Dario Argento Museum of Horror
Actually, there’s a whole cadre of Italian horror film directors that have filled my mental suitcase to the point that I had to honestly lie when I was asked at the Alitalia terminal, “Did you pack your own baggage?”, including Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Umberto Lenzi, to name the most prominent, especially their genre work from the 1970s-80s. After all, Italian horror cinema is a rite of passage that every horror movie fan must go through.
As a result, everywhere I went, it was to an internal Goblin soundtrack. Everybody I saw seemed to be wearing fashions from other decades. Every woman in a pair of gloves was a serial killer, and every piece of ancient architecture a portal for demons. Oh, and I swear everybody we met talked in badly dubbed English. Even the native speakers. However, finally, after a few days, I was eventually able to shake the Dario Argento filter from my Italy experience...but it took a visit to his museum.
One thing I've noticed in my travels, the word museum is often used with reckless abandon. And the Dario Argento Museum of Horror is certainly one of those cases. However, the attraction's direct and definite connection with a director whose work has long fascinated me made it a necessary stop, one that I absolutely had to fit in amidst all the competing “grandeur that was Rome.”
Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) is a horror memorabilia store located at 260 Via dei Gracchi in Argento’s home city of Rome. Opened by Argento in 1989, it's a claustrophobically tiny shop, but it really makes use of its vertical space, being filled to the rafters with rubber masks, costumes, Halloween props, action figures, posters, and the rest of the gamut of genre collectibles. Most impressive, though, is its large and unprecedented-in-my-experience selection of horror cinema books…all in Italian, fortunately, else I fear I would have been seriously questioned by customs upon my return to the States just based on their lurid covers.
A friend and I did exactly that, and were directed to descend on our own down a twisting staircase into a blood-red painted room covered in Argento movie posters and what seemed to be repurposed Halloween decorations. It was the Dario Argento Museum of Horror.
interview I watched on YouTube, Argento established the Profondo Rosso shop as a way to be more involved with the genre culture that he loved and that loved him back. He established the museum in its basement, though, because he hated seeing the amazing work of the special effects artists that he collaborated with on his movies get discarded or carelessly store-housed after the filming was over. In his own translated words, “All these creatures died at the end of their scene.”
As a small step toward remedying that neglect, Argento took advantage of the unique layout and look of Profondo Rosso’s basement to set up scenes from some of the movies he directed, wrote, or produced using the original special effects props created for them.
Extending from the red room where we found ourselves was a single dungeon-like corridor with stone walls and arched doorways. On either side of the corridor was a series of vaults, each one depicting a movie scene from Argento’s mostly 1980s resume behind a set of bars, actually repurposed gates from the 1989 Michele Soavi-directed flick The Church (produced and written by Argento).
The first vault contained a scene from another movie that Argento produced and wrote, the 1985 Lamberto Bava film Demons, in which a bunch of horror movie watchers get trapped inside a movie theater and are then attacked by the titular creatures and are then turned into demons themselves. The main prop in the vault was a female dummy used in one of the transformation scenes, which during the film was mechanically operated in-situ. “Not bad,” summed up the narrator about the effect.
Lamberto Bava’s 1986 Demons 2 also gets a vault, in which a corpse lies amidst rubble awaiting the blood that’ll resurrect it as a demon, as does the great crow attack scene in the Argento-directed Opera from 1987.
Actually, this latter was one of the stranger vaults. The avian attack occurs in the background, which is separated from the foreground by the red theater curtain. Populating that foreground is a range of seemingly irrelevant props and, even more jarring, irrelevant characters, including Freddy Krueger and Darth Vader, whose presence is unexplained by the narrator. Personally, I’d like to think of this milieu as some sort of comment about how pervasive popular culture is (even to the point of intruding into our nightmares), but it’s probably just because the store had them on hand.
Argento tackles (and then bludgeons and murders) The Black Cat for his half of the movie. In his take on Poe’s famous tale, the murdered wife is accidentally walled in with a pregnant cat, which soon births a litter of kittens that are then raised on the flesh of the corpse. You’ll want to stick around for the reveal scene for that one.
And that’s pretty much all the exhibits in the Dario Argento Museum of Horror, give or take a few cases of murder weapons and masks that I could barely see in the darkness, as well as random ghoulish paintings and some other decorations. It’s less the classic “hand-on-chin” museum experience and more than “hand-over-mouth”...yours or somebody else’s.
Also, there’s no Suspiria tableau, unfortunately. I know you were wondering that.