by Patrick Bromley
During Junesploitation, F-head Daniel Epler suggested that I write a piece reflecting on my turnaround on Italian horror, which I was once vocal about not "getting" and have since come to not just tolerate but genuinely love, all during my tenure here at F This Movie!. Well it's your LUCKY DAY, Daniel Epler. Here goes.
My own relationship to the Italian horror films -- primarily of the '70s and '80s -- has been well documented on this site. I've written about it before, I've had several thoughtful discussions with you guys about what you like/don't like about it. I've been mocked by Doug for including it my own movie marathons despite not being totally on board with it. I've thrown up my hands in confusion on the Music Box Massacre podcasts and even gone back and tried reassessing Lucio Fulci's Zombie a few years ago. I just determined that there was something about it that I didn't get. It wasn't for me.
Until the first 24-hour Music Box Massacre horror movie marathon for which I stayed all the way through, I hadn't encountered much Italian horror -- a few Argento movies (Suspiria, which Doug and I ruined for each other by doing terrible Dario Argento impressions the whole way through and ending every sentence with "...at the BALLET!") and Phenomena, which I saw in high school as Creepers and really only sought out because I had a Jennifer Connelly thing. In my defense, this was when she was still alive. This means that one of my first experiences with the genre was seeing a battered 35mm print of House by the Cemetery at 4am after already sitting through 9 or 10 other movies. I know what you're thinking -- those are PERECT conditions in which to see a Fulci movie. These days I'm inclined to agree. At that time, though, I was completely unprepared for what it was and had no idea what to make of it. The experience was repeated a year later; same tired me, same ridiculously late hour, now a battered 35mm print of City of the Living Dead (having turned the corner in a big way on Fulci, I would now kill to see a 35mm print of ANY of his movies and want to kick myself in the dick for not being able to appreciate what I had when I had it). I continued to be dismissive.
There's not a single moment or film I can point to as being the one that cracked Italian horror wide open for me. There was no badly-dubbed, blood-soaked epiphany. To be honest, I can't even recall the first moment I realized that I had turned around and become a fan of it. The change was gradual, I guess, happening over time as movie after movie wore down my resistance. I don't think it's a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe it's just the phenomenon of exposure, the way you need to taste certain foods a certain number of times before you become a fan. Maybe it was a function of my finally being able to understand what to expect; no longer uncertain of just what the fuck I was watching, I could begin to appreciate the things that these movies did without holding them to the standards of more traditional horror films. I'm not so sure about this last one, though, becuase there's no such thing as ever really getting comfortable or knowing what to expect with Italian horror. Just when I settle in and think I know what these movies are all about, I'll see something like Burial Ground: Nights of Terror in which a little person playing a completely unconvincing child tries to suck his mom's boob BEFORE he becomes a zombie and bites it off and I'll remember that no, there's no predicting these movies.
|Not pictured: an actual child|
Even that's not fair. I wasn't wrong. I was just in a different place. We sometimes have a habit of talking about our opinions on movies in absolutes, categorizing them by "movies I like," "movies I don't like," "good," "bad." The reality is often so much more in the middle, as there are moments we might like in movies we don't and problems we know exist in movies we love but are able to overlook. We change over time -- the movie's don't, but we do. We have to remain open to our own shifting tastes and our own changing perceptions. We're closing ourselves off to too much if we don't. I'm not suggesting that we go back and rewatch every single movie that did nothing for us (or worse that we actively disliked) the first time around, but at least consider the possibility that a movie won't look the same at 35 as it did at 15. Your opinions on any piece of art can never be completely solidified until you've stopped changing and evolving as a human being. And hopefully you never do that.
I don't know if this kind of reassessment was what happened with me and Italian horror. The shift from exposure to rejection to embracing to enjoying took place in under five years, during which time I don't think I've become a significantly different person. I had another kid. I aged about 15-20 years (thank you very much, F This Movie!). I've changed jobs a couple of times. But I'm still me -- and, yet, I can recognize that my tastes have shifted during this period. I've dug way deeper into genre and cult films in recent years; while I've always been a fan of these kinds of movies above all others, the last three years or so have seen me double down on my love of this stuff (a fact which has not gone unnoticed by my wife, who has teased me that we are no longer interested in the same movies because I only watch weird shit). That might be because of Junesploitation. It might be because I've forced myself to see so many more movies for F This Movie! and because I like to write about a certain kind of film. More than anything, I think it has to do with reaching a certain point in my life at which I've just seen so much of what's out there that I have to dig deeper and challenge myself. And crazy Italian horror is just the way to do it. At the ballet!
Brian De Palma is one of my favorite filmmakers.
I won't claim to have done more than scratch the surface on Italian horror. I've immersed myself in Argento and Fulci and D'Amato and Lenzi and Deodato and Soavi and Bava (Lamberto; Mario remains something of a blind spot, which is especially ironic since he's really the godfather of it all) and even Bruno Mattei, who was and is the worst. My favorite of the directors whose filmographies I have dug into deeply is, much to my surprise, Lucio Fulci because he's truly a madman. I'm still not the biggest fan of Zombie (it's got a bunch of good stuff in it, but I think it's just ok overall), but he's got 8 or 10 other films I've genuinely grown to love. Sometimes he seems to stumble into greatness by accident -- his crudity and sleaziness give way to a kind of pure cinema. Other times, like in the entirety of The Beyond, he's working at peak form and with total intent. Again, I can't say that I know everything about his work because there are still a handful of his films I have yet to see (Lizard in a Woman's Skin, The Psychic, Massacre Time, all of his early comedies), but I'm anxious to seek out his films more than anyone else's. Like Waterworld, it turns out I'm a fan.
"Lucio Fulci = Waterworld" - Patrick Bromley, F This Movie!
|I still don't get this|
I'll end with this quote from my boy Lucio Fulci, for even if you question his talents as a filmmaker (as I was once guilty of doing), you cannot deny his love of the form and his ability to cut through all but our subconscious:
"Cinema is everything to me. I live and breathe films -- I even eat them!"
In that case, pass the spoon.