Time for School. Literally. You wanna make your own horror films? Awesome, but you better do what all the greats have done before you and study the masters. There's a handful of them, but I'm going to start with one of the best, often ignored by all but the horror academia and completist aficionados of the genre.
His name is Mario Bava.
When I went to film school, I learned all the classics, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, you know the drill. It was an awesome, eye-opening time for me. Even though I'd grown up on old Jack Arnold B-horror (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Incredible Shrinking Man) and William Gaines (Tales from The Crypt & Vault of Horror comic books), I immediately fell in love with "film as literature." You know, those legitimate, impeccably made films that transcended their genres and were elevated to that much-lauded place at the apogee of the artistic form. Cinema.
But where were the films in the horror genre that transcended their genre? Sure, you can point to The Exorcist and The Shining and a handful of others that have become household names (rightfully so), but I wanted to dig deeper. Older. Like the hungry sage digs into the dusty libraries of old forbidden lore, I wanted to find stuff that the mainstream had forgotten. Stuff that was so good you couldn't fucking believe it.
I had another criteria for my search as well. I wanted to study someone who didn't have massive overblown budgets but was capable of making it look like they did.
Mario Bava, born in 1914 in Italy, wanted to be a painter but the money sucked so he went to work for his dad as a camera assistant. All the while Bava worked on his own art, which had now expanded into sculpture and special effects.
With all this visual arts background it would've been easy for Bava to slip into that all too familiar kind of film. You know the kind. The one that "looks good, but otherwise sucks" *cough Wolfman*. But despite his visual strength, Bava didn't rest on the laurels of his visual acuity and cinematographic strengths. He started where everyone should start... story.
So here's this guy with a massive arts background, a great sense of story, working in low to mid budget Italian film. Now THAT'S a guy who's worth studying. And rather than listen to me yap on about how awesome he was because he could light a scene like a sonofabitch, or get under your skin with your most primal fear; or that he made a star out of Barbara Steele (don't know her? Check her out too, she's amazing), you should just go watch his stuff. He's also the filmmaker responsible for inventing the slasher film in 1971 with his Bay of Blood. He inspired Ridley Scott's Alien with his 1965 Planet of the Vampires. One of the first films he directed was Black Sabbath in 1963. The film was so effective and frightening that it inspired the band of the same name. Black Sabbath was an anthology film with some top notch horror shorts, including my favorite horror short of all time "The Drop of Water" which also inspired the makeup for The Exorcist.
Not enough yet? How about the fact that his 1966 film Kill Baby Kill inspired the greatest of all J-Horror directors, elements of which can be seen in almost every modern Japanese horror film?
This horror short was my humble tribute to Bava, as I attempted to ape his lighting, his sensual style, and his unflinching portrayal of psycho-sexual violence. I even sculpted the special effects myself. (You'll see).
This guy rocks in too many ways to cover in my little corner of the internet, but, in the same way that The Ramones are a popular band with musicians, Bava is highly regarded with filmmakers. Why? Because all he had was good story sense, the ability to get under your skin in the fear department, a camera, and a sense of style.
Now get studying, and remember, Gaudium per Atrox.