Kate (Jasmine Maimone) is the lead singer of her rock band whose new song Lavinia (Maria Cristina Mastrangeli), the band's manager, thinks is crap. The band needs something new, something unexpected. Daniel (on drums; Pascal Persiano) feels bad for Kate, so he takes a boat ride to a trashy-looking hideaway. With a satchel full of ten-thousand dollars, Daniel offers to buy a song from a fedora-sporting codger (Donald Pleasence). Go ahead and open the briefcase, says the codger, the combination for both locks is "666." Rock on. Inside is an original piece of unpublished music by Niccolò Paganini, a famous violinist who reportedly sold his soul to the Devil. Lavinia has an initial concern about the music: since it's unpublished, there might be a rights issue. Kate and Daniel are full of excitement though: let's shoot an accompanying music video, like Michael Jackson's Thriller, and hire horror-film director Mark Singer (Pietro Genuardi) to shoot it at Paganini's old villa now owned by the very sweet Sylvia (Daria Nicolodi). Let's title the song "Paganini Horror."
The cinema of Italian director Luigi Cozzi has always been to me the equivalent of a great all-nite party that I wished would never end with my cup always filled, the music always just right, and all my favorite people gathered around. However, I know also, deep down, that if I keep this party pace up, irreparable brain damage is bound to set in. Cozzi's Paganini Horror (1989) is apparently his last feature film to date, and it's truly a doozy. Cozzi's cinematic career involves a long professional relationship with both Dario Argento and Argento's long-time lover and actress Daria Nicolodi. His feature Starcrash (1978) had some of my favorite people and also really hurt my head: sexy Caroline Munro, in her tight futuristic outfits; Marjoe Gortner, mugging for the camera as if he truly had been touched by God; and a robot when every time it spoke had me clamoring for the sweet sounds of Jar-Jar Binks. Glowing eggs and gore had never been so cinematically entrancing as in his Contamination (1980). Cozzi tamed the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, for two Hercules features in the 80s, culminating in two of his best towards the end of the decade: The Black Cat (aka Demons 6) (1989) and this one, Paganini Horror. I think that I'm still okay to write this review but also feel a strong need to begin coloring or finger-painting.
In a brilliant and deceptive segueway, Cozzi shows the villa and the villian, donning a gold mask and holding a gold violin. Kate awakens in a white gown, not knowing where she is, but the crypt of Niccolò Paganini is in front of her adorned with candles. Kate gets a knifing by the demonic violinist as Mark Singer stands over her filming. "Cut!" Daniel takes off the gold mask while Lavinia and Sylvia smile in satisfaction. Kate and company rock out for the shooting of the song for the video, and while sexy bassist Rita (Luana Ravegnini) is about to change for the final scenes of the video, the demonic violinist visits her in her dressing room. Thinking it's Daniel, Rita tells him to stop fooling around. In no uncertain terms, the man in the gold mask tells her that he ain't Daniel and check this out: from the end of his golden violin a blade flashes, signalling the end of Rita's career. When Rita doesn't show for the next shoot, Lavinia thinks that Rita's flaked out and fled. While making an impromptu change for the next scene, Daniel encounters Rita, wearing a gown that looks like wet toilet paper. Daniel says good-bye to this world, as do the others: the villa becomes trapped in another dimension, while Paganini plays his symphony of demonic hijinx on the survivors.
My writing about Paganini Horror is almost as fun as viewing it. While it might seem that I'm having fun at Cozzi's expense, let me say that I greatly admire and love the man's cinema. Cozzi's cinema is as important to me as is Antonioni's. Paganini Horror, like Cozzi's cinema, is so pure and genuine. There is never the feeling that Cozzi's is ever above the material, as if he's making a horror film just for money or as a stepping-stone to a bigger commercial film in his career. Paganini Horror drips with as much love as it does with blood and gore (and there's some disgusting and effective bits of it). So much enthusiasm is also present throughout, especially from the actors' performances. Donald Pleasence in a small role near the end of his career could take his character's aloofness and hide in it; however, Pleasence revels in it and takes on a quiet sinister intensity as the Satanic trader. Nicolodi, who also co-wrote the screenplay, could also fade into the background like a wallflower, but she imbues her performance with a true maternal flavor and brings as much emotion as she can muster to the production. Jasmine Maimone's Kate, probably best known for her leading role in Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985), seems so animated during not only her musical performances but throughout, almost yelling her lines she's so excited. The rest of the cast is just as infectious. Cozzi fills Paganini Horror with brilliant solid colors of blue, green, and red unfiltered light, giving the film an air of artificiality, like a movie set, but it gives the film a feeling of its other-worldliness and dissonance. The gore scenes range from ridiculous to effective, which is always an effective mix. The outfits, the hair, and above all, the music are perfect time-capsule entries of the 80s, which I relished.
Paganini Horror is some serious fun for the not uptight. Tread lightly, however, because it can be lovingly damaging and infectious.