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Frightful Rome

The legendary Dario Argento at the Profondo Rosso store.

Profondo Rosso, the Dario Argento store in Rome, hints at a dramatic cultural shift taking place in Italy regarding the appreciation and analysis of classic Italian horror films.

Rome is among the most beautiful, fascinating, interesting, and intellectually stimulating cities in the world. Indeed, few places are able to bring together majestic structures of an ancient culture, marvelous medieval constructions, beautiful art works from the renaissance period, and the luscious amenities of modern day life. Personally, my most favorite sites are the Roman Colosseum, the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the Vatican museum, Michelangelo’s Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli, the Trevi Fountain, and Profondo Rosso: the Dario Argento store and museum.

A truly fascinating place, Profondo Rosso was founded in 1989 by the legendary Italian horror film director Dario Argento. Personally managed by Luigi Cozzi, Argento’s long time friend and collaborator, Profondo Rosso should be visited by all horror fans that travel to Rome. And there is no good reason not to do it: Profondo Rosso is conveniently located in Via dei Gracchi 260, within walking distance from the Vatican.

Even though I had visited Rome several times in the past, I didn't know anything about Profondo Rosso until I talked to Luigi Cozzi at the 2002 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors Convention in Brooklyn. Recently I had the pleasure to attend a scientific meeting at La Sapienza, The University of Rome, and took the opportunity to visit Profondo Rosso (or was the other way around?). And boy, was it the highlight of the entire trip!

The fun of visiting Profondo Rosso starts with the cordial and friendly attitude of Cozzi. Horror connoisseurs may recall that Cozzi was the director behind a few memorable Italian fantasy flicks such as Starcrash and Contamination. I enjoyed talking to Cozzi on a variety of topics regarding Italian horror cinema, from the upcoming remakes of Argento’s Suspiria and Deep Red, to the work of legendary Italian editor Franco Fraticelli. As well, I found very enlightening his explanation of the problems that surround the modern Italian cinema industry.

The main attraction of Profondo Rosso is the collection of props used on some of the movies directed or produced by Argento. Located in the basement of Profondo Rosso, the museum truly feels like an old dungeon. I have to confess that I was a bit apprehensive of going down the steps into that dark and sinister space. However, the creepy feelings invoked by this gloomy space are a consequence of the brilliant design of the museum. Indeed, it is only natural to expect that a horror museum should summon such gloomy feelings on those brave enough to enter.

The museum itself is designed as a long corridor with jail cells on both walls. Each of these cells contains a frightful sight from an Argento movie. Among these we find creatures from Demons and Demons 2, the little evil monster from Phenomena, the hanged woman from Suspiria, the killer from Opera, a decomposed corpse from Two Evil Eyes, a victim from The Church, and a reproduction of the bizarre painting from Deep Red. A recorded voice (in English) leads the visitor through the museum.

On the ground level, the Profondo Rosso store offers a variety of masks, shirts, costumes, DVDs, CDs, toys, and books. Most probably, the selection of toys and masks will not surprise the US fans that have had the opportunity to attend horror shows such as Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors or the Chiller Theatre Expo. However, the book selection is another big reason to visit Profondo Rosso.

Over the past few years Profondo Rosso has published over 30 books on diverse topics regarding horror, science fiction, and fantasy cinema. The printing quality of these books may not be the best, as they are small in size and all the illustrations are in black and white. However, their unique subject matter, well researched content, and high quality writing more than make up for the printing limitations of these books.

Indeed, Profondo Rosso offers compelling books analyzing the cinematic oeuvre of cult Italian directors such as Joe D Amato (Erotismo, orrore e pornografia secondo Joe D Amato by Giordano Lupi), Riccardo Freda (Riccardo Freda: L’Esteta dell’emozione by Antonio Fabio Familiari), Antonio Marghereti (Danze Macabre, il cinema di Antonio Marghereti by Fabio Giovannini) Ruggero Deodato (Canibal! Il cinema selvaggio di Ruggero Deodato by Gordiano Lupi), Enzo Castellari (Il Cittadino si Ribella: il cinema di Enzo Castellari by Giordano Lupi and Fabio Zanello), Fernando di Leo (Fernando di Leo e il suo Cinema Nero e Perverso by Giordano Lupi), Mario Bava (Mario Bava: I Mille Volti della Paura by Luigi Cozzi), Lucio Fulci (Lucio Fulci: Il Poeta della Crudelta by Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori), and Dario Argento (Giallo Argento: Tutto il Cinema di Dario Argento by Luigi Cozzi). Furthermore, one can also find truly fascinating books exclusively devoted to the making and analysis of some of the best films directed by Argento: Deep Red (Profondo Rosso: Tutto sul Film Capolavoro di Dario Argento by Luigi Cozzi, Federico Patrizi and Antonio Tentori), Suspiria (Suspiria: il Capolavoro Horror di Dario Argento by Antonio Tentori), Inferno (Inferno by Francesca Lenzi), Phenomena (Dario Argento e il making di Phenomena by Luigi Cozzi), and Tenebre (Dario Argento: Tenebre by Francesca Lenzi).

Other interesting finds include books about the history of Italian films belonging to diverse genres: giallo, horror, thriller, police, erotic, and science fiction. There are also several books available on non-Italian films: early history of the fantastic cinema, horror films from the Hammer International Pictures studios, Asian horrors, the films of Christopher Lee and Roger Corman, and many others.

It's important to note that this wide variety of film books is not unique to Profondo Rosso. Quite surprising, every single bookstore that I visited had a large selection of Italian books dealing with some aspect of national or international cinema. Of course, nearly all of these books are written in Italian by Italian writers (a handful of the Profondo Rosso are available in English). Also, each of the bookstores that I visited had a set of unique books that were not available on the other stores.

A demon of the Museum

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