Horror and Mystery in Northern Italy

Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan… Italy is famous for its marvellous cities, monuments and works of art. However, tourists often focus their energy on exploring the greatest and most famous cities, such as Rome or Venice. This means that the slightly less famous cities, which are no less fascinating, almost inevitably go unnoticed. One example of this is the magical Turin, capital of Piedmont, in the northeast of Italy. The adjective ‘magical’ is hardly used at random…

By Alessandra Ivaldi / 21.10.2017

A travelling Italian could entertain his or herself by asking people, “Do you know Turin? What does the name of that city remind you of?”

The most common response is usually: Fiat, Juventus (the ‘Old Lady’!), even Nutella… Does anyone ever remember that Turin is also a breath-taking city of art? A city that has a great deal to offer: the marvellous Savoy Residences, founded by the House of Savoy, one of Italy’s royal families; the many great Piazze; the Cathedral; the museums and, of course, the Mole Antonelliana – the symbol of the city.

Many people know these places without actually being aware of it. In fact, Turin is featured in many films and film lovers all over the world surely ‘know’ this city, even if only in an indirect way. Especially fans of the ‘master of suspense’, Dario Argento.

The famous Italian director, known across the globe for his horrors and thrillers, has always had a weakness for this mysterious city in Piedmont despite originally coming from Rome. So much so, that he has set seven of his films in Turin. But why Turin?

Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Turin. Photo: flickr (Alessio Maffeis)

Firstly, for personal reasons: in his biography ‘Paura’, published in 2014, Argento describes his first trip to the capital of Piedmont. He was still a child when his father went to Turin for work, bringing with him his infant son. They arrived in the evening. The rain gave the city an enchanting aura, which immediately won over the heart of the future director.

His career started in 1970 with the film L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo [The Bird with the Crystal Plumage], but it was with his second film, Il gatto a nove code [The Cat o’ Nine Tails] (1971), that Turin became the ideal setting of his films. The characters in this murder mystery live and operate amongst the city’s alleys, reaching the banks of the river Po and ending up among the tombs of the Cimitero Monumentale, the cemetery.

A third film was also released in 1971, Quattro mosche di velluto grigio [Four Flies on Grey Velvet], a particularly dark crime thriller. Turin is the setting for the story yet again.

In 1975 was the release of the extremely disturbing Profondo Rosso [Deep Red], the most famous of Dario Argento’s many films, in which Turin’s plazas, renowned Savoy Residences and the alleyways of Turin’s centre seem to almost weave into the plot. For example, Villa Scott, a stunning building located on the city’s hills, is now permanently connected with the terrifying imagery created in Profondo Rosso, having been used as a ‘haunted house’ during its filming.

After, the capital of Piedmont was chosen as the set for another four films. The first of these was the thriller Non ho sonno [Sleepless] in 2001, followed by Ti piace Hitchcock? [Do You Like Hitchcock?], a TV movie in 2005 and tribute to the other master of suspense, England’s Alfred Hitchcock. In 2007, the filming of La terza madre [Mother of Tears] took place in Turin. This was the final chapter of the trilogy ‘Le tre madri’, known as the three mothers saga: a series of three horror films based on three ancient witches. Finally, in 2009, the thriller Giallo came to light, set in Turin of course.

Monte dei Cappuccini, Turin. Photo: flickr (Alessio Maffeis)

Even without following Argento’s personal life, it is fair to say that this city would be a ‘natural location’ for stories of magic and mystery. At this point, however, an explanation is necessary for unfamiliar readers, who may not understand the connections between Turin and the world of magic. The capital of Piedmont is the leading city for magic in Italy, and not just because it is the home of the Turin Shroud, displayed in the Cathedral. It is also notoriously known for the practice of the occult arts and the meeting point of two ‘magic triangles’: the white one connected with Lyon and Prague and the black one with London and San Francisco.

You might say they are just myths, but even today in a world dominated by machines and computers you can sense, or at least imagine, something superstitious – the magic that lingers in the alleys of Turin. Not to mention, the deep network of underground tunnels and basements hidden beneath the city, often a destination for braver tourists who want a rare experience. Nocturnal tours have actually existed for decades for visitors who want to investigate ‘magical Turin’s’ most curious traditions and legends. Among these is the Dario Argento Tour Locations Torino, repeated each year during September (the most recent was run on September 3rd). This is one of the most original ways to explore the city, as well as one of the most loved by cinema fans. The tour visits around thirty famous locations, all where Argento shot his films. The Villa Scott section of the tour is unmissable of course, in addition to Piazza C.L.N. – the place where in the film Profondo Rosso, the protagonist arrives at the first terrifying homicide. Here, the medium Helga Ulmann is slaughtered by a butchers’ cleaver. A weapon that members of the tour can admire, along with other props used on the set of Dario Argento’s films and ‘scattered’ along the many sections of the tour.

So, how about a lovely stroll through Turin now?


Alessandra Ivaldi (Italy)

Studies: Foreign Languages for International Communication

Speaks: Italian, English, German, French

Europe is… a cultural heritage.


Alex Wakeley-Jones (United Kingdom)

Degree: BA Italian and Spanish from Cardiff University

Languages: English, Spanish, Italian

Europe is… a mixing pot of cultures and identities

Author: Anja

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