God bless Luigi Cozzi; for fans of Italian fantastic cinema, no creator better represents the pure joy (and absurdity) of his craft. Now, thanks to Severin Films and their great new Blu, we have his first full foray into terror – Paganini Horror (1989), which is as forthright, ludicrous, and fun as the title suggests.
With Starcrash (1978) and Contamination (1980), Cozzi set a place for himself as a maker of derivative yet joyous excursions; no one would ever accuse Starcrash of besting Star Wars, yet it’s actually very different while still originating from the Saturday Serial style of filmmaking. Paganini Horror lays its head on the music video generation and a twisted tale of time travel and revenge. Very ambitious considering the budget, yet Cozzi’s enthusiasm carries through every moment of glorious excess.
We open with a little girl getting home from school via gondola in Venice. She goes to her room to practice the violin while her mother takes a bath. The girl decides to cut mom’s bath short by throwing in a hairdryer for some unwanted voltage. Flash forward several years, and an all-female rock band is having trouble in the studio; their next big hit is just not coming.
Leave it to their manager then, as he tracks down a mysterious man (Donald Pleasence – Halloween) who sells him a piece of “lost” Paganini music. The girls have their hit, and they rent a house from a well to do woman (Daria Nicolodi – Deep Red) for a song.
Or a video, to be more precise; having already recorded the track (seriously, when? What?) the girls set about making a video for “Paganini Horror” – perhaps like “The Monster Mash” they’re trying to start a dance craze – until an outside force intrudes on their shoot…the ghost of Paganini himself! (To be fair, he doesn’t so much as scare them to death as he does stab them. Repeatedly.) He’s stylish too: cape, mask, gold violin with a deadly blade at the end – you know, the usual accoutrements.
Well it turns out that our gang is stuck in some sort of time warp situation that ties into music; at least that’s what I think is going on (excised footage from Starcrash was taken out by the producers before release, de-emphasizing the sci-fi aspect of the script). Can the girls escape the clutches of the violin master who sold his soul to the Devil? And does he take requests?
So that’s the story of Paganini Horror. How much was cut isn’t as important as what’s left; I seriously doubt that inserts from Starcrash would bring the film clarity, although that element is always trying to break through the carnage. Cozzi has always had more of a fantastical bent rather than a horror one; even though this features (mostly) a dead man and his knife wandering the halls, it’s still more Twilight Zone than Terror Train.
But this is Cozzi, and Paganini Horror fits comfortably within his oeuvre, give or take a few stabbings. That’s why it’s such a gas; Cozzi is much more interested in hybrids than purebreds, and throwing his vision at the wall and seeing what sticks. Turns out he always has a lot to throw.
Of it’s time, Paganini Horror takes full advantage of the MTV era by having his group focus more on how they look than how they play (spoiler: they don’t really play). Cozzi also uses the chance to give the film a garish, primary color paint job; even Argento would probably tell him to ease up on the blue. But by the very nature of its plastic meets puss creepshow, Cozzi eschews the more nihilistic viewpoint of a fair bit of Italian horror in favor of a kaleidoscopic, devilish good time. Paganini Horror simply rocks hard.
In addition to a solid 2K scan, Severin Films has provided the viewer with a few tantalizing extras:
Perhaps not as abundant as previous releases, nevertheless the ones provided are a good deal informative and very interesting. Hearing the affable Cozzi himself talk about the origins of the story (and its link to a well known highlander) is fascinating, and actor Genuardi reveals what it was like to work with Nicolodi and Pleasence, and the general atmosphere on set. The deleted scenes have the missing Starcrash footage, so if you’re itching to see that again, you’re in luck!
Paganini Horror is just one more reason why Cozzi should be held in more esteemed regard; there’s always room for fun and frivolity in the hallowed halls of horror, and few do it with as much sincerity and love as he does.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5