In July 2021, the “Fear Street” trilogy on Netflix made horror fans’ eyes light up. At the same time, there was another genre treat on the streaming platform that was hardly talked about: “A Classic Horror Story”.
Director Leigh Janiak struck a chord last year with the three Fear Street films, which are very loosely based on RL Stine’s children’s books of the same name. The Netflix teen slashers are all about classics like “Friday the 13th” or “Scream”, but without much genre self-reflection. The trilogy is (apart from the feminist-modern tone) a pretty flawless declaration of love for this “fun” carnage cinema of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. A nostalgic trip into the past.
On the other hand stands “A Classic Horror Story”, also released on Netflix in mid-July 2021which perhaps didn’t get the attention it deserved last year because of the direct “Fear Street” competition.
This is by no means as “classic” as the film appears at first glance. Rather mix directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli a state-of-the-art production with powerful visuals and sound with a contemporary repaint of meta-horror that even goes a few steps further than, say, “Scream” or “The Cabin In The Woods”. Not only the conventions of the genre but also its fanboys and critics are raised equally. The result is a restless “Peeping Tom” variant that is up to date – certainly not without weaknesses but without any unnecessary frills.
That’s what “A Classic Horror Story” is about
Pregnant Elisa (Matilda Lutz), nerd Fabrizio (Francesco Russo), grumpy doctor Riccardo (Peppino Mazzotta) and extroverted couple Sofia (Yuliia Sobol) and Mark (Will Merrick) share a car ride to southern Italy via car sharing. But the rather harmonious journey comes to an abrupt end when they dodge a dead animal and crash into a tree at night. The next morning they wake up somewhere else with their caravan, in the middle of a dense forest. In front of them: A spooky hut that holds signs of a satanic cult. But is everything really as it seems?
A declaration of love with a snap trap
Long camera angles, artistically polished rich images, minimalistic booming and screeching sounds: The stylistic presentation of “A Classic Horror Story” hits the notch of modern, hyper-intensive horror films such as “The Witch” or “The Lodge”. Ari Aster, director of “Hereditary” and “Midsommar”, seems to have particularly liked the creators. In the second half, in particular, one can hardly speak of mere references, rather of downright imitation.
However, this outright imitation is not due to a lack of ingenuity. It is the enjoyable celebration of a red-hot cinematic trend (“Midsommar” was released just two years earlier), only for the whole thing to be questioned with increasingly sharp tongues afterward. In the spirit of Die-hard fans of Aster and Co. (as I definitely am) should get off their high horses – everything is stolen from each other anyway. For example, scenes from “Midsommar” merge with those of the 1974 classic “Blood Court in Texas”. The sometimes extreme congruence of superficially so fundamentally different films becomes crystal clear.
One of the hunted is himself a prototype of the exhausting horror fan, commenting on every situation he already knows from films. And of course, such allegations of plagiarism drive him crazy. Ironically, he himself raves about how indispensable many tropes are for the genre. So the later victims (all of them subtly exaggerated clichés) each get an emotional backstory – for the obligatory sympathy factor when they are then assassinated. The storylines that were touched on aren’t discussed again, as they should be.
Everyone gets their fat off
The bad psychos are Satanists or something. your motive? Something with satanic rituals. Who cares? It looks damn cool and is beautifully macabre. At the end of the day, we tuned in for one thing: shattering bones and severed organs. Of course, the genre-detesting guardians of morals feel vindicated right away. But before they can even raise their finger, “A Classic Horror Story” steps in again and says: “So what?” That people are curious and are attracted to the abysmal is nothing new. However, “bad taste” is only spoken of if what is seen is fictitious.