Released: 14th July
Seen: 27th July
I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I’m a big fan of horror films, in particular the low budget slashers of the 80s. Sure, they might not be the most highbrow films that are trying to impart some essential message about the meaning of existence but they are an endless amount of fun. Even if the film isn’t technically great, chances are good there’s at least a creative effect or a funny line or something that’s going to be worth talking about later. Recently Netflix impressed the hell out of me with their Fear Street trilogy, a series of films that paid homage to different eras of the slasher genre… well, A Classic Horror Story decided it wanted to try and do that too, only in about a third of the time.
A Classic Horror Story starts the way a lot of classic horror stories do, with a bunch of teenagers and young adults in a camper van heading off on a trip together. Somewhere along the way, however, their trip goes awry and they find themselves seemingly in the middle of nowhere with only a strange little house to provide shelter from the elements. Once inside the little house however they start seeing a lot of strange things, a weird little book or a mysterious room… until they find a woman stuck in what appears to be a head made out of sticks, and the large death cult that’s approaching their new hideout.
If you were to watch every single horror film made from about 1969 until 2020 and try hard to remake all of them at the same time, you’d end up with something pretty similar to A Classic Horror Story. It’s honestly impressive just how many assorted references to other films are just thrown together here. It’s not even subtle about it, from Suspiria to Evil Dead to Wrong Turn, you could easily spend days just pointing out every single place this film has borrowed from. What makes it fascinating is that, somehow, all these film pieces fit together perfectly to create this post-modernist horror story about horror stories.
The characters are all so lined up with classic tropes from the final girl to the slut to the sensible adult that it almost feels pointless to even bother trying to name them all because they’re just there to fill a purpose in the plot instead of as actual characters. They fill those slots perfectly, to the point where if it weren’t for the obvious dubbing and repeated reminders that A Classic Horror Story is an Italian film you could easily convince me this cast was on the way to Camp Crystal Lake.
Up until the final act, A Classic Horror Story plays its cards carefully as it can, not showing off what it’s all leading up to but instead reveling in just getting to try on different kinds of horror films and using them to really get under your skin. It almost tries to be another cheesy ripoff horror film, the kind that was so prevalent in the 80s when everyone tried to copy Halloween, up until the final act when it grabs the rug and pulls it sharply so it can reveal the real insanity going on.
That third act reveal is basically the entire point of A Classic Horror Story, pulling away the mask of horror references in order to have a message (not revealing how, we’re not spoiling this) and that’s honestly the weakest part because it just goes against almost everything we’ve seen before. It’s a sharp detour that feels like it’s there because they couldn’t think of a way to end the story so decided to just go off the rails and make it a thing… it’s not great, but it works well enough that I can see why they went there. They’re trying to basically hammer home the points that were being implied up until that final sequence.
If I were to compare A Classic Horror Story to anything I’d be pointing to Cabin in the Woods, it’s Italian Cabin in the Woods but with a different twist reveal. It touches on so many classic films and tropes and throws them all around in hopes that something works, and shockingly most of what gets thrown about ends up working. It almost feels like it shouldn’t, it should feel derivative as hell and yet it never does. It somehow finds ways of making these classic visual references feel fresh and fun, A Classic Horror Story is clearly a film told with absolute adoration for the genre.
Any fan of horror is going to get a kick out of A Classic Horror Story, or at least get the chance to spend an hour and a half pretending to be Captain America going “I understood that reference” about 20 times every minute.