The Best Italian Horror Movies
The Italian film industry is one of the biggest juggernauts of the horror genre. From Dario Argento to Lucio Fulci, many Italian genre filmmakers made some of the most unique and extreme horror films ever made! These films range from surreal supernatural fever dreams, classy murder mysteries, or just gory as hell monster flicks.
If you thought Giallo was all Italy had to offer, think again. Very few countries can rival Italy’s variety of horror movies! As such here at PHASR, we wanted to curate the fifteen best Italian horror movies ever made. Enjoy!
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Directed and co-written by Italian horror master Dario Argento with his then-wife Daria Nicolodi co-writing the screenplay. Suspiria stars Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett, and Flavio Bucci. The film follows a young American woman who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy, only to discover it’s the home of a coven of witches who use the students as sacrifices.
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Suspiria is one of if not the most well-known and popular examples of Italian horror movies and for good reasons! Dario Argento shows off many of his filmmaking talents by making a film that while making little sense, manages to subvert that by truly feeling like a nightmare. One of the last major films to use Technicolor processes, Suspiria is absolutely gorgeous even when we see characters murdered in elaborately horrible ways. Plus it is one of many entries on this list whose score is performed by the Italian progressive rock group Goblin with the opening theme being one of horror’s most chilling.
Deep Red (1975)
Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Deep Red is directed and co-written by Dario Argento (we’re going to be seeing him a lot on this list) and the screenplay is co-written by Bernardino Zapponi. It stars David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, and Gabriele Lavia. The film is about a musician who is investigating a series of brutal murders by a serial killer wearing black gloves.
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If there is one subgenre that is almost synonymous with Italian horror films it’s the Giallo film. Giallos are essentially murder mysteries take are essentially the progenitors of the slasher genre but heavily focus on murder mysteries and strong atmosphere. Deep Red is often considered one of the examples of the Giallo subgenre as it has Argento’s signature strong directing with an engaging mystery and some brutal as hell kills.
Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Another Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento, Inferno stars Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Leigh McCloskey, and Eleonora Giorgi. The plot of Inferno follows a young woman’s investigation of her missing sister that leads her to a New York apartment complex that houses an evil witch.
A spiritual sequel to Suspira and the second in his thematic Three Mothers Trilogy (which consists of Suspira, Inferno, and Mother of Tears), Inferno is arguably just as good if not better than its predecessor. While having a similar “plot” and style to Suspira, Inferno adds an almost gothic atmosphere to the New York apartment setting and adds familiarity to the dream-like story.
Black Sabbath (1963)
Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Black Sabbath comes to us from another well-established figure in Italian as it is directed and co-written by Mario Bava. The screenplay was also written by Marcello Fondato and Alberto Bevilacqua. The cast includes the likes of horror legend Boris Karloff along with Mark Damon, Michèle Mercier, and Susy Andersen. This anthology film includes three stories that involve a woman stalked by a mysterious man over the telephone, a man claiming to have slain an undead monster, and a nurse who finds a ring and is plagued by the former owner’s ghost.
An early major example of an anthology horror movie, Black Sunday is a snack platter of many types of Italian horror movies of the 1960s. We get the go-to Giallo thriller, a psychological supernatural tale, and an old-fashioned ghost story. Mario Bava was one of the most prolific Italian directors of all time and this film shows off the types of stories he can craft.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes
This gory zombie classic is directed by Lucio Fulci who is another major name we’ll be seeing on this list! Zombi 2 (also known as Zombie or Zombie Flesh Eaters) features a screenplay by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, a frequent collaborator of Fulci. Zombi 2 stars Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, and Richard Johnson. The film is about a Caribbean island hit with a voodoo curse that resurrects the dead and spreads the curse to those they attack, turning them into zombies as well.
