Emma (Margherita Remotti), a professor of history and folklore, travels to the small Northern Italian town of Voghera to study the bizarre, early 1800s myth of Shandra (Marcella Braga), a female peasant accused and executed for witchcraft along the banks of the river of which it’s named.
Emma hires Giulia (Claudia Marasca), a Voghera local who organizes sightseeing tours regarding the legend. En route to the hotel with Daniel (Diego Runko), an investigative reporter well-versed in the legend, Guilia’s car breaks down along the town’s rural outskirts—and they’re murdered by two cowl-masked cult figures. Emma soon discovers her soul is enslaved by a magic spell that wakes her at 4:00 am every morning to repeat the carnage. . . .
The craft of film reviews is about time and perspective: the wider one’s film library, the deeper the film references which, in turn, allows for a better analysis of the film at task. And if you have the added perspective of the craft of screenwriting, cinematography, and acting, that only adds to one’s more appreciative set of “creative eyes” when watching a film.
Those rules apply when enjoying the budgetary inventiveness of Evil River, the U.S. streaming reboot of Shanda’s River, an independent Italian neo-giallo crafted for a mere 7500 Euros ($8,000 U.S.) as homage to the classic Italian horror movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s never about how much is spent on the production, but how the budget is utilized; it’s not the equipment (Reds or Canons vs. iPhone8s), it’s how the equipment is used.
Such is this second feature film by Italian music video director Marco Rosson (his first was the 2012 sci-fi thriller New Order) working with a script by Nicola Pizzi (a cinematographer on Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken)—a film that some commenters in the American digital ethers narrowly wrote off as “a boring rip-off of Happy Death Day . . . it sucks . . . it’s a time waster.”
The problem with that assessment is:
- That Blumhouse Production was made for $4.8 million vs. Evil River’s $8,000.
- Happy Death Day is, if we’re going to flagrant the word, a “rip-off” of both Groundhog Day and Wes Craven’s Scream.
- Happy Death Day is an ‘80s slasher redux—and those slashers are the Americanized rip-offs of ‘70s Italian giallo films. (Watch Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th—and compare.)
- If we’re going to be picky: Groundhog Day plagiarized the 1990 Oscar winning short film 12:01 PM (which aired as part of Showtime’s 30-Minute Movie anthology series), itself an adaptation of Richard Lupoff’s short story “12:01 PM” published in December 1973.
But I get it. A younger filmgoer has only seen the digital copies, i.e., Happy Death Day, and not the original celluloids by Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Paolo Cavara, Ruggero Deodato, Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino, the Italian forefathers that birthed Blumhouse Productions’ jump-scares oeuvre in the first place; the very forefathers Evil River homages. (Speaking of “time loops”: We’ve been down this critical-scoffing river before with the Australian neo-giallo, Dark Sister.)
Hopefully, U.S audiences will look at Evil River at a deeper level and discover it’s a film of passion and ingenuity—not incompetence. In the end, the proof of quality across all the film disciplines is always in the awards: a mindboggling 23 film festival wins and 6 nominations (IMDb) in 2017 and 2018, with Margherita Remotti, Marco Rosson, Nicola Pizzi, and producer Giorgio Galbiati each walking away with awards.
Theatrically released in Europe in 2018, Wild Eye Releasing acquired Shanda’s River—giving it a new title and artwork—for a U.S. streaming and DVD release in 2019. They’re now offering it in 2020 as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTv along with several other films from their catalog. If you’d prefer an ad-free experience, it’s also streaming on Amazon Prime.
And we’re diggin’ the film’s theme song “Shanda’s River” by the Italian rock band Three Horns (foward to 9:33).
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR department. As always: you know that has nothing to do with our feelings on the movie.