Out of the blue, Netflix suddenly seems vaguely interested in horror again. From the outset of July, the streaming giant has released the the two Fear Street movies with the third due this Friday. And viewership numbers seem to support this creative direction. Grace: The Possession, Oxygen, the Black Summer series, and Army of the Dead have already arrived over the last few months. Later this year, There’s Someone Inside Your House and No One Gets Out Alive may still be released. Now Italian meta-horror A Classic Horror Story is ready for horror fans to stream. But with so many self-aware horror movies making the rounds for over a decade does A Classic Horror Story have anything new to offer?
Five strangers board a beat-up RV on a rideshare trip to southern Italy. Each has their own destination and reason for being in the RV. Elisa is going home to have an abortion at her mother’s request. For Sofia and her British boyfriend, Mark, they plan to elope. Also along for the ride, Riccardo, a middle-aged doctor, keeps to himself. And the movie-obsessed Fabrizo plans to document his trip home to visit family for his travel blog. But when a drunk Mark severe to avoid hitting a dead goat in the middle of the road, the RV slams into a tree. Things then take a strange turn. When the five passengers wake up, they aren’t a few feet off the road – they’re stranded in the middle of a field, surrounded by woods, and no cell signal. A lone, odd house confronts them on one side, while strange cult symbols wait for them in the woods.
A Classic Horror Story Delivers a Stylishly Brutal First Half
If ever there was a movie divided against itself, it’s A Classic Horror Story. In spite of some early quipping about horror movies, writer and directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli (along with three other writers) largely stick to homage for the movie’s first half. Specifically, A Classic Horror Story references a range of familiar titles – from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Ritual and just about every ‘lost in the woods‘ horror movie – in what’s a fairly creepy effort. Of course, it’s entirely derivative in every sense of the word. Expect horror movie tropes to abound. Creepy masks. Check. No cellphone signal. Check. Ominous cabin in the woods. Check. Animal skulls and other obvious cult artifacts. You bet.
A creepy story is still a creepy story if executed properly.
Yet if it’s all familiar, at least A Classic Horror Story does it justice. A creepy story is still a creepy story if executed properly. And De Feo and Strippoli pull no punches with the movie’s gory sacrifices. There’s some gruesome imagery put up on the screen. Whether its the cutting out of tongues or gouging of eyes, A Classic Horror Story disturbs on more than one occasion. Though some of the torture devices again recall other movies (see Apostle), they’re still visceral and filmed with visual flair. All the production values here are quite good.
A Classic Horror Story Doesn’t Seem to Know What it Wants to Say
Derivative can be okay, if done well. Too bad A Classic Horror detours into convoluted self-aware horror that never works. When De Feo and Strippoli introduce us to their cult unmasked, their movie no longer feels like a homage to classics. Instead, one scene feels entirely rippled from Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Once A Classic Story delves into more meta territory, it’s not entirely clear what the movie wants to say about the horror genre. In part, the sheer number of movies that had made self-aware commentary about horror makes this movie feel superfluous. Scream, Cherry Falls, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, or Cabin in the Woods – they’ve all done it before. And each of these movies has done it better.
In part, the sheer number of movies that had made self-aware commentary about horror makes this movie feel superfulous.
In its final scene, A Classic Horror Story even hints that is has something to say about horror violence, this time borrowing from found-footage movie, The Den. Yet it’s still not clear what De Feo and Strippoli are getting at. All of the performances are good across the board. But the movie’s screenplay doesn’t do the actors any favours. Whether it’s by design or not, A Classic Horror Story relegates its characters to mostly familiar stereotypes. Cabin in the Woods did the same thing, but it also subverted each of those characters. In contrast, A Classic Horror Story doesn’t do anything with the tropes. Our Final Girl Elissa, played by Matilda Lutz (Revenge), follows the usual character arc with little to no deviation.
A Classic Horror Story Struggles to Distinguish Itself From Other Self-Aware Horror
As much as one may want to like A Classic Horror Story, it never quite hits the intended mark. Even if the early going leans too heavily on what’s come before it, A Classic Horror Story offers visually stylish, brutal horror that we haven’t seen since the New French Extremity of the early 2000s. In spite of its attempts at meta-commentary, this Italian horror movie muddles whatever message was intended. Instead, it just feels like another in a long line of self-aware horror movies. Maybe self-aware horror is about as hip these days as Facebook, and straightforward horror might be the new TikTok.