Tarantino's Venice retro spotlighted classic horror titles

ROME– Italian B-movies — that distinctive genre of gory, garish, and stylish pics that did killer biz for decades, before going dormant in the early 1990s — have been reawakened by Quentin Tarantino.

In 2004, Tarantino’s Italian Kings of the B’s retro at the Venice Film Fest brought these titles back into the spotlight. Now local producers have started to spawn a fresh crop of ultraviolent pics and other gritty goods, including pulpy giallos and spaghetti horrors, sub-genres widely considered dead due to the constraints dictated by the advent of Silvio Berlusconi’s commercial Mediaset web during the ’80s.

The Tarantino-programmed section included 1970’s gangster pics “Wipeout!” and “Mister Scarface” by helmer Fernando Di Leo, titles that Tarantino has often cited as inspiration. Sponsored by the Prada Foundation, the retro has since traveled extensively, including to Tokyo, Melbourne, and London.

Two years later, DVD sales are soaring on restored works by the late Di Leo and other formerly neglected old Italo B-movie masters.

“What we’re doing is trying to capitalize in a positive way on the huge boost that Quentin Tarantino has given Italian genre movies,” says Stefano Della Casa, topper of the Turin Film Commission, which is co-producing a Masters of Italian Horror package with state film entity Istituto Luce, inspired by the Showtime series with which it has no links.

The actual Showtime series, for its part, recruited helmer Dario Argento, the godfather of giallos, to helm one of its recent episodes. Argento continues to release features as well.

Unveiled in June at Rome’s wax museum, the package sees cult vets Umberto Lenzi (“Orgasmo,” aka “Paranoia”), and Sergio Martino (“Blade of the Ripper”), Lamberto Bava (“Demons”) as well as Turinese newcomer Nicola Rondolino doing low-budget digital video pics. Pics will be sold outside Italy, but will likely be too racy for principal financiers Mediaset and pubcaster RAI, the country’s two main broadcasters.

“For once we won’t be slaves to the sugar-coated tastes of TV audiences,” says the 75-year-old Lenzi, who is shooting “Horror Baby,” a slasher about a 15-year-old paraplegic girl who becomes a serial killer after viewing a neighbor having sex from her window.

“It may seem strange that Istituto Luce, generally known for its highbrow auteur bent, is part of this Italian B-movie revival,” says Luce topper Luciano Sovena.

“But if you think about it Italian B-movies inspired Truffaut and Renoir, not just Tarantino. There is an intrinsic value in these types of films. They represent the culture of Italian cinema,” he adds.

Smoking a Tuscan cigar in his dark Rome office with a big “Kings of the B’s” poster behind his desk, producer/distributor Gianluca Curti, whose father produced many of Di Leo’s works, says the Venice retro and Tarantino’s seal of approval have given several of his library titles “a second youth,” and not just those by Di Leo.

Sales of stuff like Lucio Fulci’s splatter horror “A Cat in the Brain” and Umberto Lenzi’s “Deep River Savages” cannibal pic have increased by as much as 40% internationally, he says.

“We are definitely looking for that genre of cinema,” confirms Bruce Venezia, VP of programming at U.S. homevid distrib Image Entertainment. “There is plenty of interest from the cult fans here.”

Smaller DVD companies like No Shame, Blue Underground and Media Blasters are also mining vintage Italian titles for new releases. If commercial TV killed the old Italo B movies, DVD is proving a definite booster for their revival.

Curti’s Minerva shingle co-financed Alex Infascelli’s psychological horror “Hate 2 0,” about five young women in a secluded cottage who go on a purifying water-only diet which goes awry. Pic bypassed the perils of theatrical, going straight to DVD, but with a twist. It sold on newsstands, packaged as an optional extra with daily La Repubblica and weekly l’Espresso, a clever distribution method for a country which often packages lipsticks and other bonuses with magazines.

Roughly 80,000 of the 100,000 printed copies of “Hate 2 0,” which sold for e12.90 ($16.30), were sold. Pic will now also air on MTV Italy.

Curti, who has a slate of local thriller/horror titles, including new works by Infascelli and hip helming duo the Manetti brothers in the pipeline, credits Michele Placido’s violent gangster epic “Crime Novel,” a slick semi-realistic chronicle of ties between mobsters and Italian ’70s politics, with re-planting the flag for Italo genre pics abroad. After faring well in Italy, “Crime” pulled in more than $2.5 million earlier this year in France, released by Warner Bros, which co-produced with Cattleya.

“It had been ages since an Italian movie did that well in France,” he crows.

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