Before my age hit double-digits, I discovered on a 13-inch black-and-white television the films Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956) and The Blob (1958) broadcast back-to-back over the airwaves in the dead of night. This childhood event, experienced in a dark room while spending the night at a friend’s house, began my slow metamorphosis into a horror film fan.
In the years that followed, I began devouring issues of Fangoria, and setting the VCR to record other late-night-television gems like White Zombie (1932), The Last Man On Earth (1964), and Don’t Look In The Basement (1973). I explored all regions of the genre, selecting from the Pittsburgh-area mom ‘n’ pop shop my family chose as our movie rental HQ. Renting a mountain of VHS tapes, I became acquainted with Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Friday The 13th (1980), The Evil Dead (1981), and The Terminator (1984), among other classics of genre cinema.
As the years wore on, the bootleg VHS introduced me to lesser-known genre films, from Black Sunday (1960) to Cannibal Holocaust (1980) to Evil Dead Trap (1988) to Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991). Between my early teens and late twenties, I became familiar with the output of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Joe D'Amato, Michele Soavi, and Jean Rollin.
The work of all these filmmakers influenced my personal tastes in genre films as I came to appreciate certain films and filmmakers more than others. Especially in my early years of exploring the craft, these same directors and movies likewise shaped me as a filmmaker – sometimes by showin’ me how it’s done, and sometimes by showin’ me how it should never be done.
Through my teens and twenties, the horror masters who rose to the top as my most-respected and most-admired included George Romero, David Cronenberg, and Dario Argento.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Argento’s debut, 1970), Deep Red (1975), Inferno (1980), Tenebre (1982), and Phenomena (1985) were hugely impactful, and these early Dario Argento films still impress and inspire me to this day. However, one film in Argento’s career stands out as his masterpiece: Suspiria (1977). It is a violent, jarring, visually striking, astonishingly imaginative work of art.
What most impressed me when I first saw the film as a young lad were the same elements that have earned Suspiria its critical acclaim and fan adoration: the inventive camerawork and use of color by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (Reversal Of Fortune, Single White Female), the sonic assault provided by rock band Goblin, and the unique, otherworldly atmosphere of the movie. In some sequences, the film whispers creepiness and suspense - while at other points, the movie shrieks raging, full-gallop nightmare. There are scenes designed to jolt and shock, while others lead you slowly down warped fever-dream corridors of dread. Argento’s stylized tour de force is still a sight to behold - an engrossing and inimitable movie-watching experience to this day.
Lucky for me (and many others), there is a chance to see Suspiria on the big screen next month, thanks to Destroy The Brain! and their Late Nite Grindhouse film series. Suspiria will screen on Friday, August 3rd, and Saturday, August 4th at the historic Hi-Pointe Theatre in Saint Louis, Missouri.
If you are in the area, be sure to join Destroy The Brain! for this rare theater-going experience, and be transfixed by Suspiria - uncut, and hopefully turned up very loud. If they have not done so before, fans of this film should see it on the big screen with an audience. Younger horror fans who have never witnessed Suspiria now have a golden opportunity to do so.
I am grateful Argento’s films found their way to me in those early years, as I embarked on my first filmmaking adventures. His movies helped shape my preferences as a horror fan, and they definitely helped me find my creative footing as a young filmmaker.
Thanks for reading.