A new breed of Italian violence. Winner of four awards at the Italian Tenebria Film Festival, including for best director and best screenplay, the film benefits from the input of multiple genre legends such as Antonio Tentori (A Cat in the Brain, Dracula 3-D) who helped co-write the screenplay with Pastore as well as starring in the film, meanwhile the special effects were completed by Sergio Stivaletti (The Church, The Wax Mask, The Card Player, Mother of Tears) and a portion of the soundtrack by former Goblin member Claudio Simonetti (Deep Red, Tenebrae, Sleepless amongst others) and his metal/rock band Daemonia, which for the metal fans around also features Titta Tani (ex-Necrophagia) with their input really helping to elevate the impact of the scenes.
Symphony in Blood Red is a bleak, pessimistic take on the horror-thriller genre, if you are looking for a traditional giallo circa 1971 (amateur detective or police procedural) then you are out of luck, for while deeply influenced by that era Pastore has played with the conventions and introduced an innovative take on the genre, something Argento tried to do but backed out of, with the character of Alfredo Grossi (played by Thomas Kretschmann) in The Stendhal Syndrome.
Opening with a straight up homage and quote from the immediate beginning of Argento’s Tenebrae, a director who Pastore openly states as a major influence, we see a blood-stained woman stumbling away from the camera before being introduced properly into the film with first a POV shot of a (presumed) girlfriend stating she is leaving our lead character for another man, and then in the next scene his psychiatrist seemingly abandons him by stating she recommends he should go into a clinic. These personal rejections appear too much too handle and provide the catalyst for an ill mind to snap, or rather develop into that of a revengeful killer.
Within under eight minutes we know the killer has committed two murders, one in front of us, but there is a sadness too behind his actions, which is beautifully conveyed, in part due to the camera shadowing the killer throughout the film as opposed to a traditional protagonist (such as an amateur detective) and so as a viewer we are not only made to feel complicit in the murders, as voyeurs as we watch, but also we gain an insight into his loneliness, as we begin to feel sympathy and pity for both his life and actions while flashback scenes further enforce these feelings through the depiction of his cruel childhood.
Initially the murderer killed for revenge but soon cannot control the change in his mental state, as he becomes an indiscriminate monster against his will with the true tragedy being his realisation nearer the end as he spots a final chance at redemption with the beautiful Lisa, someone who at last may give the killer some hope and reason in life.
The murders in this film are a thing of beauty, as overseen by Stivaletti including one memorable scene involving the murder of a priest (a traditional giallo priest it must be said, if you have read Koven’s book; ‘La dolce morte: Vernacular cinema and the Italian giallo film) and this murder really symbolises the start of the killers transformation from avenger to monster, although it is a later killing that steals the show displaying the juxtaposition of torture set to happy, childlike carnival music.
Symphony in Blood Red is quite a serious film, in the sense that it never plays for (ironic) laughs or absurdity as some horrors are prone to mistakenly do and as a result it is able to not only maintain but also build on the gloomy almost nihilistic feel without diffusion or breaking the illusion of the bitter world created by Pastore and Tentori.
One must also praise the characterisation of the killer, who sometimes come across as ridiculous in this genre, but the scriptwriting is of a high standard with subtle scenes leading the viewer to build a full picture of the desolate and empty life of the killer.
Featuring brutal violence, beautiful women and a pessimistic outlook make this a similar yet different Italian horror film, letting the killer be the story teller as opposed to simply the odd scene from his point of view, Pastore’s knowledge and love of the genre and film in general shines through but equally does his creativity and personality.
Clocking in a tight 74-minutes (it says approx. 80 but I don’t really count credits), this film does not overstay its welcome and due to the relatively short duration it needs to be focussed and thankfully the makers have achieved that without sacrificing brutality or emotion.
There is so much to recommend about this film which belies its lower budget and limited distribution. You can purchase the film from Lu Pa films at http://www.lupafilm.com/dvd.html
I also had the pleasure of catching up with the director, Luigi Pastore to ask a few questions about the film, the Italian scene and his influences.
UKHS: How is the Italian scene at the moment? In your opinion can it ever get back to its earlier glory?
L: Unfortunately, today the Italian productions are concerned only with comedy. Nobody is interested in producing a thriller or horror movie. Only independent productions manage to keep the genre alive
UKHS: You’re love of Argento is well documented. Growing up what were your favourite films and biggest influences?
L: Dario Argento’s movies have been very important to my choice of making the films. I love them all, because I love an artist in his entirety. You cannot love only a few works by Caravaggio, for example, but all his works are very important. But if I have to choose only some films, sure I put at the top The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebre, Opera.
L: Yes, I’m very glad that my first film is appreciated. I am aware of having made a small film, but I did it really from the heart. Of course I still want to do another thriller, but I will endeavour to make it even better.
UKHS: For your debut film you managed to work with three iconic stars of the Italian film industry. How did that come about and what was it like?
L: I have been very lucky. It was a great privilege to work with them, but also a great responsibility. I could not afford to do a lousy job.
UKHS: Furthermore in the fantastic documentary included on the film disc you feature footage from Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi and Luigi Cozzi amongst others, did you know them prior to the film and has their support helped raise the profile of Symphony in Blood Red?
L: Yes, I know all these artists for a long time. We are very good friends and we have often worked together on other projects. In addition, they are always guests at the Italian Horror Fest City of Neptune, the festival that I do in the summer like organizer and artistic director.
UKHS: One thing that impressed me was how well written the part of the killer was, did you find it difficult to convey his mental state and why are we led to feel some sympathy or pity for him?
L: Because he is actually a victim. He is the victim from the beginning, since he was born, since he was abandoned by his mother. I think that for a person must be really terrible to discover that he had been abandoned by his birth.
UKHS: Abandonment as much as rejection appears to be a trigger for the initial killing, why did you choose these feelings and was it in anyway cathartic for you or Antonio?
L: I was inspired by a true story actually happened. Then in the script we have also added pedophilia to make the character even more dramatic. Abandonment is the key of his madness.
L: It was my chosen style from the beginning. I never wanted to see the face of the protagonist, because I think that evil has no face.
UKHS: Does his final love interest (Lisa) offer him a final chance at redemption or is he a lost cause at that moment and beyond saving?
L: Love is the most important feeling of all our lives. Love is able to defeat the fears and loneliness. But it can also become dangerous when is not reciprocated. Then, it can become obsession.
UKHS: Nearer the end the killer appears haunted by his actions, is that remorse or simply the effect of his mind?
L: It is the awareness of being now come to an end. He wants to be stopped, as it often happens for many serial killers.
UKHS: What is next for you? Are you currently working on any projects?
L: Yes, I am preparing my second film another thriller really scary.
You can find out about Luigi’s second film, A Tear Painted in Black, and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-tear-painted-in-black