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While some Italian horror filmmakers like Argento take a more artistic flair to their films, Fulci’s films fit right at home of the grindhouse/video nasty eras of horror. Zombi 2 is one of the most classic and infamous examples of his filmography as not only this film is an official sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (retitled as Zombi in its Italian release) but has heavy amounts of gore. Zombi 2 is definitely schlocky but is very much as influential to modern zombie films as Romero’s Dead Trilogy as seen in The Walking Dead and Resident Evil.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
This infamous film was directed by Ruggero Deodato and written by Gianfranco Clerici. Cannibal Holocaust stars Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, and Luca Barbareschi. The plot follows an anthropologist discovering the tape of a missing documentary crew in the Amazon jungle and discovering the horrible truth of what happened to them.
First, let us preface while this film is an important example of Italian horror movies, Cannibal Holocaust was a film made unethically. From abuse of the cast and crew to real on-screen animal cruelty, we cannot condone the actions that were taken by Deodato in the production of this film. Not to mention this is the most well-known example for the very problematic “Cannibal movies” subgenre and the portrayals of indigenous people are nothing short of offensive.
Still, when it comes to both Italian horror and the wider horror genre as a whole, Cannibal Holocaust impact and influence must not be ignored. Cannibal Holocaust is essentially the first example of the found-footage horror subgenre as the sequences of the documentary crew are very much a mini-found-footage film within the wider narrative. This stylistic choice would influence many of the first waves of true found-footage films such as The Blair Witch Project to further cement the genre.
A Bay of Blood (1971)
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes
A Bay of Blood (also known as Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve, and Blood Bath) is directed and co-written by Mario Bava. The screenplay is also written by with Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, and Sergio Canevari, with story credits by Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Barberi. The cast includes Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli and Laura Betti. The story of the film is about a beachside community is engaged in a murder mystery after the heiress of valuable beachfront property is murdered by an apparent serial killer.
A Bay of Blood is another Giallo classic on this list, but this entry is widely considered one of the main influences to the slasher film. Considered Bava’s most violent film, the film includes many elements we’ll see in modern slashers such as sequences from the killer’s perspective, a high body count, and heavy amounts of gore. In fact, many scenes would be eerily similar to other slashers such as Friday the 13th Part 2 or The Burning.
The Beyond (1981)
Runtime: 1 hour, 20 minutes
The second entry of the “Gates of Hell Trilogy“, The Beyond is directed and co-written by Lucio Fulci. It was also written by Giorgio Mariuzzo and Dardano Sacchetti. The Beyond stars Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller, and Antoine Saint-John. The Beyond tells a loose story involving a woman inheriting an abandoned hotel in New Orleans, only to discover it’s one of the “7 gates of hell” and is unleashing horrific supernatural events.
Often considered his masterpiece, Fulci’s The Beyond is almost like the other side of the coin to Suspiria. If Suspiria is like a fine wine, then The Beyond is a hard whiskey. The film is a surreal trip of southern gothic horror mixed with elements of zombie movies and Lovecraftian horror. Add on some awesome gore and an amazing score by Fulci’s go-to composer Fabio Frizzi, you get one of the most stellar examples of Italian horror movies.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes
City of the Living Dead (also known as The Gates of Hell) is also directed and co-written by Lucio Fulci with Dardano Sacchetti co-writing the film. It stars an ensemble cast that includes Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, and Janet Agren. The plot follows the investigation of a priest’s suicide that may inadvertently opens the gates of hell as hordes of undead monsters are unleashed onto the world.
The first entry of Fulci’s Gates of Hell Trilogy and while not as acclaimed as The Beyond, City of the Living Dead is a fun grindhouse affair. One of the early examples of the 1980s “Video Nasties”, City of the Living Dead slight on story and more about mood and heavy amounts of gore. Anyone interested in classic Italian horror should at least check out what was essentially the prototype of The Beyond.
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Demons is directed and co-written by Mario Bava’s son Lamberto Bava with Dario Argento as its producer and co-writing the screenplay. It was also written by Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Ferrini. The cast includes Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Bobby Rhodes, and Geretta Giancarlo. The film follows a group of random people invited what seems to be an early screening of a horror film about demons turns horrific as it seems the demonic plague of the film has entered the theatre itself.
