The members of a female rock band are having trouble coming up with their next big hit. So one of their collaborators acquires an unpublished score by Niccolo Paganini, the famed 18th and 19th century composer who is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil himself. The ladies love the song and decide that the perfect place to record their music video for their new hit is in the creepy, decrepit home that Paganini once resided, and is also rumored to have killed his wife in.
The first day of filming goes great, but when strange things begin happening and people inexplicably start to go missing, the ladies and their crew quickly realize that they might not have only inadvertently awakened the spirit of the suspiciously vengeful and dead composer with their song, but also opened a portal to Hell itself as well.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this Italian horror flick before, nor do I recall ever hearing anybody else talking about it either. But I thought the summary sounded interesting and I saw that it had Donald Pleasence in it, and since I’m such a sucker for that bald, fluff-ball, I figured “what the hell.” Granted, Pleasence was never really known for being too discerning in his film roles, so I didn’t have particularly high expectations going into this film either. And, after watching it, it was clear that I was right not to, and that that spiked hot cocoa I made beforehand was a wise decision on my part. Because this film… Well, it’s not good. But it’s also not nearly as bad as I was expecting either, and it even had a couple nice moments and ideas behind it. It’s just too bad that the movie was never able to live up to any of them.
Hell, it has trouble living up to the quality of the music video they shot during the movie…or the movie poster…the movie poster is very nice.
But it turns out that no one really likes this movie, not even it’s director, because thanks to a slew of re-writes the film was apparently a royal PITA to work on, and in the end the film’s director Luigi Cozzi had little to no budget, and the concept of the movie he had initially signed up to work on ended up being so vastly different than the final product he was actually asked to do that it was practically a different movie. For instance, just about every description you read about the film mentions the ladies opening a portal to Hell. But that’s… Really not what happens? One of the gals does fall down a dark —SURPRISE!— pit and disappears at one point, but A) she ends up reappearing again, and B) the pit is later shown to only be around 5 feet deep and the entrance to a tunnel. The only reason why we know that it’s supposed to be some kind of Hell Pit portal is because the film’s description implies it and the actors suggest it…kinda, not because there’s anything in the film that truly illustrates or even blatantly shows us that. And trust me, if the film wanted you to think that, I guarantee that it would have told you, because thanks to the innumerable script re-writes the plot makes absolutely no friggin’ sense, so the movie is all but forced to spend A LOT of time spouting ridiculous explanations about what’s going on and why. And thank GOD for that, because otherwise you likely wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on. There are mentions of Hell, yes, but also demons, and time loops, and force fields, and even singing stars, which are all really neat sounding ideas on their own, but then absolutely all of it sounds like nothing more than condescending BS, because while the movie may have had transcendent aspirations it also had absolutely NO budget, so the object of the game in this here film seems to have been “Tell, but don’t show”… Cause, you know, they had no money. Meaning that you have a story that claims to be about “Oh no! We opened a portal to Hell! What do we do!?!”, but ends up feeling like a cheap slasher, because thanks to their meager funds the only things they could afford were the guy in a mask and a couple buckets of blood…. and Donald Pleasence.
Hi, Donald! I like your hat! Very suave.
And though I know I probably rag on Donald a lot, I just want it to be known that he and Daria Nicolodi’s presence are really the only things keeping this film from being an unsalvageable mess. The acting in general beyond those two is otherwise horrible, and it’s paired with an equally horrible dub job and a couple of cringy rock songs to go along with it. But even with the horribly done dub, Nicolodi at least still manages to maintain a striking sense of presence. And trust me, considering the questionable quality and overall cheesiness in the rest of this film, that is a glowing testament to her level of skill. The only other person who manages to come even close to her is Pleasence, and he’s only in the film for maybe, eh, five minutes, if that. Yet he still ends up being more memorable than much of the main cast, even with the horrible voice-over they gave him, which I still can’t tell is actually him or not. I suspect it is, because it’s the only character whose dubbed voice seems to be synced properly, and the voice matches his familiar diction and mannerisms. But if it is him then they also filtered him to sound like a baritone, so I can’t be sure. But I guess that just goes to show just how terrible some of the sounds in this movie are in general.
You can just hear the crappy sounds accompanying these lighting effects, can’t you?
I actually kinda feel bad for Paganini Horror, because I wish it was what it claimed to be. The movie sucks you in with its lofty goals, but it never once comes close to ever reaching any of them. I mean, you think it’s going to, and it gets to the point where it starts to go in the right direction, but then it devolves into a lot of “wandering around in the dark” and all your hopes go up in flames. And that’s only after you sit through two musical numbers and a lot of inane chitchat. So instead of the movie about demon horrors and time loops that you were promised, you end up with a very boring and mundane slasher/ghost story with a couple of random musical numbers that really struggles just to keep you engaged, and a plot that just… Well, jumps around too much and makes no sense in general, probably thanks to all the rewrites. The film does manage to walk away with a couple of good things to its name, like a GREAT location (most of the film was shot in Venice), some decent attempts at atmosphere, a couple of impressively grisly gore effects, a killer musical instrument (which was admittedly very neat), and the nice pops of color that one comes to expect from Italian horror cinema. But a handful of brilliance is not enough to overcome all the bad acting, cringy sound, horrible dub job, awful special effects, or the downright boring and nonsensical plot. There’s a reason this film has been largely forgotten. Not necessarily because it’s bad, but mostly because it’s just, well, blah. I mean, it’s still B-Grade, it’s just boring B-Grade.
Paganini Horror is available on a variety of streaming services.
Paganini Horror is also available on DVD and Bluray, in a nice, new 2K restoration.
One thought on “Paganini Horror (1989)”
I’d still watch this. One week I need to take off a few days and watch all of these things you bring to my attention.
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