Release Date(s)1978 (June 14, 2022)
Studio(s)Aleph Cinematografica/Alexandra Films (Mondo Macabro)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
Hotel Fear (Pensione paura) is an Italian/Spanish co-production released in 1978. Directed by Francesco Barilli (The Perfume of the Lady in Black), it tells the story of Rosa, a beautiful young woman who helps her mother run their mostly empty Italian hotel during World War II while waiting for her father to return home. The hotel patrons are a mixed bag of sleazy guests, one in particular who has his eyes set squarely on Rosa. But when she’s in danger, a mysterious figure in black appears and kills whomever is threatening her. Her only friend is a young boy from the village, but the constant dealings with guests and repeated murders begin to have an effect on Rosa’s mind, and she begins struggling with what’s real and what isn’t.
A slow burn horror film that spends more time building to its scenes of violence and focusing on characters and their interactions with each other, Hotel Fear is at times an effective thriller. The performances are strong from all involved and the film’s denouement certainly leaves one with a feeling of sadness for its main character. That said, there a few too many stretches of Rosa interacting with the various characters. Things sometimes get confusing as to who is who, and what kind of impact they will ultimately have on the outcome of the story. Even so, this an interesting look at how war affects these people, and the horror is byproduct of that.
The film also look good, with dark interiors (particularly the basement), and bright exteriors lit exclusively by natural light. Leonora Fani is strong in the lead role, and would continue working in Italian productions such as Giallo in Venice and The House by the Edge of the Lake. Luc Marenda is also effective as the insidiously unpleasant Rodolfo, who’s not only eyeing Rosa, but has a secret agenda of his own. Other actors include Lidia Biondi and Francisco Rabal, the former Rosa’s mother, and the latter a man that they’re hiding upstairs from everyone, but why he’s being tucked away is unclear until the final moments of the film. In short, Hotel Fear is a good-looking film with an intriguing premise and conclusion, but can be a tad protracted.
Hotel Fear was shot by director of photography Gualtiero Manozzi on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Mondo Macabro brings the film to Blu-ray with a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, but presented here with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It features medium grain that's tightly woven, though occasional spikes do occur, as well as moments that appear too clean, meaning that a minor amount of DNR may have been applied. Saturation is excellent with strong uses of green and red, but also good flesh tones. Blacks are deep with minimal crush and there’s a high level of fine detail on display. Everything is extremely clean and stable with good contrast.
Audio is included in Italian and Spanish 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles for each track. Of the two, the Italian audio is more compact. It’s also been cleaned up to the point that certain sound effects have a minor warbled quality to them. The Spanish audio is wider with more pronounced dialogue, but has a high amount of hiss. The performances are subjectively better in the Spanish audio, but both tracks have their aural pros and cons.
Hotel Fear on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with an insert containing new artwork by Gilles Vranckx. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Rachael Nisbet and Peter Jilmstad
- Madness in the Time of War (HD – 30:07)
- Francesco Barilli Interviewed at Cine-Excess 2015 (HD – 28:19)
- I’m Not That Guy (HD – 29:09)
- Italian and Spanish Versions Compared (HD – 6:47)
- Italian Trailer (Upscaled SD – 3:59)
- More from Mondo Macabro Trailer Reel (Upscaled SD – 13:50)
In the new audio commentary with film critics and podcasters Rachael Nisbet and Peter Jilmstad, they compare and contrast to Francesco Barilli’s previous film The Perfume of the Lady in Black, but also discuss the film’s cast and crew and other aspects of the film, including its eventual release and its pros and cons. It’s a stiff commentary as the two are obviously reading from notes that they’ve prepared, but regardless, there’s plenty of information about the film doled out with precision. In addition, there are two new interviews with Francesco Barilli and Luc Merenda, both of whom discuss their careers and the film itself at length. Also included is a Q&A with Francesco Barilli at the 2015 Cine-Excess film festival in London in which he talks about his films in comparison to others, among other highlights. Next is a video comparing the Spanish and Italian versions of the film, as well as the film’s Italian trailer, and a trailer reel for other Mondo Macabro titles.
Hotel Fear has always been difficult to see on home video, but thanks to Mondo Macabro, Italian and Spanish horror fans should be more than pleased with the results. It’s a good-looking disc with informative extras, and if you’re a fan of The Perfume of the Lady in Black, you’ll want to pick this one up too.
- Tim Salmons