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Music to Soothe the Soul… Give to The Devil

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Intermission 3)

(Mild to Major Spoilers)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the premiere Italian language version)

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Paganini Horror (1989) ***1/2 R

Daria Nicolodi: Sylvia Hackett

Jasmine Maimone: Kate, the Singer (as Jasmine Main)

Maria Cristina Mastrangeli: Lavinia, the Producer

Donald Pleasence: Mr. Pickett

Michel Klippstein: Elena, the Lead Guitarist

Pascal Persiano: Daniel, the Drummer

Pietro Genuardi: Mark Singer, the Director

Luana Ravegnini: Rita, the Bass Guitarist

Roberto Giannini: The Ghost of Niccolò Paganini

Written by: Luigi Cozzi & Daria Nicolodi, from a story by Raimondo Del Bazo (as Raimondo Bazo)

Directed by: Luigi Cozzi

Synopsis: To save a female rock trio’s career, their temporary male drummer pays a large sum of money to a mysterious man for violinist Niccolò Paganini’s presumed lost only unpublished manuscript. The piece is believed to be the one Paganini wrote to sell his soul to Satan with, and that Paganini’s soul was cursed to remain in after death. When the trio and their producer decide to record the music with new lyrics, Paganini’s Ghost rises and begins stalking the group, also opening the Gates of Hell.

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In the late 1980’s, Italian Indie filmmaker Luigi Cozzi was looking to change up from his smaller budget efforts of the last several years and make something that harkened back to his debut effort l’Assassino e Costretto ad Uccidere Ancora (The Killer Must Kill Again).What he came up with was a story of a female rock band whose backup male drummer stumbles across a piece of music penned by the violinist Niccolò Paganini. Playing up the legend Paganini had sold his soul for the intense talent he became famous for, Paganini was to rise from the grave to torment the people stealing his creation. His initial script for Paganini Horror was much more intricate and were going to include more special effects. When the original producer took off for whatever the reason and the initial budget fell through, Fabrizio De Angelis, known himself for low budget fun schlock films, decided to give Cozzi a hand, but told him the script would have to altered and many of the effects dumped to fit the budget he was able to allocate. The result is a little clunky, but still offers many of the thrills and chills Cozzi liked using.

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What Cozzi couldn’t do in the effects and story departments, he made up for with the locations. Many of the outdoor scenes were shot on location in the city of Venice, including the house where Paganini once lived. Cozzi shows both the beauty of Venice, and the dark secrets that some of its past residents, including Paganini himself, probably still have locked away in all the old buildings and homes of the city. Cozzi wasn’t able to use many locations, the few he was able to get he could only use briefly, but he does make well use of all of them, especially the Paganini home.

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The two biggest names in the film are Daria Nicolodi and Donald Pleasence. Nicolodi was primarily famous for being the muse and live-in girlfriend of filmmaker Dario Argento and mother to controversial actress Asia Argento. Her role as Sylvia Hackett is the very standard knowledgeable, but still fairly skeptical owner of a supposedly haunted house. While she’s very familiar with the legends associated to Paganini in regards to his dealings in Satanic rituals, she seemingly regards them as just that, legends. It isn’t until bizarre things begin to plague the musicians and the film crew, that even she begins to believe the tales she told have some truth to them. Pleasence was a very well noted respected character actor from England who did major films and “B” films throughout the 1950’s to the 1970’s. After his appearance in John Carpenter’s original Halloween, Pleasence began working primarily in Horror for the remainder of his career, only getting the occasional break with a non-Horror role. His role as the mysterious Mr. Pickett harkens back to the traditional ally of the Devil, or someone under the Devil’s thumb and control, as he sets in motion the Horror that plagues the innocent rockers, their manager, and their friends.

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The majority of the cast are made up of unknowns, but the standout performance of the unknowns is Jasmine Maimone, credited in the film as Jasmine Main. While not in the film industry a long time at the time of her appearance, Maimone did display all the musts for a solid career in acting. Her character Kate is a talented artist who has hit a wall in creativity with her songs. While not desperate for a hit, her producer insists she won’t have time to get her groove back if she doesn’t come up with a hit soon. Believing resurrecting the supposed lost work of Paganini will revive not only interest in the violinist, but her and her group as well, Kate is open to trying the melody. Realizing quickly after both her bassist and the drummer who showed her the music disappear and are believed dead that Paganini’s home houses his devilish spirit, Kate must find a way to save herself and the others from a similar terrible fate.

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(Author’s Note: Just to clear things up for anyone who loves classic violin pieces, and have some knowledge of Paganini, while there really was an urban legend that still floats around that Paganini sold his soul to the Devil for his fame, there is in fact no truth whatsoever that Paganini was a madman who performed Satanic rituals, and committed any murders. Paganini was what could be called a prodigy, and was extremely gifted in violin playing and writing/reading music. Today he would be called an eccentric in regard to his crazy onstage antics and personality, but it’s easy to see why the people of his era would have said he was possessed by something otherworldly or came off as demonic in his performances. Health issues and his artistic temperament is what eventually led to his decline in the music world, and his eventual death in near destitution from internal bleeding. That a priest couldn’t be summoned quick enough for the last rites is what led to his association with the Devil, that no priest would absolve him.)

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Luigi Cozzi offers some very impressive practical effects, moody lighting, all-around uneasy atmosphere while in Paganini’s home, and a general foreboding as events unfold, but the film still has its flaws. Many story points don’t make, and the motivations of the antagonists appear to be contrived or just simply too farfetched. The film doesn’t fall into the realm of a bad film, and while it does possess elements of the so bad its good film,  it is in fact competently made and  has some really clever concepts that unfortunately couldn’t be used to their fullest because of financial difficulties and little time the producer determined to save the film had in trying to secure enough that would be needed for the most generic of shooting schedules. What Cozzi ends up with in the end is a good story that is to be taken for what it is, and should be respected for its constant attempts at coherency and interest.

Spoilers: Don’t read first half if you haven’t seen the film)

(I’m gonna give this one a solid recommendation because it has all the hallmarks of a “so bad, it’s good” type of film, and it does have more to like about it than it does to hate. The only disappointment with the film to me was the ending. Now while I can totally the truth about Daria Nicolodi’s character being a mad killer making sense, Donald Pleasence being revealed as the Devil, and his motives just seem too far fetched. If anything, it seems like he’s passing preconceived judgments on people before they can be proven sinners or not, and is being just plain greedy in order to torment more souls for his wicked amusement. Only the Drummer had any preconceived notion of the piece’s curse, and the others weren’t even trying to sell the music as their original. I would recommend for viewers to stop the film after about an hour and 5 to 10 minutes, which allows for a reasonable ending. The Blu Ray from 88 Films is solid in its visual and audio transfers, the film looking like it could’ve been made and released recently. Save for a sudden change from Italian to English for only a couple seconds near the end, there’s nothing really negative to say in the presentation of the film.)

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Paganini Horror – The Italian Collection 52

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