Many of the world’s most shocking, artistic, and outrageously anarchic horror films come from Italy. Throughout the late 1950s and well into the 1990s, Italian filmmakers were innovating on the genre, creating new sub-genres like the giallo and spectacularly creative rip-offs, as well as taking the zombie and splatter sub-genres to new “gorror” heights. Additionally, Italian horror filmmakers effectively kicked off the slasher craze of the 1980s with their earlier murder mysteries, such as A Bay of Blood.
While some Italian horror flicks have gone on to be cult sensations, such as the immensely popular Dario Argento-directed Suspiria, many others have unjustly fallen into obscurity. In the list below, we’ve counted down the top 11 most underrated Italian horror movies ever made!
11 Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)
Caltiki, the Immortal Monster is a little-seen monster movie about a giant, slimy ancient creature attacking a group of archeologists exploring Mayan ruins.
This Italian spin on The Blob was initially directed by Riccardo Fredo, but he eventually left the production and was replaced by the great horror maestro Mario Bava. Bava, a pioneer for horror auteurs everywhere, did an exceptional job picking up the slack – the movie is dark and grislier than most other sci-fi horror flicks of the ‘50s, and features many fantastic special effects sequences that must have been mind-blowing for the time. What’s more, the stark black-and-white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and elevates the could-be schlocky material to an artistic level.
10 Demonia (1990)
Demonia is a wild nunsploitation horror movie from the Italian splatter king Lucio Fulci. It follows a team of archeologists who accidentally awaken the evil spirits of a cult of satanic nuns.
Though it isn’t typically considered to be one of Fulci’s best movies, Demonia packs plenty of gory and supernatural thrills. Devilish zombie nuns, unrelenting suspense, and gallons of Exorcist-style pea soup vomit are just a taste of the delights that await in this underrated flick. It’s an out-and-out exploitation romp delivered with a great deal of style and flashy cinematography.
9 Beyond the Darkness (1979)
Beyond the Darkness is an infamous Italian exploitation horror film about a young taxidermist who, after the suspicious death of his beloved girlfriend, embarks on a murder spree fueled by his passion for his deceased love and a knack for embalming.
Directed by noted Italian smut purveyor Joe D’Amato – director of such classics as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and a number of films in the titillating Emanuelle series – Beyond the Darkness combines his flair for sensationalist trash with a dogged determination to make the grossest film ever made. The result is a bona fide gross-out classic, admittedly low on suspense but high on nauseating special effects work that make it a must-watch for splatter fans everywhere.
8 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
One of Dario Argento’s greatest yet lesser-known giallo films, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, is nevertheless a shining example of the legendary European sub-genre.
This stylishly directed murder mystery follows a rock and roll musician who is hunted by an unseen assassin and his attempts to uncover the killer’s identity before it is too late. Encompassing all the hallmarks of the giallo sub-genre — including having an amateur detective artist as a main character, as well as featuring a number of stunning murder set-pieces — Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a made even better by packing a wallop of an unexpected twist ending that will take even the most seasoned horror enthusiast by surprise. Additionally, the film’s haunting score by Ennio Morricone is some of the finest work the legendary composer ever did.
7 Baron Blood (1972)
Baron Blood is another great film from Mario Bava (co-director of the aforementioned Caltiki), and a wonderful slice of gothic horror that is perfectly suited for Halloween-time viewing. It centers around an auction for an ancient castle that goes horribly awry when the old owner of the place is accidentally resurrected from the dead.
Although Baron Blood is generally regarded as “lesser” Bava, and it certainly doesn’t reach the artistic heights of his masterpieces Black Sunday and Blood and Black Lace, it’s still expertly directed and filled with memorable gothic imagery.
6 The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)
An extremely underrated classic of the giallo genre, Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris tracks a pair of young models who become targets of a deranged homicidal maniac who’s been tearing up their luxury apartment building.
Lush visuals and in-your-face stylization make this a killer caper to remember, and the kill scenes are extravagant and deliriously drawn-out. In other words, The Case of the Bloody Iris has everything that a giallo-lover could possibly want.
5 All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
All the Colors of the Dark is a flashy giallo flick from horror auteur Sergio Martino. It follows a woman plagued by awful nightmares and visions who unknowingly joins a satanic cult in her efforts to seek help.
From the myriad trippy dream sequences to the chilling satanic ritual scenes, All the Colors of the Dark is a wild thrill ride from start to finish. As with all giallo films, the murder set-pieces and the amazing visuals are what you come for, but with this film, it’s the genuinely unnerving atmosphere that keeps you watching. All in all, this psychosexual murder mystery is one of the most colorful and inventive takes on the giallo sub-genre, and yet it remains criminally underrated.
4 A Blade in the Dark (1983)
A Blade in the Dark is an exhilarating giallo from Lamberto Bava – son of the acclaimed and aforementioned Mario Bava. It centers around a film composer who moves into an isolated villa to work on the musical score for a new horror film, only to find that murder and mayhem lurk around every corner.
The film is noteworthy for its groundbreaking meta approach to the horror genre; its use of a disturbed horror director as one of its main characters positions the film as a sort of precursor to Wes Craven’s seminal New Nightmare. In the words of Screen Rant, “Psychological and self-referential, the film blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy within the confines of a classic, iconic Italian villa.” Although his 1985 splatter classic Demons is the younger Bava’s most well-known film, A Blade in the Dark is without a doubt his best.
3 The Black Cat (1981)
Another one by Demonia director Lucio Fulci, The Black Cat is an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation like no other. For whatever reason, this is one of the Godfather of Gore’s least talked about films, and yet, it is one of his very best.
The movie tracks a series of grisly murders that are taking place in a quiet English town. Unlike many other films based on “The Black Cat,” this one doesn’t shy away at all from depicting a literal connection between the mysterious deaths and the unlucky (and violent) black cat. Full of gore and stunning cinematography – plus plenty of Fulci’s signature dream logic – The Black Cat is a hazy nightmare of a movie patiently awaiting rediscovery.
2 The Sect (1991)
The Sect is an ultra-underrated horror film from director and actor Michele Soavi. It’s about an innocent school teacher who is chosen to bear Satan’s son.
Perfect casting, awe-inspiring special effects, and an intoxicatingly eerie mood characterize this underrated horror jam. Although it is arguably the least well-known and lowest rated of Soavi’s horror films — the best being Stagefright (1987) and Cemetery Man (1994) — The Sect is a deftly directed and gorgeously lensed phantasmagorical delight. This creepy, slow-burn terror deserves a much wider audience.
1 Burial Ground (1981)
Burial Ground (also known as Nights of Terror) is an unhinged zombie movie that kicks up the splatter-horror launched by George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to a whole new level. The movie focuses on a group of people who visit a professor’s home above an ancient crypt, from which an army of the undead rises to feast upon the guests.
According to Game Rant, “Notable for starring 25-year-old Peter Bark as a young boy, Burial Ground is a somber grindhouse gore fest. It divided critics upon its release but is now remembered as something of a flawed gem by zombie movie aficionados.” Indeed, the bizarre casting and the gnarly gore effects pair brilliantly with the spooky, isolated atmosphere, culminating in a perverse and positively nauseating cinematic experience. Although its obvious cheapness and sometimes uncomfortable sexual overtones might turn some viewers away, Burial Ground is an under-seen treasure for the zombie fan who has seen everything.