Yes, this 1989 Italian horror film does deal with the legend that violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini sold his soul the devil in return for his talent.
And yes, it does feature Paganini coming back to life and murdering people.
Listen, there’s a lot of critical things that you can say about this film but you have to love the idea of a slasher film that feature an actual historical figure coming to life and doing the slashing. I mean, this is no ordinary, masked murderer! No, this is a murderer whose compositions are still played in concert to this day!
Paganini Horror was written by Daria Nicolodi (who also co-starred) and directed by Luigi Cozzi, two Italian horror figures who — fairly or not — will always be associated with Dario Argento. Nicolodi co-starred in several of Argento’s films and was his longtime girlfriend. She’s the mother of Asia Argento. She also provided Dario Argento with the story that would eventually become Suspiria. Argento and Nicolodi had a notably bad breakup and, though they continue to occasionally work together, it’s rare that you ever read an interview with Nicolodi where she doesn’t have something negative to say about Argento and his later films. Luigi Cozzi, meanwhile, is often considered to be a protégé of Argento’s. Argento produced several of Cozzi’s films and Cozzi has directed multiple documentaries about Argento. For several years, Cozzi was also the co-owner and manager of Argento’s movie memorabilia store, Profondo Rosso.
Considering Nicolodi and Cozzi’s well-documented relationships with him, it’s interesting that Paganini Horror features a character who appears to be, at the very least, slightly based on Dario Argento. Mark Singer (Pietro Genuardi) is an arrogant director of bloody horror films who is hired to shoot a music video for a band. The band, which is in desperate need of a hit, is recording a song that is based on a never before recorded (or heard) composition by Paganini himself. The band’s drummer, Daniel (Pascal Persiano), purchased the composition from a mysterious man named Mr. Pickett (Donald Pleasence). We later see Mr. Pickett standing on the roof of a church, grinning maniacally as he throws away Daniel’s money. Hmmm….I wonder what that’s all about.
Though Pleasence isn’t in much of the film, his performance is definitely one of the highlights of Paganini Horror. That he’s playing an evil character is obvious from the minute he shows but Pleasence seems to be having so much fun with the role that you can’t help but like him. There’s something especially charming about the way he smiles while throwing away that money.
The other highpoint of the movie is Paganini himself. As played by Roberto Giannini, Paganani wanders about wearing a mask and a black coat. He carries a violin that has a very sharp blade sticking out of the bottom of it. Yes, it’s totally ludicrous but that’s kind of the point of it. Paganini was known for two things: 1) being a great musician and 2) the rumors that he sold his soul to the devil. Paganini Horror may emphasize the rumors about the devil but it doesn’t let us forget that Paganini was a damn good violinist….
Anyway, Paganini Horror is a frequently incoherent film, where characters don’t act logically and the rules of Paganini’s curse seems to change from scene to scene. Once you get passed the novelty of Paganini being the murderer, this really is a standard slasher film, albeit one that’s a bit more graphic than its American and British counterparts. That said, I don’t think that it’s quite the disaster that Luigi Cozzi has described it as being. (Cozzi has consistently cited it as one of his least favorite of the films that he’s directed.) Donald Pleasence appears to have had a blast playing his role and there are a few memorable shots of Venice. (Of course, it’s pretty much impossible to find an unmemorable shot of Venice.) The scenes of the band pretending to perform are also enjoyably silly. Paganini Horror may not be great but it’s certainly not boring. If you appreciate Italian horror, you get it.
I watched Paganini Horror on Tubi. It was an enjoyable 90 minutes. I have no regrets.