Devised by Dr. Austin Fisher and first held in 2013 Spaghetti Cinema is an academic conference and film festival that celebrates the history and contemporary reach of Italian genre cinema and has been held consecutively in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, to date. The first event focused on Spaghetti Westerns and the follow up was a two-day event dedicated to the Giallo and Italian horror cinema. One of the main evolutions for the 2014 event, held over two days in early May, was even greater expression of fandom amongst the convening academics due to the presence of key practitioners responsible for work being screened and discussed through the diverse panels and keynote.
The balance of academic rigour and cinematic appreciation is a key element of the Spaghetti Cinema approach and the event featured screenings of Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985), Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World (1977). These screenings were set in context by the appearance of figures involved in varying degrees in the production of the films including Deodato himself alongside his Last Cannibal World actress Me Me Lai. The event also welcomed Luigi Cozzi who worked on the special effects for Phenomena and star of The Beyond, Catriona MacColl. The guests were present for the majority of the weekend and their presence at panels led to fascinating industrial practice insight that added degrees of weight and new context to the academic work being presented. The presence of such illustrious participants had the impact of reducing serious academics to gob-smacked fans at times and brought a real sense of passion to the proceedings, resulting in an intimate social and collegiate atmosphere amongst the audience of presenting academics, industry guests and genre fans.
This year’s keynote was delivered by Professor Peter Hutchings and discussed the early work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. By looking at the contemporary Italian film industry and culture when these filmmakers emerged Hutchings refigured the directors as being closer to the mainstream of Italian filmmaking than may have been argued through revisionist study. The presence of a keynote speaker who is responsible for some of the original and pre-eminent research in a specialist field, akin to Sir Christopher Frayling and Spaghetti Westerns in year one, again resulted in the odd but welcome phenomenon in such surroundings of the presence of an academic who is both referenced at length across the event yet imparts immediate insight and analysis on the subjects being covered The result of this is an elevation of the work and enhanced scope of the research.
There were three panels on day one and they were kicked off by the first, titled Re-appraising Genre Histories. The three papers presented foreshadowed the idiosyncratic and diverse approaches to the core subject that would emerge across the two days of the conference. Dr. Russ Hunter from Northumbria University started at the beginning, not only of horror cinema but the form itself in a paper titled Mostruoso! Italy’s Silent Horror Cinema. Hunter looked at how early Italian cinema engaged with tropes that would become regarded as horror conventions and created work that was aligned with emerging expressionistic movements across Europe suggesting that there were antecedents to the traditionally regarded beginning of the Italian horror form in the 1950s. This repositioning of commonly held ideas to draw threads throughout wider cinematic culture proved to be one of the most engaging elements of the academic proceedings. Andreas Ehrenreich from the University of Mannheim delivered a close reading of the film and screenplay of Sergio Martino’s Next! /Blade of the Ripper (1971) to create a fascinating argument that the Giallo is a form of adaptation when aligned with the screenplay due to the production practices and industrial contexts that contribute to the creation of the films. Ehrenreich argued his case by revealing where the final version of the film differed to the screenplay in ways that were predominantly driven by practical and potentially commercial decisions as opposed to creative. Dr. Mark Duffett from the University of Chester closed the first panel by investigating how Dario Argento’s personal rock fandom inspired the collaborations with rock bands, particularly Goblin, that became somewhat of an Argento signature. Duffett discussed how Argento used his celebrity and public fandom to be able to merge heavy metal and heavy rock with horror in a way that has since become wider common practice in not only Italian horror but across the genre’s spectrum.
Panel two looked beyond the borders of Italy and film to focus on routes of influence for the Italian horror form. The panel was titled Transnational Routes of Influence accordingly. First up Dr. Leon Hunt from Brunel University delivered a paper titled Kings Of Terror, Geniuses Of Crime: Giallo Cinema and Fumetti Neri. The Fumetti Neri was a cycle of Italian comics aimed at adults. They grew out of the successful emergence of the comic book Diabolik. Jackson looked at how Diabolik but also the emergence of Mario Bava as a Giallo filmmaker influenced the Fumetti Neri and also how the influence flowed the other way. A paper titled Remakesploitation: Transnational Borrowings between Turkish and Italian Exploitation Cinema, which was delivered by Dr. Iain Robert Smith from University of Roehampton, followed this. Smith brought his trademark insight and almost archaeological zeal to uncovering links between Italian genre exports and little seen Turkish exploitation content, including some adaptations of Italian comic book films. The paper brought the adaptation/remake elements of the Italian form into new light by focusing on the Turkish versions of what are ostensibly generic re-workings of Anglo-American fiction forms. Dr. Johnny Walker, the second participant of the day from Northumbria University closed out the panel with the paper Between ‘Italianate’ and ‘Italian’ Horror Cinema. Walker’s paper discussed how the legacy of classic Italian horror cinema is contemporarily felt in the wider horror field, focusing on recent films including Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013). Walker discussed how the influence of Italian horror cinema is felt across Europe and the U.S. but has little impact on the style and aesthetics of contemporary Italian horror output in an astute paper to end the session.
