Nightmare Symphony (2020) Review

Nightmare Symphony Poster

Nightmare Symphony is the latest film from controversial extreme filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo (Tales to Tell in the Dark, Vore Gore). This time out he’s co-directing with cinematographer Daniele Trani (Ill: Final Contagium, Fuck You Immortality). It comes billed as a tribute to Italian exploitation films, Lucio Fulci’s Cat in the Brain in particular. 

Cristopharo certainly picked the right writer for the job. Antonio Tentori (who also plays the fictional film’s screenwriter Antonio), wrote that film and has also worked with the likes of Sergio Stivaletti, Bruno Mattei and Dario Argento. Maybe not on their best films, but he’s no stranger to Italian exploitation either. Can they recapture the glory days of perverse pasta potboilers?

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Nightmare Symphony starts on a raw note as a naked woman (Antonella Salvucci, The Torturer, Dark Waves) who we’ll later learn is named Catherine, is slowly sliced up by a masked figure wearing a peacock mask and wielding a straight razor. From there we head to the train station. Frank (Frank LaLoggia, director of Fear No Evil and  Lady in White) the director of the film A Peacock’s Tale is trying to get to the film’s shooting location. He seems a bit confused, possibly because he thinks he’s in Rome but the film was shot in Kosovo.

Arriving at the studio he’s told of Catherine’s death by Isabelle (also Antonella Salvucci) who also tells him it may have been the work of a serial killer. Soon more people connected to the film are dying. Could the killer be the woman (Merita Budakova, Virus: Extreme Contamination) who seems to be stalking Frank? Or somebody close to the film itself?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Fulci’s film. But to the best of my recall Nightmare Symphony doesn’t actually take that much from Cat in the Brain beyond having Frank LaLoggia playing Frank LaLoggia. We even get to see some behind the scenes footage from his film Fear No Evil at one point.

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 It does however reference Don’t Torture a Duckling, Stagefright, The New York Ripper and Tenebrae among others. And for the most part it wears its influences well. There’s even a theme from composer Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond, House of Forbidden Secrets and, of course, Cat in the Brain) to add to the nostalgia. The rest of the score is by Antony Coia and sounds like the real thing.

Having only seen one of Cristopharo’s other features, Red Krocodil, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when it came to the film’s flesh and blood content. While Nightmare Symphony is a fairly bloody film, it’s far from anything that could be called extreme. Fulci himself went harder on the gore in the likes of The Beyond and Gates of Hell.

There are a couple of scenes besides the opening one that will make you wince. But it’s more for how they’re performed rather than the details we see. And, in very un giallo like fashion, the opening kill provides the film’s only nudity. Cristopharo seems to have restrained himself, possibly a little more than he should have.

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The result is a decent bit of modern giallo. It doesn’t come close to Argento or Fulci at their prime, Nightmare Symphony is more like Lamberto Bava on a good day. And I’ll take it over other attempts at resurrecting the genre such as Let the Corpses Tan.

It has some pacing issues and takes a bit too long between the first and second killings, but after that the bodies do drop at a good rate. A slightly more severe issue I had was with the subtitles. Most of the film is in English but there are some scenes in Italian and the subtitles at times were badly out of sync. I expect this will be fixed before Nightmare Symphony sees release next year.

UK based Tetro Video has announced a release for sometime in 2021. For more details you can check their website and Facebook page. For other release dates, the director’s Facebook page might be of help.

Our Score

Jim Morazzini

Movie buff, gym rat and crazy cat guy