Italian horror is, by its very nature, weird as hell. Even the genre’s most acclaimed standouts (Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, for instance) are disgustingly freakish nightmares. But there are certain titles lurch into realms so intensely bizarre, we can’t quite believe our eyes ... or stop showing them to our friends, and quoting their most memorable lines. And that’s why we love ’em. Here are nine of our all-time favorites.
Don’t be fooled by the credit “Directed by Peter Newton.” One of the UK’s infamously banned “video nasties,” 1981’s Absurd—known by several other titles, as these films often are; the best a.k.a. has gotta be Anthropophagous 2 though— comes from the alarmingly prolific exploitation master Joe “Peter Newton” D’Amato (his own real name: Aristide Massaccesi).
Written by and starring George Eastman (the nom de screen of Luigi Montefiori), Absurd is about the kill-crazy rampage of an insane-asylum escapee who has the incredible power to self-heal from his injuries, thanks to an experiment gone very wrong (or very right, depends on who you ask). It’s been called an homage to Halloween (or a rip-off, depends on who you ask). This trailer actually doesn’t show you much, but it does give you a generous taste of Carlo Maria Cordio’s synthed-out score.
Also known as Flesh for Frankenstein, this (very loose, very campy, very X-rated) 1973 take on Mary Shelley’s story was “presented by” Andy Warhol and directed by frequent Warhol cohort Paul Morrissey. The inimitable Udo Kier stars as Baron Frankenstein and Warhol favorite Joe Dallesandro plays a stablehand who unwittingly assists with his greatest experiment. Is it “the wildest Frankenstein ever filmed”? Few have ever been wilder. Flesh makes a great double feature with companion film Blood for Dracula ... if your senses can handle it.
A (ludicrious) horror-themed photoshoot at a crumbling castle goes awry in this delightfully sleazy entry. Though the cast features nimble models galore, the true star is Mickey Hargitay (husband to Jayne Mansfield, father of Mariska “Olivia Benson” Hargitay)—a bodybuilding champion in real life who looks more like a pro-wrestling reject in his costume as the movie’s villainous “Crimson Executioner.” A movie so insane and so wonderfully titled, Gwar named an album in tribute.
Future horror legend Mario Bava served as cinematographer (and uncredited co-director) on this 1959 black-and-white nugget of weird wonder, which contains all of the following: an ancient Mayan goddess, scientists (male AND female, the trailer makes sure to mention), a cursed comet, a putrid blob monster, and “voodoo witchcraft mated to wild atomic energy.”
Aha! You thought we were gonna go with Cannibal Holocaust, but here’s a slightly less obvious yet way freakier cannibal-movie choice. B-movie superstar John Saxon (Enter the Dragon, A Nightmare on Elm Street) returns from Vietnam and slowly realizes that the other men in his unit (including cult fave John Morghen, who plays “Charlie Bukowski”) have returned from the jungle infected by a virus that gives them a ravenous desire for human flesh. AND HE MIGHT HAVE IT, TOO! This one comes from the excellently trashy filmography of Antonio Margheriti (a.k.a. “Anthony M. Dawson”), who also received a for-quota-purposes-only co-directing credit on Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.
Jean-Louis Trintignant (who starred in 2012’s Amour) and bombshell Gina Lollobridiga bring a classy sheen to this 1968 serial-killer giallo flick that happens to have a subplot about boneless chickens. Boneless. Chickens.
This 1981 thriller shamelessly steals everything from Jaws, except this scene, because nowhere in the original Jaws does a shark rip half a dude’s body off, then lunge out of the ocean and clamp its mighty teeth ’round a helicopter, dragging it into the depths below. (ETA: Thanks to the reader who pointed out that happened in Jaws 2 ... clip below in the comments. If only director Enzo G. Castellari had waited a few more years, he could have included more “homages” to subsequent Jaws sequels!)
Jennifer Connelly (circa Labyrinth) stars in Dario Argento’s 1985 chiller as “Jennifer,” the daughter of an American movie star who’s sent to an isolated European boarding school, where girls are being targeted by a mysterious murderer. Many, if not all, of Argento’s films are incredibly weird. But only Phenomena, a.k.a. Creepers, features a teenaged girl who can communicate with insects ... and Halloween’s Donald Pleasence as a kindly scientist whose nurse happens to be a supersmart chimpanzee. (And without spoiling the movie, the killer here is a leading candidate for the oddest one Argento’s ever put on screen.)
RATS: WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM US? This rather incredible trailer poses a lot of questions; to get the answers, you’ll have to watch this co-directed effort from Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, the latter of whom will forever be known by history as the director of the “best worst movie” ever made, Troll 2. Rats: Night of Terror—probably the most hilarious movie with the word “terror” in its title—came out in 1984 but is set in a post-apocalyptic 2015, a time when human beings are struggling to survive ... but guess which furry little beasts are thriving?