A CLASSIC HORROR STORY (2021)
Directed by Roberto De Feo, Paolo Strippoli.
Written by Roberto De Feo, Paolo Strippoli, Lucio Besana, Milo Tissone, David Bellini.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Francesco Russo, Peppino Mazzotta, Will Merrick, Yuliia Sobol, Alida Baldari Calabria, Cristina Donadio, Francesca Cavallin, Justin Korovkin
A group take part in a rideshare through Italy, but after their bus has an accident, they find themselves in the middle of a mysterious woods in front of an even more mysterious house. And that’s not the only mysterious thing going on when a cult of masked townsfolk show up with pitchforks and torches.
A CLASSIC HORROR STORY riffs on many modern and not-so-modern horror films you’ve probably all seen. The group of tourists who find themselves in this dire situation spring from the same seeds we’ve seen in films like WRONG TURN and HOSTEL. There are wholesome and not so wholesome characters aboard and all of them prove to be nice fodder for the cultists and would-be folk legends to slice and dice their way through. The setting, referred to in the film as a Sam Raimi house, looks more like something out of MIDSOMMAR with its pentagram-like shape. In fact, without MIDSOMMAR as a reference point, this film might look downright spectacular. Instead, the deceptively serene and wooded landscape, the strange architecture, the masked locals, and the folksy rituals feels more like a direct lift from Ari Aster’s last flick. While I wasn’t as blown away by MIDSOMMAR as most, I will concede that it is a well-made, well-thought-out piece of filmmaking. A CLASSIC HORROR STORY pales in comparison though.
The problem is that A CLASSIC HORROR STORY spends so much time aping and paying homage to other films that it really forgets to add anything new to the folk/tourist subgenre. Sure it is creepy to see a group of people wearing masks and emotionlessly staring at the camera, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in MIDSOMMAR and KILL LIST before it and THE WICKER MAN before it. And while MIDSOMMAR delivered some powerful emotional impact, KILL LIST offered an unpredictable storyline, and THE WICKER MAN started it all, what A CLASSIC HORROR STORY adds to be distinct doesn’t work and ends up knocking the knees out of all of the tension built up to the climax. There is a twist. I won’t ruin it, but the whole thing becomes pretentious and self-referential—killing momentum achieved in the good-looking, but familiar first hour.
A CLASSIC HORROR STORY has good intentions. It seems to want to be some kind of clever take on the horror genre, lobbing out callbacks every chance it gets. But while it is rather gory, the performances are decent, and the imagery is both enchanting and horrifying at times, it just doesn’t deliver the goods that it thinks it does. I like the way the film incorporates local folklore involving a trio of monstrous wizards who haunt the countrysides, but there just isn’t enough there that feels original. It feels more like a clumsily stitched-together quilt of better folk and tourist horror films, not the classic horror its title suggests.