Horror must run in the Bava family tree as Lamberto continued his father’s footsteps by making on of the collect Italian horror movies of all time with 1985’s Demons. While the plot makes little sense, Bava takes a page from his peers such as Argento to create a film with a strong atmosphere and heavy amounts of gore. This time the mood for Demons is more in line with 1980s heavy metal aesthetics with the soundtrack even featuring songs from such artists as Mötley Crüe and Billy Idol.
Demons 2 (1986)
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Demons 2 is also directed and co-written by Lamberto Bava with Dario Argento again producing and co-writing. Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Ferrini return to co-write along with the new addition of screenwriter Sergio Stivaletti. The cast includes David Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, and Argento’s daughter Asia Argento in her debut film. The plot of Demons 2 is similar to the first film but changes the setting from a movie theatre to a high-rise apartment building where the demonic infection spreads via a TV broadcast of what seems to be a documentary of the first film’s events.
Demons 2 is essentially the first film but more, which while sounds derivative actually works in the film’s favor. Like the first film, Bava focuses on cool visuals and scenes over a cohesive story but increases the scale of events with the apartment setting. Essentially if you like the films, you will also enjoy Demons 2 just as much!
Cemetery Man (1994)
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Cemetery Man is directed by Michele Soavi and a screenplay written by Gianni Romoli. The film stars Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro and Anna Falchi. The film’s plot follows a beleaguered graveyard caretaker who longs for love but is forced to fight off the undead that rises from the cemetery he has to caretaker.
This surreal (this word is used a lot on this list) horror black comedy, Michele Soavi gives us one of the most unique entries on this list and that is saying A LOT! Based on the novel Dellamorte Dellamore by Tiziano Sclavi, Cemetery Man is almost self-aware of the nature of how many Italian horror films have very loose plots, but instead of creating a sense of fear, it’s so absurd it’s hilarious. Characters behave in such odd ways that you can’t tell if it should be disturbing or hilarious.
Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
This Giallo classic is written and directed by Mario Bava. Blood and Black Lace stars Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, and Dante Di Paolo. The plot follows a series of murders on Roman fashion models by a masked killer trying to find a diary that contains scandalous contents.
What many consider THE Giallo film, Blood and Black Lace is pure Mario Bava through and through. Many Italian horror films and filmmakers have in some shape or form taken influence from this classic and it’s very easy the see why. From stylistic filmmaking to violent yet beautiful scenes of horror, it’s clear why Bava has received the titles of “Master of Italian Horror” and “Master of the Macabre”.
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Let’s take a look at one last film written and directed by Dario Argento! Opera stars Cristina Marsillach, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, and Ian Charleson. The plot follows a young soprano who is entrenched in a series of murders by an unknown assailant within a prestigious opera house.
Opera (also known as Terror at the Opera) is what many consider Argento’s last greats before a sad and noticeable decline in his filmography. Despite that, Opera is true Giallo goodness with an almost gothic grandness with the opera house setting and some striking horror visuals. The scene of the killer putting needles under the victim’s eyelids is something that rivals the best traps from the Saw franchise.
Black Sunday (1960)
Runtime: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
And now we reach our final entry on this list and this one comes to us by the master himself Mario Bava. Black Sunday stars Barbara Steele, John Richardson, and Andrea Checchi. The screenplay was based on the horror novella Viy by Nikolai Gogol. Black Sunday tells the story of a witch’s ghost who takes over the body of a beautiful young family member with a similar appearance in revenge for her execution for witchcraft.
Black Sunday is almost a bridge between classic Universal horror and modern horror as it looks and feels like classic gothic horror, but Bava gives it that extra level of violence and horror that is in the DNA of not just Italian horror films, but arguably all of horror. The film itself is a classic ghost story with some striking visuals that still hold up to this day!
What Do You Think Are The Best Italian Horror Movies?
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