Monday, November 19, 2012

Classic Italian Horror Cinema Lives on in Insidious (2011)



One of the great things about being a long-term horror fan who watches both American films and films from other countries is noticing how older horror films impact newer horror films in different cultures. No, I'm not talking about Hollywood's current infatuation with remaking horror movies, both domestic and foreign; I'm talking about how filmmakers from one country adopt the look and feel of horror that is often associated with filmmakers from another country--while at the same time remaining faithful to their own cultural roots. Such mixture of styles result in horror movies that are much more engaging than those that are content to merely imitate the cinematic approach used by the most well-known horror movies.

Take Insidious, for example. When it was released in 2011, the ad campaigns promoted the fact that it produced by people from the Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises--namely James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Jason Blum, Jeanette Brill, Oren Peli and Steven Schneider. Wan directed Insidious, while Whannell wrote its screenplay and Blum, Brill, Peli and Schneider assumed producer duties. Such advertising was done to capitalize on popular American horror franchises, and the plot of Insidious does bear some plot similarities to Paranormal Activity (2007) and other popular American horror movies such as The Exorcist (1973) and Poltergeist (1982). Yet what I did not expect when watching Insidious was just how much it was influenced by classic Italian horror directors such as Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. In other words, as American horror movies go, Insidious is the most Italian movie I've seen that wasn't made by anyone from Italy.

Insidious tells the story of Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) who have just moved into a new home with their three children. After one of their children Dalton (Ty Simpkins) slips into an inexplicable coma, strange occurrences begin to plague the Lambert family. The Lamberts move to a new address to escape what they believe to be a haunted house, but the haunting continues in its frequency and intensity. Josh and Renai soon learn that the key to ending the haunting lies with saving their comatose son, a task that requires the Lamberts to look to the past for answers.

I don't want to say too much more about Insidious because it will give too much away. What I can say is that I think it is a movie that delivers an ample supply of scares, largely through Wan's careful attention to detail: the film features many visual and spoken clues that pay off greatly during the film's final act. I also encourage horror fans who love films by Italian directors such as Bava, Fulci and Argento to see Insidious because they will find much to appreciate in this movie. As the film progressed, it reminded me of classic Italian thrillers such as Shock (1977), Suspiria (1977) and The Beyond (1981).

I think that Wan's homage to Italian horror was intentional: If you look closely in Dalton's bedroom in the second house, you'll briefly see a page from a Diabolik comic book displayed in a picture frame. The character Diabolik made his first appearance on the big screen in 1968's Danger: Diabolik, a film that was directed by horror maestro Bava. That said, I'd also advise that fans who don't care for Italian horror, which is known for balancing surreal creepiness with low-budget camp, might want to avoid Insidious for the same reason why I appreciated it. If spaghetti horror isn't your thing, Insidious probably won't be either.

Insidious is a welcome addition to the haunted house subgenre of horror, but fans who know their foreign films will also be thrilled by the movie's frequent nods to the classic Italian approach to fright flicks.



2 comments:

  1. I saw Berberian Sound Studio (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1833844/) at Sitges Film Festival this year, and was amazed how ingeniously the movie "recycles" Italian 1970s horror! A rare cinematic pleasure, but not only because of this.
    Never noticed the presence of Italian horror in Insidious though, thank you!

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation of Berberian Sound Studio, Inese! It could be just me, but I could really see the influence of Italian horror in this movie--especially towards the end, and especially from Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy.

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