Monday, June 13, 2011

Spaghetti Nightmares

by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta

When I bought this book from back in high school I thought it was the greatest thing on my bookshelf and possibly on the planet. Now, sadly, I am older, perhaps wiser, and certainly much more critical. Published in 1996, it is technically out of print, but still available enough that you can find some affordable copies on the internet. A lot of non-professional reviewers slap labels on it like "bible for Italian cinema enthusiasts" and "ultimate reference book for Italian horror." Both of these are wrong, but first let me get into what Spaghetti Nightmares is all about.

The book is a decently illustrated hodge-podge of interviews from almost everyone in Italian horror from actors, directors, and producers to musicians, designers, and make-up artists. Both authors are Italian, so many of the interviews are translated into English. There is also a small encyclopedic section at the back of the book that list Italian horror films alphabetically and features a brief synopsis and even shorter review. A hundred or more films are jammed into this section, each taking up no more than a cramped paragraph.

The real problem with Spaghetti Nightmares is that the authors are trying to cram what should be three separate books into one. Palmerini and Mistretta attempt to put a very wide, impressive selection of reviews with a wide selection of images and a complete reference of Italian horror films together in one book. This is impossible in a single volume book of this size. It should be divided into two volumes. The first should contain the impressive reviews, but with at least a small chapter of introduction for each of the personalities. For instance, if Daria Nicolodi was given a chapter explaining her role in the genre and her relationship with Argento, the somewhat controversial responses she gives would make more sense. The candid photographs should go in this volume, as well as some of the production shots. I have no problem with the wonderful interviews, but there are so many back stories, personalities, and controversies that I think these things need to be explored in depth.

The section at the end, which attempts to cover every film in Italian horror, should definitely be a second book and should contain the selection of wonderful stills and promotional posters. Each film should get at least a page, with the more important efforts getting two or three. I think it is completely pointless to waste space naming a film, giving its English title and saying three or four sentences about it. That is the major flaw of Spaghetti Nightmares. I'm not saying you shouldn't own this book, but I'm not convinced that it is a must-have. Palmerini and Mistretta had a very admirable goal, which was unfortunately not fully executed. This is not really a reference book at all. It is a nice selection of candid, honest interviews from a group of close knit people who made some wonderful, interesting and terrible films, and who, at one time or another, passionately hated each other.

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