FILM REVIEW: PLANET TERROR - A Classic Horror Story (2021)

Updated: Oct 18

A Classic Horror Story - Planet Terror Review (Italia)


Horror has no boundaries. Horror has no borders.

Welcome to Planet Terror. A recurring series of reviews based on non-English language films from around the world.


Directors: Roberto de Feo, Paulo Strippoli

Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Francesco Russo, Peppino Mazzatto, Yuliia Solo, Will Merrick, Alida Baldari Calabria


Written by: Lucio Bessana, Roberto de Feo, Paulo Strippoli, Milo Tissone, David Bellini

Produced by: Iginio Straffi, Maurizio Totti, Alessandro Usai

Cinematography by: Emanuele Pasquet

Original Score by: Massimiliano Mechelli


Synopsis:

In this gruesome suspense film, strangers traveling in southern Italy become stranded in the woods, where they must fight desperately to get out alive.




Thoughts:

With a title like ‘A Classic Horror Story’ you’d expect a fair amount of unambiguous nods to famous and...well...classic horror film favourites from start to finish and guess what? It delivers in spades. Written and directed by Italian duo Roberto de Feo and Paulo Strippoli ‘A Classic Horror Story’ plays out (sometimes to its own detriment) as one mahoosive homage to the entire horror genre and is an intense, gory and fun ride for the most part. However it does sort of get a tad messy towards the end in its frivolous attempts to be a bit too clever for its own good.



After finding each other on a carpooling app, five strangers share a long R.V. drive across the Italian countryside, all with their own intimate stories and reasons for the road trip. Fabrizio (Francesco Russo), a bumbling cinephile obsessed with recording the trip for his social media channels, is the driver (and assumed leader) of the group as they depart on their journey. He is joined by Elisa (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), a young brunette on her way to an abortion appointment, Riccardo (Peppino Mazzotta), a 40 something doctor who just wants to see his daughter again and Sofia (Yuliia Sobol) and Mark (Will Merrick), a lovestruck, free spirited couple who may or may not be in the process of spontaneously eloping. After the initial meet and greets we are on our way. But the fun times don’t last long as Mark, young, drunk and full of spunk crashes into a tree on a dark and desolate forest road while trying to avoid a collision with a goat corpse. When they all come to they soon realise that “there is no road” and the R.V. has apparated in a forest clearing miles from any sign of life.


Or at least that’s what they think.


From this moment on we’re treated to scene after scene of grisly folk horror imagery and visceral violence as the group are taken out (murdered not dined) in meticulous fashion by a mysteriously eerie harem of forest madmen donning weirdly shaped masks made from tree bark.


The opening of the film is a clear tribute to Tobe Hooper’s innovatively influential 1974 classic ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’. But the film actually has more in common with Drew Goddard’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ by way of Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’. Bizarrely the filmmakers seem to want to show their appreciation for western horror films rather than attempting to replicate the artistry of their own nation's famous auteurs. Although in saying that, there are some gorgeously lit sequences with lush reds and a squeamishly tense scene involving a sharp object and an eyeball which both celebrate the work of Giallo greats Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

It does its best to throw in a twist here and there to keep us guessing along the way. The discovery of a young girl (minus a tongue) in a prison of wicker branches escalates the horrific situation the group find themselves in to another level. The inclusion of a Southern Italian fairytale which is supposed to add gravitas to the premise does thicken the plot a bit but there’s not enough tension, or perhaps not enough time to build the tension, between this revelation and the next BIG disclosure. And the next one is a doozy in that it actually turns the whole plot on its head. There’s a strangely shaped wooden house that sits all on its lonesome in the clearing, which definitely harkens back to the Hårga from Aster’s acclaimed second feature film. We’ve seen the ritualistic violence that occurs after the group enters the house many times before in films like ‘Midsommar’ and ‘Apostle’ and other cult driven horror flicks. There’s a fun nod to a Stephen King classic in there too. We even get an outdoor dinner table scene starring a young rotund lad with a deformed face. It’s all a little on the nose.


But of course it’s supposed to be. The horror we’ve already witnessed is very real but there’s something else going on here behind the scenes.


Without giving away any blatant spoilers the climax is yet again another tribute, this time to the late Wes Craven and his meta masterpiece ‘Scream’ from 1996. This is where the film started to lose me a little because as much as we all like to know how the magician does his magic trick, the reality is that it means almost nothing once we’ve seen a peek behind the curtain.



Technically the film is very strong. It’s visually pleasing on the eyes with some gorgeous framing by Emanuele Pasquet, especially when using the spooky wooden house set piece. The sound design is creepily effective and the special effects and makeup is on point. The cast are fine too with Yuliia Sobol and Francesco Russo the stand outs. Final girl Matilda Lutz could’ve been given a little bit more to do before the shit hits the fan so that we cheer extra hard when she ultimately saves the day. She somewhat successfully evokes Marilyn Burns as Sally from ‘Chain Saw’ but tries too hard to morph into Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott in the closing sequence. It doesn’t quite have the desired effect. De Feo and Strippoli’s film is definitely a horror story but it’s far from a classic.


Verdict: ⭐⭐⭐


- Gavin Logan

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