BR: Paganini Horror (1989)

March 6, 2020 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Severin Films

Region: A

Released:  October 29, 2019

Genre:  Horror / Supernatural Horror

Synopsis: A pop band in need of a hit single record a song based on a cursed manuscript by legendary violinist Paganini, thereby opening an inter-dimensional gate and unleashing a demonic fiddler. Or something like that.

Special Features: 2 Interviews: “Play It Again Paganini: director Luigi Cozzi (30:30) + “The Devil’s Music: actor Pietro Genuardi” (15:32) / Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending (8:53) / Trailer / Soundtrack CD with first 3000 copies.




1989 was a peculiar year for Luigi Cozzi, in that he worked on two films set within the environs of Venice: Paganini Horror, which he directed and co-wrote, and the disastrous Nosferatu in Venice (1988), a mess he was tasked with cleaning up / saving when the producer went through multiple directors and had to wrangle Klaus Kinski’s temper tantrums.

Happily, Cozzi’s name isn’t on Nosferatu, but Paganini Horror isn’t among the director’s best work, due in large part to a painfully minuscule budget, and conflicting concepts of the final edit between director and producer.

As Cozzi recalls in the lengthy interview on Severin’s excellent Blu-ray release of this apparently rarely seen supernatural shocker, the original concept started as a loose biography of violinist Paganini to be shot in south America, but when financing fell through, Cozzi pitched a compact horror tale in which Paganini’s cursed unpublished music brings the Devil back to a Venetian mansion, where he toys with victims before taking their souls.

As developed with co-star Daria Nicolodi (Suspiria) and occasional writer-director Raimondo Del Balzo (Midnight Blue, Cop Target), Paganini Horror begins with a little girl (Cozzi’s daughter Giada) performing Paganini’s possessed music before she electrocutes her mother (Elena Pompei) in a ludicrously red bathroom.

Flash forward a few decades, and the film restarts as a pop-rock group is being chastised by cruel manager Lavinia (Maria Cristina Mastrangeli) for playing the same old, same old banalities, and wasting valuable time in a recording studio.

Drummer / keyboardist Daniel (Pascal Persiano) decides to save the band not by writing a new song with a fresh collaborator, but meeting a certain Mr. Pickett (Donald Pleasence) in a ruined factory where the two swap cash for cursed sheet music that comes with a guarantee of being a Michael Jackson / Thrilleresque hit.

Lead singer / violinist Kate (Jasmine Maimone), guitarist Elena (one-time actress Michel Klippstein), and bassist Rita (Luana Ravegnini) are immediately hooked on Daniel’s piano rendition of the unpublished Paganini ditty, and the melody seems to quickly win over Lavinia, whose temperament radically shifts from poison-tongued eviscerator to team player. It’s all agreed a video is mandatory to exploit the band’s 110% hit song, and the group set up a shoot in a mansion rented from Sylvia Hackett (Nicolodi), an owner utterly clueless to the drafty malevolent spirits within her really dusty, moldy, structurally unstable estate.

As soon as the video shoot is underway, ace horror director Mark Singer (Pietro Genuardi) and the ladies are threatened by a masked and caped demon (Paganini? The Devil? Mr. Pickett?) who tests his golden violin and its large retractable blade on Rita’s taut tummy.

Cozzi fans and connoisseurs of goofy supernatural Italian thrillers will find patches of fragrant fromage throughout the film, but its budget and hastily assembled script ultimately deny viewers a truly palpable cult film experience. Pleasence’s scenes are occasional, brief, and feel oblique until the end, but the main cast is gorgeous.

Franco Lecca’s Venetian footage varies in quality, from fuzzy, clumsy shots of the canals in the opening scenes to a more effective docu-style as the camera follows Pleasence through piazzas and up to a massive bell tower overlooking a harbor. On the plus side, Cozzi had a fantastic location for his ensemble character thriller – an abandoned religious school is ripe with long hallways, staircases, enormous attics, plenty of peeling paint, and overgrown foliage – and perhaps due to Nicolodi’s involvement with the script, the men are soon dispensed to Hell, leaving the women to fight for their lives as the Devil and his secret mole tear the group apart until there’s one remaining survivor.