The final panel of the day shifted the focus into industrial practices and was titled Italian Horror Cinema’s Distribution Tails accordingly. Mark McKenna of the University of Sunderland’s paper was first. Titled Coming Back from the Dead: Zombie Distributors and the Unofficial Franchise discussed the ethically spurious practice of giving standalone films sequential titles to popular or recognised genre franchises and the factors that made it possible and successful in exploitation cinema circles. This was followed by De Montfort University’s Lewis Howse with his paper titled Is There Anybody Out There? Decline, Television and the “Death” of the Spaghetti Nightmare Film. The paper looked at a similar area to Johnny Walker’s earlier paper, focusing on the influence of classic Italian horror on modern filmmakers, but took a deeper look at industrial and indigenous factors that have hampered recent Italian horror cinema’s efforts to regain the idealized cult status it held in the 1970s and early 1980s. Part of Howse’s paper looked at changes in and the impact of Italian television and this theme was continued in the next paper. Michela Paoletti from the University of Bologna delivered the paper What Ever Happened to Them? Brivido Giallo, Alta Tensione and Houses of Doom: The Horror Cable Series of Reteitalia. Paoletti discussed the attempts of Italian company Reteitalia to bring Giallo and Giallo inspired content and filmmakers to television with varying degrees of success. Dr. Stefano Baschiera from Queens University, Belfast brought the panel and the strictly academic business of the day to a close. His paper titled Italian Horror Cinema On Demand looked out how recent moves in VOD and streaming services had provided an outlet for Italian horror to move beyond the realms of cult appreciation and gain a wider audience. The paper was nuanced in its discussion and looked at the categorisation and ‘cuts’ of the films in question, delivering a detailed comparison of the distribution opportunities to the films presently and at the time of their production and release. The after-panel conversation took a fascinating turn with guests Ruggero Deodato and Luigi Cozzi providing extra insight and context into some of the industrial contexts being discussed on the panel, resulting in a discussion between academics and practitioners, translated and moderated by Dr. Baschiera.
The first screening of the weekend, Argento’s Phenomena, and a lively conference dinner attended by staff and volunteers, academics and attendees, and the event’s special guests followed the panels.
Day two begin fiercely with a panel chaired by conference director Dr. Austin Fisher. Titled The Politics of Perverse Desire in Italian Cinema the panel ensured that the momentum of the event was continued with some no holds barred papers. Anglia Ruskin University’s Andreas Charalambous started proceedings with his paper Monsters and Facial Perversion. Charalambous gave a fascinating Deleuzeian reading of several Italian horror films and their use of facial close-ups. Professor Colin Gardner from University of California, Santa Barbara followed this. His paper, titled The Twilight of the Idols: Perversity as Eternal Return and Will-To-Power in Antonio Margheriti’s ‘The Virgin of Nuremberg’. Gardner picked up threads from Charalambous’s paper but added a fascinating analysis by way of Nietzsche that found layers of perversity and desire within Margheriti’s film and redefined the ‘monstrous’ in illuminating ways. The last paper was an entertaining and rigorous examination of necrophilia in three films, delivered by Professor Patricia MacCormack from Anglia Ruskin University. MacCormack discussed through incredible insight and thorough examination the ‘liberatory potentialisations of unraveling perverse desire’ in Massaccesi’s Beyond The Darkness (1979), Bava’s Macabre (1981) and Margheriti’s Flesh For Frankenstein (1973).
The strictly academic proceedings were brought to a close by the Stylising Violence panel. Anthony Page from the University of Hertfordshire’s paper Black and White Nazis sought to recontextualise the controversial Nazisploitation genre by discussing the cycle of films in the context of the contemporary situation in Italian society around their production, particularly the Peteano bombings. Dr. Calum Waddell from the University of Aberdeen followed Page with his paper Tropical Thunder: The Italian Cannibal Film and The Art of Misinformation. Waddell looked at how Italian cannibal films deployed deliberate mistruths, verging on Orientalism, to present a cultural distinction that became symptomatic of the short lived genre. The final paper, by Sheffield Hallam University’s Shelley O’Brien, was titled Scoring Violence: The Importance of Riz Ortolani’s Music in Don’t Torture A Duckling and Cannibal Holocaust. The paper almost brought the conference full circle by looking at the role of music in some of the most famous and celebrated films within the Italian horror canon. O’Brien astutely and passionately revealed how the music complements the visuals to devastatingly unsettling effect to end the academic panels in style.
Following the academic proceedings there were two screenings and industry panels. First, a screening of Fulci’s The Beyond was bookended by conversations with Luigi Cozzi and Catriona MacColl and then to close the second Spaghetti Cinema event Ruggero Deodato and Me Me Lai were in conversation with Dr. Calum Waddell following a screening of Deodato’s Last Cannibal World.
Dr. Fisher’s ambition for Spaghetti Cinema to “increase the international visibility of serious scholarship on popular Italian cinema and its ongoing influences on [..] contemporary culture” seems to have taken a giant leap with this second event. It fuses fandom and scholarship in symbiotic ways that put the event at the forefront of developments in academia towards increasingly diverse forums for presenting academic research and scholarship. The blend of industry practitioners and academics is further enhanced by the inclusion of scholars from all levels of research practice, ranging from Masters students through to chair holding professors. A passion for cinema and all its potentialities is evident across the entirety of the Spaghetti Cinema brand from the promotional material design, through the scholarly reach of the academic content and the attendant screenings of genre classics introduced and contextualised by those involved in their creation