Italy has a long and rich history when it comes to horror films. From the Gothic films of the sixties, the giallos of the seventies and the assorted zombie and cannibal films of the 80s, the Italians made a huge contribution to the genre. In recent years there have been many attempts to revive that legacy but with mostly weak results. Most recently, we have Matteo Saradini’s FIRST HOUSE ON THE HILL. Is it the real thing or another false start?

Four friends, Tera (Chloe Farnworth SINBAD AND THE WAR OF THE FURIES), Henrick (Kristian Messere THE SURVEYOR), Valerie (Christine Scherer) and Samuel (Umberto Celisano THE CHANGING OF BEN MOORE) head out for a long weekend of partying at a rented villa in Malibu. While the more religious Valerie has her reservations, the others are ready to go the moment they arrive. This may explain the weirdness they experience their first night there. But when they find a dead body and a deck of tarot cards the next day, there’s no doubt something is wrong. When they decide to leave the body until the morning and play with the tarot cards, we all know things are not going to end well.

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Going into FIRST HOUSE ON THE HILL, I had high hopes. Saradini has a long track record as an editor and has worked on the likes of GET OUT, HAPPY DEATH DAY and 31. He should have a great working knowledge of the genre, both good and bad. Sadly, he seems to have learned nothing from the films he’s worked on.

The film takes forever to get going, we’re at the thirty-minute mark before they even get to the house. The events of the first night are so tame it’s funny, not scary. Tera shakes her fully clothed body to some music and waves a flogger around while the lighting goes weird. That’s it

And then there’s the whole ignore the dead body bit. That pretty much kills any plausibility the film had, deader than the corpse. We’ve all come to expect irrational behaviour in these films, but this is a little much. I find a body in my weekend rental, I’m at least calling the cops. I find a body after a night of weird happenings, I’m getting out. These geniuses want to play with tarot cards.

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To be fair things do pick up in the last twenty or so minutes, but it’s way too little and way too late. We can guess the big twist, and we don’t really care. FIRST HOUSE ON THE HILL catches some of the lighting styles and look of Bava and Argento, but it sorely lacks their storytelling skills and outrageous violence, both of which are missed.

For those who noticed the prominent billing of Sonja Kinski, (daughter of Nastassja, granddaughter of Klaus), she’s barely in it. She also shows none of their screen presence, though that may be because she has almost nothing to do.

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