On the down side, it’s an amateurishly concocted script with frequently terrible performances. A handful of deleted scenes collected from a dub of Cozzi’s longer edit contain spinning planets (perhaps outtakes from the prior and bigger budgeted Starcrash or The Adventures of Hercules?), eerie skies, and lightening strikes, and Daniel’s piano performance of the forbidden theme for the ladies was original interpolated with bland stills of Paganini and sheet music.

These cosmic minutia do affect what probably felt like a major narrative distraction to the producer, but the final cut is no less disjointed: around the midpoint, the group eventually converge in a dingy room with a giant pink-hued giant hourglass… and walls sporting a framed picture of Einstein (!) and his theorems scattered across the walls… Nerd graffiti.

From this scene alone, the audience’s initial deduction could be that Sylvia’s home is the epicenter of an Einstein cult who once gathered in a secret guest room to chant fragments of his theories in the hope of moving planetary masses into unnatural alignment, enabling the magnification and control of the Nobel Prize winner’s theories… or just bafflement, especially when the floor caves in for no reason other than to separate Rita from the group, scald Mark’s hand and end his cinematographic career, and infect Elena with a parasitic fungus which Rita immediately recognizes from a type of rare wood used by Stradivarius for his violins. (The sideline as to whether Elena is destined to become a human violin, or just moldy mush is sadly never explored.)

Sergio Montanari’s editing keeps the pacing tight, but he can’t hide a few gaping continuities, such as Lecca’s inconsistent lighting within the mansion and day for night sequences, and the prop master’s lone flashlight that manages to pass among characters above and below ground.

Severin’s fine transfer brings out both detail and some lush pastel colours, but the layers of narrative nonsense are worsened by repeated shots of the terrified survivors which evoke clichéd reaction shots from a 1950s creature feature; instead of a rubber monster, the ladies shriek and recoil from smoke, lights, and murky sounds which seem antithetical to the survivors being set up as strong-willed women.

The ‘twist’ finale may have made slightly more sense had Cozzi’s planetary and aberrant weather imagery been retained: observing incoming victims from an invisible dimension, Pickett states the house is the epicenter of ongoing torment for his mole.

Severin’s recent interview with Genuardi is very genial – the actor made his film debut in a production that was obviously fun and inspiring – and Cozzi provides a good overview of the film’s production, casting, and Pleasence’s peculiar role as the grinning, perpetually delighted devil (or an agent of the devil, or the agent’s chauffeur moonlighting after hours and pocketing some souls from private deals with cursed minions).

Vince Tempera’s score is largely adequate – a recurring suspense track is more successful than up-tempo cues – and the bonus CD (previously released in 2019 by Beat Records) with early Blu-ray pressings offers all cues plus three vocal tracks in super-crisp stereo: two versions of the ditsy “Stay the Night” and one of the rather zippy “The Winds of Time” which features the ‘cursed’ Paganini music.

Perhaps due to the film’s poor reception among critics and limited international release, Cozzi would direct just one final feature, the 1989 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat. His subsequent work spans documentaries, often tied to collaborator / mention Dario Argento (Dario Argento: Master of Horror), and the films Roma Fantastica and Blood on Méliès Moon (2016).

Unlike their co-stars, actresses Michel Klippstein and Luana Ravegnini had short careers in film, with the latter appearing in Quelli del casco (1988) and Paparazzi (1998). Jasmine Maimone’s own modest filmography includes the movie-within-a-movie in Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and Cozzi’s last genre feature The Black Cat (1989). Maria Cristina Mastrangeli had a small role in the Augusto Caminito produced, Tinto Brass directed erotica Paprika (1991) and Cozzi’s Blood on Méliès Moon (2016).

And in perhaps the strangest postscript, after Nosferatu in Venice, Klaus Kinski’s next film was… Paganini / Kinski Paganini (1989).



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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