Obscure Horror Cinema: Maya

by William Burns

The late 1980’s saw a definite downturn in the horror movie genre, no more so than in Italy. The Italian horror film had an amazing, world changing run starting with its first masterpiece Black Sunday in 1960 moving through the gothics, the giallos, and ending with the ultraviolent phantasmagorical epics of the early 80’s. By the late 80’s, the Italian film industry had been gutted by the rise of cheaper TV productions, home video, skyrocketing production costs and plummeting budgets. Because of these conditions, the late 80’s Italian horror film is maddeningly inconsistency, with some of the most inane and the most insane ideas unfolding in the same movie (case in point Luigi Cozzi’s bonkers Demons 6: De Profundis). One of these strange concoctions is Marcello Avallone’s 1989 film Maya. Maya follows the story of Lisa, who is searching for her archeologist father in the jungles of South America. It seems that her dad was poking around the temple of Mayan king Ze Bul Bai and of course awakened the wrath of said king. A curse is visited on all those involved in the violation, involving various violent deaths including one that involves vomiting and another that involves fish hooks.  Maya seems caught between the atmosphere of Pupi Avati and the shocking gore of Lucio Fulci but that’s not to say that such a mixture is necessarily a bad thing. Avallone brings together these two styles of Italian genre film making quite impressively but is let down by his budget and cast.  Italian horror film makers seem to thrive in tropical environs and Avallone is no slouch in that department, creating a steamy, oppressively evil tension in a sun drenched paradise.  Of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian horror film if it did not straddle the line between aesthetically beautiful/disgusting set pieces and Maya does have a few of those, including a climatic ritual at the top of the temple. Unfortunately, Marcello Avallone would only direct two pure horror films (Maya and the not as good Specters, which also targets meddling archeologists) but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of talent. Perhaps Avallone was a victim of the economics of the movie business, a sting horror fans only know too well.


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