Frightful Rome

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

Studi della Pellicola, Stile Italiano

Studi Della Pellicola, Stile Italiano

Outside the English speaking world, Italy may well be the country with the most sophisticated, intriguing, captivating, and influential film work ever done.

And so my pilgrimage in the search of Italian bookstores revealed a variety of books on intriguing topics not available at all in the American or British market. Among these: the music in the films directed by Stanley Kubrick (La Musica Secondo Kubrick by Sergio Bassetti), the art of the main title sequences at the beginning of a film (Popcorn Time: L’arte dei titoli di testa by Fabio Carlini), the representation of God and the Devil in American horror films (Demoni e Dei: Dio, el Diavolo, la Religione nel Cinema Horror Americano by Roberto Curti), eroticism in the fantastic cinema (Eros E Cinema Fantastico by Fabio Giovannini and Antonio Tentori), movies based on the Fantomas books (Fantomas: La vita plurale di un antieroe by Monica Dall’asta), and the analysis of the works of Guillermo del Toro (I Dannati e Gli Eroi by Alessio Gradogna) and Robert Rodriguez (Il Cinema di Robert Rodriguez by Fabio Migneco).

Nevertheless, these stores did not have in stock some books on the history of the giallo cinema that I was looking for (C’era una volta il giallo, vols. 1, 2 and 3, by G.F. Orsi and L. Volpatti). I constantly asked the clerks about these books until I finally got referred to Altroquando, a bookstore specialized in film and filmmaking books. Altroquando is conveniently located in Via del Governo Vecchio 80, just a couple of blocks from Piazza Navona, which is another essential sightseeing spot in Rome.

Altroquando is a little piece of heaven for the film fan. It has hundreds, if not thousands, of film books on stock. Although most of them are Italian, they also offer a few imported books in English from the US and the UK. And in spite of their huge selection, it is truly mind-blowing that many books that were available in other Roman bookstores were not in stock in Altroquando and vice versa.

The friendly and efficient service that I received already made Altroquando a required stop for all my future trips to Rome. Furthermore, even though Altroquando did not have all the books that I was looking for, they were happy to order all of them, and they will ship them to my US address whenever they arrive (for the interested reader, most of the books cited in this installment of Dread Reckoning would be available through Altroquando or the Profondo Rosso websites).

The huge selection of Italian books on horror cinema made me realize that having learned Italian while I was a post-doctoral researcher in Italy was not such a bad idea. While once I thought that it was a language that I would rarely use, now I am happy reading all the film books that I had the opportunity to acquire during this trip (about 80 different titles, which meant that I also had to buy another suitcase for the trip back home).

The reader of this column, most likely an English-speaking person, will wonder why I am raving about books that may be extremely difficult to get and written in a language that not everybody understands. It may also sound like a shameless advertisement for Profondo Rosso and Altroquando. Well, there is an important point that I want to make. Specifically, I want to briefly discuss how these books and bookstores talk about modern Italian culture and their contrast with American culture.

Indeed, it is truly astonishing the wide variety and quantity of Italian film books available. If you think about it, these books are written in Italian for Italian speaking readers, who most likely are Italians, of Italian descent, or have lived in Italy for extended periods of time. By any means this is a very small number of potential readers when compared to the number of English speaking persons in the world.

In contrast, all the Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores that I have visited across the US have petite cinema books sections. Also, the available selection of titles on stock is truly abysmal in most of these bookstores. It is important to realize that even though the US and the UK publish a substantial number of film books every year, these are almost exclusively available through online retailers. Most probably these books are considered as specialty items targeted to a very small and specific segment of the population. The beautiful film books published by McFarland, for instance, are rarely available on a brick and mortar store.

As a consequence, considering the ubiquity of the internet in Italy and the rest of the world, these observations appear to suggest that American film fans tend to read much less than their Italian counterparts. In general this is a true statement, that is, it has been reported that the number of books sold is significantly decreasing all over the US.

These observations also hint at a dramatic cultural shift taking place in Italy regarding the appreciation of their national cinema and the contextual analysis and interpretation of international films. Indeed, I remember that while I was living in Italy, back in 1996 and 1997, there were very few horror cinema books available. During the two years that I resided in Italy, I only found a handful of books on Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, David Cronenberg, and Sam Raimi.

While talking to Luigi Cozzi at Profondo Rosso, he confirmed what I suspected from my book shopping findings. That is, the new generations of film critics and filmgoers have begun to re-appreciate the aesthetic and cultural value of Italian exploitation films. For instance, while Fernando Di Leo and Lucio Fulci were considered as “trashy” directors during the ’70s and ’80s, today their work is rightfully being cherished as crucial building blocks in the history of cinema. Such re-appreciation and re-invigorated interest for national and international cinema is made evident in the large number of books readily available to the Italian film fan.

In this regard, the contrast between American and Italian cultures is dramatic. While young Italian film fans are discovering, enjoying, and reading about old classic films, their American counterparts appear to only show interest on watching the uninspired regurgitation of classic films in the form of remakes and sequels. Clearly, the box office success of the remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, The Fog, and Last House on the Left does not appear to have translated into a re-appreciation of the original classics by young American filmgoers.

While I give a standing ovation to the Italians for their awesome film book publishing infrastructure, I feel disappointed that no serious effort for the preservation and education of Italian film history is being made. This is a sad situation when you consider that outside the English speaking world, Italy may well be the country with the most sophisticated, intriguing, captivating, and influential film work ever done.

Think not only about Fulci, Argento, and all the exploitation flicks that haunted the screens during the ’70s and ’80s, but also recall the huge international impact of the films directed by Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, and Sergio Leone. As such, it is truly unfortunate that, at least as far as I was able to find out, Italy does not have a museum on the fascinating history of their national cinema.

As a consequence, Profondo Rosso emerges as a truly important place in Italian culture. While it’s true that it is fun to talk to Luigi Cozzi and buy stuff from the store, it’s very significant their effort to preserve priceless pieces of Italian film cinema. Just imagine how exciting it would be if somebody could put together a museum with props and anecdotes about Fulci, Fellini, Leone, and de Sica…

So, next time you are in Rome, don’t forget to pay a visit to Luigi Cozzi at Profondo Rosso and check out the cool books in Altroquando. They are all important parts of Italian culture.

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