Amer, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s tribute to the giallo genre pioneered by Mario Bava and Dario Argento, abstracted from these films a deliriously candy-colored style and pop-Freudian iconography, only to put them to radically reconfigured usage as a perverse feminine coming-of-age tale. Gabriele Albanesi’s Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show, on the contrary, is far more straightforward, a workmanlike imitation of the splatter side of Italian horror, closer in feel to the works of Lucio Fulci, a fact that Albanesi’s film trumpets at every possible turn. The original title, In the Mouth of Ubaldo Terzani, gives fair warning as to the sort of self-reflexive, reference-laden work Albanesi had in mind, albeit one that lamentably lacks Carpenter’s gonzo surrealism and unhinged inventiveness. Hampered by a miniscule budget and the limitations of the film’s HD video aesthetic, Albanesi nevertheless manages to craft a modestly effective tribute to the films he obviously loves.
Alessio Rinaldi (Giuseppe Soleri) is an aspiring horror director who finds himself obliged, for the sake of financing, to collaborate with an already established author. When his producer suggests he get in touch with cult horror novelist Ubaldo Terzani (Paolo Sassanelli), Alessio delves into Terzani’s work, which only worsens the terrifyingly vivid nightmares he’s already been experiencing. Eventually, Terzani invites Alessio to stay with him for the duration of their work, and the distinguished older writer, apparently so urbane and cultured, slowly seduces Alessio into his perverse worldview. When Alessio’s girlfriend Sara (Laura Gigante) pays a visit, the seduction expands into an erotic triangle, and the true nature of Terzani’s “inspiration” becomes terribly evident.
Albanesi gives shouts-out to his precursors in nearly every frame: Alessio sports a series of T-shirts that advertise “Fulci Lives!” and “The Joe D’Amato Horror Festival” (there’s even one blazoned with the logo for DVD distributor Raro Video), or otherwise feature stills from films like Bava’s Kill, Baby…Kill! In an early scene, while Alessio and Sara are busy reading Terzani’s books, there’s a scene from Fulci’s Cat in the Brain visible on a TV in the background that shows Fulci and his producer watching a scene from—what else?—still another Fulci film. Hell, even the name “Ubaldo Terzani” is only one letter off from Ubaldo Terzano, the cameraman who shot many of Bava’s best films. The problem with this sort of quote-happy pastiche arises when the filmmaker can’t figure out a way to integrate his referents, to make them do some heavy lifting within the film; when that happens, they’re simply plopped out on the table, to the delectation of genre fans, for the elbow-nudge factor alone.
Moreover, Albanesi’s efforts to blur the boundary between dream and waking seem par for the course in a film that insistently signals its own narrative development, as when Terzani tells the visiting Sara that their screenplay is nearly over, save for one “full-on splatter scene” at the climax. Still, these dreamlike interludes are welcome, since they allow for an element of ambiguity that rounds out the otherwise ramrod straight storyline. Albanesi has an eye for framing, effectively using high- and low-angle compositions and fisheye lenses to unbalance the unrelentingly “realistic” vibe of the digital video. Bright primary colors come into play during these scenes of indeterminate reality, filling the frame with washes of blue and green that counterbalance the deep crimson tide of the finale.
Raro Video does a commendable job on the transfer. Where the colors count most, they're rendered with brightness and dense saturation; the blacks aren't too terribly crushed during the handful of nighttime scenes; and grain levels are steady but never overpowering. The Dolby 5.1 surround track doesn't make much of a case for its peripheral tracks, except during the crowded party scene, or delivering scattered ambient noises and effects, while the stereo track sounds flat and entirely upfront. Valerio Lundini's synthesized score, yet another of the film's throwback gestures, effectively works to establish and expand on the eerie atmosphere.
The commentary track features writer-director Gabriele Albanesi and Antonio Tentori, one of the writers on Lucio Fulci's Cat in the Brain. Conversation is chatty, profuse, and often overlaps profligately. From time to time, their discussion simply points out the obvious, letting the listener know where the story's at. If you've already seen the film (and if you haven't, what're you doing listening to this first?), it's more than a little redundant. Fortunately, the bulk of the commentary is spent discussing matters of more moment, like glossing the steady barrage of references Albanesi has built into Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show—from Alessio's customized T-shirts, to cribbing shots and plot devices from other films, down to the original title. Albanesi and Tentori also point out the frequent cameos from other contemporary Italian horror directors and pop culture figures, and have some fun joking around about Sergio Stivaletti's startlingly graphic makeup and effects work. The brief screen test for Laura Gigante exists more or less as an excuse to ogle the actress, if you feel so inclined, for another two or three minutes. The disc also includes Albanesi's early short film The Hunted, a sort of spaghetti western/horror hodgepodge. It's stylishly shot, but rather one-note, and the stentorian, profanity-laced histrionics from the actor playing Baxter are an annoyance. The illustrated booklet is a nice bonus, and Chris Alexander's essay will be more grist for the mill for those who can't get enough of Albanesi's retro-homage.
Unapologetically aimed at fans of Italian horror and splatter, Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show gets an excellent transfer, fleshed out with a brace of intriguing extras, from Raro Video.