THE SALAMANDER HOUSE (aka La Casa Del Sabba) * Italy 2021 Dir: Marco Cerilli. 93 mins
Foreign, non-English, Horror has a high-quality pedigree and in particular Korean (Train to Busan, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Wailing) and French (Martyrs, Frontiers, Them) filmmakers have created some interesting, original and ferocious projects. The Italian contingent have instead crafted a more procedural and hyper-supernatural niche for themselves, with Dario Argento (Tenebrae, Deep Red), Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace, A Bay of Blood) and Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie 3) leading the way. Italian filmmakers are also pioneers of ultra-gory, hyper-stylised and high-concept storytelling that aims to provoke controversy and shock.
Actor, Writer and Director Marco Cerilli tried to use all these historic Italian filmmaking techniques at his disposal for The Salamander House (aka La Casa Del Sabba).
A famous Italian-American Horror author (Marco Aceti) goes to a coastal village in Italy to spend a few days in an old house to work on his latest novel.
The history of the house begins to manifest itself with horrific hallucinations, which the author uses as
ideas for his novel, but he soon discovers he might be being manipulated by a local satanic cult.
Bava, Fulci and Argento had unparalleled visions which invigorated and divided audiences in equal measure over their long, illustrious careers. Their films were colourful, visceral, thought-provoking and often challenging, and although they frequently veered into a more esoteric Lynchian narrative, the final product always melded every storytelling ingredient together in a synchronized, cohesive whole. Marco Cerilli, unfortunately, fails at achieving this highly illusive outcome. The Salamander House is a clear attempt to build off of the deep legendary cinematic history of Giallo and introspective Neorealism, but lacks any of the underlying menace and self-awareness inherent in these concepts.
Italian cinema may not be known for expensive locations and elaborate set designs, but The Salamander House takes this to a completely new level. In simple terms, it appears that the film was shot over a long weekend with a group of friends who had nothing better to do with their time. The mostly one-location set-up also feels ad-hoc and unfinished and leaves the actors with the enormous responsibility of filling the screen with a performance that would demand undivided attention. Cerilli’s script focuses heavily on the character of the author, Robert Santana (Marco Aceti) which requires the actor to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but unfortunately his performance quickly devolves into frenzied and unconvincing melo-drama. The director, Cerilli, as the cult leader character, Vassago, is equally implausible as a stereotypical zealot.
Incomprehensible and cheap scenes of shock-value sex and gore are haphazardly inserted without any bite or purpose, leaving the viewer more baffled than horrified. One of the fundamentals in scriptwriting and basic storytelling, Show…don’t tell, is also disregarded as multiple statements are made about seemingly significant, pertinent events that frustratingly happen off-screen.
The filmmaker’s aim to craft a supernatural horror in the rich vein of Italian cinematic history should be commended as the challenge seems almost insurmountable, but the execution lacks the intensity and direction necessary for a successful attempt at achieving this lofty ideal. Fulci, Bava and Argento will forever be the pioneers in Italian cinema, with the likes of Cerilli, trailing perpetually behind.
Review by Louis Du Toit