“Nightmare Symphony” is a Falsetto of Praise for Lucio Fulci. Purchase the Blu-ray Below!
Unable to cope with another large box-office failure, the American indie horror director, Frank LaLoggia, is in the travails of a make-or-break psychological thriller overseas in Kosovo. With an executive producer forcibly pulling LaLoggia’s creative marionette strings and the film’s screenwriter displeased and disapproving LaLoggia’s arm-twisted version of the story, the struggling director finds himself frantic and in the middle of a breakdown caught between a rock and a hard place with a postproduction from Hell. Those around him, the conceited producer, the upset screenwriter, the pushy wannabe actor, and more, are being hunted down and brutally murdered by a masked killer and the imaginary line between Frank’s reality and paranoia grows in intensity coming down the wire of completing his career-saving, or rather lifesaving, film.
Long time since I’ve heard the name Frank LaLoggia enter the dark corners of my brain as it relates to the horror genre. The director of 1981’s “Fear No Evil” and 1995’s “Mother” had seemingly vanished from the director’s chair spotlight and more-or-less, or rather more so than less so, vanished from the broader film industry altogether. Then, Domiziano Cristopharo’s “Nightmare Symphony” suddenly drops on the doorstep and there’s Frank LaLoggia, starring in the lead role of an Italian horror production. Domiziano, known from his entries of extreme horror, such as with “Red Krokodil,” “Doll Syndrome,” and “Xpiation,” engages LaLoggia to act in an unusual role, as himself, and turns away from the acuteness depths of uber-violence and acrid allegories to a toned down, more conventionally structured, narrative inspired by the Lucio Fulci psychological slasher “Nightmare Concert,” aka “A Cat in the Brain.” Co-directed with first time feature director Daniele Trani, who also edited and provided the cinematography, and penned by the original screenwriter of “A Cat in the Brain,” Antonio Tentori, “Nightmare Sympathy” plays into questioning reality, the external pressures that drive sanities, and weaves it with a meta thread and needle. The 2020 release is produced by Coulson Rutter (“Your Flesh, Your Curse”) and is an Italian film from Cristopharo’s The Enchanted Architect production company as well as companies Ulkûrzu (“Cold Ground”) and HH Kosova (“The Mad MacBeth”).
Much like “A Cat in the Brain,” Frank LaLoggia depicts his best Lucio Fulci representation as a horror filmmaker whose storyline production mirrors the individual slayings surrounding him. As a character, LaLoggia is not entirely aware of the murders as the peacock headed slasher’s string of sadism runs parallel to LaLoggia’s post-productional workload. Cristopharo pays a simultaneous tribute to not only Fulci but also LaLoggia with a built-in brief, off-plot moment of the editor, Isabella, a good friend and longtime partner of LaLoggia, running a reel of “Fear No Evil” to reminisce over his debut picture. Antonella Salvucci (“Dark Waves,” “The Torturer”) plays Isabella but also LaLoggia’s pseudo film lead actress Catherine in a dual role performance with the latter marking Salvucci’s topless kill scene that hits and sets up the giallo notes. Isabella denotes the director’s only real friend with everyone else, from the screenwriter to the executive producer, push their own self-gratifying wants onto the American filmmaker from all angles. A vulgar herd of personalities descend upon LaLoggia to exact their strong-willed ideas on how the film should appear and be marketed. From the screenwriter Antonio (Antonio Tentori, ‘Symphony in Blood Red”), the imposing desperate actor David (Halil Budakova, “Virus: Extreme Contamination”), to the uncultured and pushy executive producer Fernando Lola (Lumi Budakova) and his aspiring actress Debbie (Poison Rouge, “House of the Flesh Mannequins”), they all look to exploit LaLoggia’s modest career for their own benefit. Performances vary with a range of experience, and we receive more noticeably rigid recites and acts from the Kosovo cast in a clashing pattern with the Italy cast that has worked with Cristopharo previously. Ilmi Hajzeri (“Reaction Killers”), Pietro Cinieri, and Merita Budakova as a chain-smoking lady stalker that has glaring eyes for Frank LaLoggia.
