Color, 2011, 101m.
Directed by Leonardo Araneo
Starring Roberto Zibetti, Marco Gandolfi Vannini, Aran Bertetto, Jennifer Mischiati, Manuela Parodi, Giovanni Guidelli
Inception Media Group (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1
What happens when Italian horror collides with modern found footage? The answer lies in Back from Hell, a retitling of the English-language production Ex Inferis from first-time director Leonardo Araneo. The premise here is your usual dead kids scenario: six school friends decide to reunite by renting a villa out in the Italian countryside, where they bring along a video camera and spend the first night sipping wine and debating each other about spaceships, the pyramids, and the paranormal in often inscrutable accents. Naturally, this inspires them to light up some candles and play around with a Ouija board, which leads to a violent table reaction and a spelling out of the film's original title. One of the group, George (Zibetti), starts to act very strange, drawing freaky circle patterns all over the wall and causing the video camera to glitch out uncontrollably whenever he screams. Fortunately there's also an old monastery nearby, complete with a priest, Father Elia (Guidelli), who knows more than a little about the malignant forces that have been awakened. An exorcism attempt in the chapel doesn't go as planned, which leads to some Blair Witch-style mayhem in the woods at night, some nasty business involving a fetus, a hidden supernatural fresco, and a journey into a secret-filled crypt.
While it doesn't really tread much new ground beyond a couple of semi-inventive twists in the final act (one involving the source of the weird occurrences which the trailer pretty much gives away), Back from Hell stands out from the pack a bit thanks to its Catholic-based Italian origins. The use of religion here isn't too far afield from the similarly Euro-centric religious Spanish terror of [REC], to which this seems to tip its hat a bit near the end, and once the creepy events start in earnest, it's a modest but entertaining slice of handheld spookiness.
Of course, as with most found footage horror films, that also means you have to wade through a long opening act with characters killing time and setting up plot points in their exposition; however, at least it's more fun and worthwhile than The Devil Inside. (Then again, so is a baseball bat to the head.) It's also interesting to see Guidelli, the most seasoned member of the cast, returning to horror fans; something of an art house staple thanks to his heartthrob roles in Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Night of the Shooting Stars, and Fiorile, he hasn't really touched the genre since his leading role in Lamberto Bava's 1989 version of The Mask of Satan. He's still the best actor here and manages to compensate for Zibetti, an overly stagy performer who... well, if you've seen Dario Argento's Sleepless and remember him as the asthmatic best friend, you should know what to expect.
Inception's DVD, apparently the first worldwide for this title, looks comparable to other recent similar titles; if you've seen contemporary fare like Grave Encounters or The Last Exorcism, you should have some idea of what to expect: dark, shaky, but fine overall for what it is. Audio is presented in both 5.1 and 2.0 options, though given the fact that there's no music score (apart from the end credits), you're really fine with either one; don't expect your surrounds to get a huge workout except for a few foley effects and some rumbling here and there. The sole extra is the American trailer, which is best watched after you've seen the film itself.