun.)
The set-up will immediately be familiar to anyone who has seen a horror movie in the last 3-4 decades. A group of strangers, connected via a rideshare app, find themselves stranded in a Southern Italian forest after their van hits a tree. Emerging to look for help, they discover that they have stumbled into the home turf of a very dark and sinister cult, which appears to engage in human sacrifices to a trio of dark gods. Naturally, a twist is coming that sheds new light on the particulars of their scenario, which I would not dare reveal. Otherwise, things progress much as you'd expect, with a lot of running around, near misses, light investigation into the cult's history and beliefs, and a few gruesome deaths.
As a scare machine, "A Classic Horror Story" is fairly effective, though there are only a few truly intense sequences, and in the second half, it becomes more about the psychology of the survivors and less about the threat of imminent murder. This is also a violent film that's troubling, but manages to dodge being outright GORY. De Feo and Strippoli use sound effects and the power of suggestion to great effect, but really don't show you all that much on-screen. Everything is witnessed through a hole in the wall or a peephole, or from behind a tree. In keeping with the overall theme, we're never getting a full picture of what this cult is all about, until it's too late.
As its title would suggest, "A Classic Horror Story" is more of an ode to horror's past, and its dark influence on generations of young men and women, than anything new or groundbreaking. But for genre fans, it's a fast-paced and stylish entry with some interesting shades, and a few tricks up its sleeve.
Title: "A Classic Horror Story"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Running time: 95 minutes
In Italian with English subtitles