While not necessarily thought of as a remake, “Nightmare Symphony” is certainly a re-envision of the Fulci’s “Cat in the Brain.” What Cristapharo and Trani don’t quite well connect on is connecting all the pieces of the psychotronic puzzle together into what is meant to be expressed. The giallo imagery is quite good, a praise of the golden era period in itself, with a mask and glove killer, the closeup of gratuitous violence, most of the score, and the stylistic visuals imparted with ominous shadow work, foggy and violent dream sequences, and with congruous cinematography and editing of earlier giallo. Plus, audiences are treated to not only the aforementioned Antonio Tentori, screenwriter of “Cat in the Brain,” but also have composer Fabio Frizzi score the opening title. Frizzi, who has orchestrated a score of Lucio Fulci films, such as “Zombie,” “The Beyond,” “Manhattan Baby,” and even “Cat in the Brain” just to select a few notable titles, adds that proverbial cherry on top to evoke Fulci directing “Nightmare Symphony” vicariously through Cristapharo and Trani. There are some questionable portions to reimagining’s take on the original work that are more the brand of the contemporary filmmakers. The presence of death metal prior to one of the kill moments puts the overall giallo at odds with itself in a fish out of water aspectual scene composition. Another out of place component are the external characters that are not directly involved with LaLoggia’s peacock-head themed slasher; the ironical venatic of an animal hunting down people is the reversal of a Darwinism theory that instead of sexual selection, the beautiful and elegant peacock forgoes using grace to attract and aims to survive by natural selection and thus the killer kills to remain alive. However, the story and the directors never reach that summit of summation and with the oddball characters adrift from the core story – such as the stalking woman and the eager actor – “Nightmare Symphony” flounders at the revealing end with its severe case of blinding mental delirium.
With a cover art of an upside skull overfilled with film reels and unfurling celluloid through the soft tissue cavities, “Cat in the Brain” continues to be reflected in “Nightmare Symphony” up to the release’s physical attributes on the Reel Gore Releasing’s Blu-ray. Presented in on a AVC encoded BD25, with a high definition 1080p resolution, and in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the Reel Gore Releasing espouses the Germany 8-Films’ Blu-ray transfer for a North American emanation, which might explain some of the complications with the bonus features that’ll I’ll cover in a bit. Situated in a low contrast and often set in a softer detail light, “Nightmare Symphony” doesn’t pop in any sense of term with a hazy air appearance and a muted color grading that goes against the giallo characteristics, especially when the clothing and set designs have the same desaturation or are colors inherent of low light intensity. Despite appearing like a slightly degraded transfer on a lower BD storage format, compression issues are slim-to-none with artefacts, banding, or blocking and this results in no tampering edge enhancements or digital noise reduction. The release comes with three audio options: A German DTS-HD 5.1, German DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio and an English and Italian DTS-HD Stereo 2.0 all of which are Master Audio. The German audio tracks are a dub from the 8-Film Blu-ray and the 5.1 offers an amplified dynamics of the eclectic soundtrack and limited environment ambience. Dialogue remains outside the dynamics on a monotone course but is clean and clear with good mic placement and a neat, fidelity fine, digital recording. The German dub has a distinct detachment from the video because of its own layer environment, sounding a little sterile than the natural English or Italian, but works well enough as expected with the supplement multi-channel surround sound. English SDH and German subtitles are optional. Bonus contents feature a behind-the-scenes which is entirely just a blooper reel, an English language interview with co-director Domiziano Cristopharo whose secondary language is English, the original soundtrack playlist, and the teaser and theatrical trailer. I mentioned an 8-Films’ transfer complication with the bonus content because there’s is also an interview with Italian screenwriter Antonio Tentori that’s only in German dubbed and subtitled with no option for English subtitles or dub. When you insert “Nightmare Symphony” into your player, an introductory option displays to either pick German or English and I considered this to be the issue for the German only interview with Tentori; however, that is not the case as both country options are encoded in German for the interview, so at the beginning option display, I would recommend the German selection because the setup will have contain all audio options for the feature whereas the English selection will only contain the English 2.0. Reel Gore Releasing’s Blu-ray comes housed in a red snapper case, the same as the company’s release of “Maniac Driver,” and has a less tributing reversible cover art with more revealing and illustrated aspects of the narrative. The release is region free, unrated, and has a runtime of 78 minutes. Another little fun fact about the release is the incorrect spelling of the director’s name on the back cover that credits his surname as Christopharo instead of Cristopharo. Influenced by Lucio Fulci beyond a shadow of a doubt, “Nightmare Symphony” proffers the Horror Maestro’s less notable credit with a companion piece that punctuates both films love for the giallo genre, love for the violence, and love for the morbidly unhinged human condition.