The Greatest Italian Horror Yet To Be Released: Spider Labyrinth

If only one more Italian horror film could ever get a DVD or blu-ray release from now on, 1988's Spider Labyrinth would be it. This is the best "I can't believe it's never been released" Italian horror film of them all. There's never even been a laserdisc of it, or an untranslated foreign DVD. Although, interestingly, the soundtrack was just remastered and released digitally in 2014. Could that be a good sign? Spider Labyrinth was directed by Gianfranco Giagni, co-writer and director of Valentina, the 80's adaptation of Guido Crepax's comic books starring Demetra Hampton - another great movie desperately in need of a DVD or blu-ray release. But let's stay focused on this one for now.
We start out with a great, Hammer-like set up. A university professor is told his classes are canceled and he's to come to a meeting with the school's council. They tell him that they've lost touch with one of their senior professor's in Budapest, who's been out there studying a religious cults. And now they'd like him to travel out there and try to find him, or at least what's left of his research. Naturally, what we winds up stumbling into is much bigger and more sinister than he could've ever suspected. Shady characters, dark alleyways, murderers and yes, spiders.
Our hero gets lost driving around the distinctly labyrinthine city. He asks a man on the street for directions and as soon as he pulls away, someone steps out of the shadows to talk to the man. And there's a great city where he's talking to his assistant at a fancy restaurant. They're covering a lot of exposition, but you slowly start to notice in the background that, one by one, the diners in the background are getting up and slowly walking upstairs, until our leads find themselves in an eerily empty restaurant. I've often seen this film as Bava-esque, and it is, but the style and mystery actually reminds me more of Pupi Avati's best films, like House With Laughing Windows, or the writer trying to follow the clues found in his typewriter ribbon in Zeder.
But it's not all mystery, suspense and old timey film noir-isms. If one of this movie's parents is a restrained Mario Bava, it's other is a wild Lucio Fulci. Big deaths, colorful lighting and the supernatural running screaming right up in your face. Do you want to see a creepy stop motion spider? How about a woman who hangs from a high ceiling and drools silk that turns into a noose and hangs a man? Yeah, this film even delves into the crazed imagery style of some of the more innovative Asian horrors. Spider Labyrinth has it all.
Usually, these things end in a room full of tired old shriners in hooded robes standing around a flat alter with one big dagger between them. I'm not going to spoil what this film ends with, or all the twists and turns it takes to get there, but I'll say the effects of Sergio Stivaletti (as well as Barbara Morosetti, who worked on Demons, Phenomena, Wax Mask and Dellamorte Dellamore) are used to deliver something much more satisfying.
What I've got is a 2011 bootleg DVD from Underground Empire. You've no doubt noticed the Italian television watermark on all my screenshots. It's at least anamorphic widescreen (at an unusual 1.64:1 ratio), but looks sourced from videotape, being very soft and light on detail. There's also a slightly bootleg that's being sold on Amazon as one of those made-to-order DVRs. It's from PR Studios, 2009, and according to one customer's review, "First of all, the dvd cover is obviously a crummy scan of a vhs cover.... The source for this [disc] is a vhs tape. It is full-frame. It looks second or third generation. It is crummy." Another viewer describes its "smudged and grainy picture and muffled sound quality is of an old VHS tape." So yeah, this bootleg at least seems preferable to that one.
But really, we should be able to chuck all these bootlegs. It's time for the high quality presentation this film deserves. Look at all these beautifully shot, creepy atmospheric locations. Imagine how they'd look on blu-ray with a fresh scan of the OCN. And how about some extras? It seems like we hear more and more about the same handful of Italian horror films over and over, often the same interviewees telling the same anecdotes. Yaknow, Catriona MacColl is great, but I think we've learned all there is to know from her a dozen times over. Now let's hear from some of these other people about these other great films. We know next to nothing about the story behind Spider Labyrinth, and I'd love to learn! I don't think I've ever even seen an image of Giagni yet. Heck, even just giving Italian horror fans around the world a chance to see Spider Labyrinth alone would be an education, because most of you have no idea what you're missing.

7 comments:

  1. Sounds intriguing, John, definitely something I'd want to see! This would be lovely if one of the US or UK boutique labels picked it up.

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  2. The complete VALENTINA series got an Italian DVD release a decade or so back. I never got around to picking it up, so I can't comment on its quality, but copies still appear to be available.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001IKVRO4/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B001IKVRO4&linkCode=as2&tag=cinema09-20&linkId=2KYJD56HD7B5U5GN

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    1. Yeah! I've actually got that and it's pretty cool, but unfortunately it doesn't include the movie. And you might say, isn't the movie just a composite of show episodes? That's basically the case, but it's a much more wild ride as a tight movie. Plus, I tried remaking the movie using the show, and there are actually lines of dialogue and little bits that are unique to the movie and not in the show. I still remember first stumbling onto that movie on cable, with no idea it was from a series or even based on a comic book, and I was just like, "wow, what is this bizarre movie?!"

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    2. Indeed, that would've been my reply -- but you beat me to it with your answer, haha. I just went ahead and ordered the series, but I agree, it would've been great if the film condensation was included as well!

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  3. This sounds amazing! Your description reminds me of MESSIAH OF EVIL and DEAD & BURIED, creepy towns that swallow up strangers. It's so cruel this isn't available in a decent form.

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  4. One only strongly hopes(with their fingers tightly crossed) that someday an Italian genre film friendly label(such as Raro U.S.A.,Arrow Video U.S.A.,Blue Underground,or Kino Lorber) someday brings this film(as well as THE SECT) onto U.S. DVD/Blu Ray.

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    1. We'll be getting The Sect this year! Shameless has announced it in the UK, and I think Code Red will be handling it in the US.

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