I arrive at Lepanto metro station in Rome, Italy with my map in hand and walk eagerly towards Via del Gracchi. It’s not the kind of day you’d imagine visiting a horror museum: the sun is almost singeing the back of my neck, transforming my nape piercings into hot pokers. After venturing up the wrong end of Via del Gracchi, home to a posh hotel and other idealistic homes on the residential street where I think the shop will be nestled in between, I realise that I’m on the opposite side of the street and turn back around. My sense of direction is worse than a sat nav.
Finally it appears. Profondo Rosso. The sign is bright red and beaming, upstaging the posh cafes on the delicate promenade. Stepping inside is like walking into an old joke and costume shop with wall-to wall-horror merchandise slotted neatly into every orifice. It’s just as well classical Roman architecture was built with height and space in mind because there’s a hell of a lot to see in this store. I walk towards the quaint counter and approach two men who welcome me. I feel like I’ve come from afar, battled blizzards – my rucksack a cloak for cover, my fannybag containing weapons in aid of my protection and my soul in need of human interaction for it’s been so long since I’ve conversed with anyone. We have a banter and I realise that I am in fact talking to Luigi Cozzi, screenwriter, director and long time friend of Dario Argento. He agrees to do an interview with me after I’ve taken in the sights, and with that – along with Luigi pressing the button on the tape recorder which has the audio for the tour – I’m off down those spiraly stairs into Dario Argento’s world.
Profondo Rosso Museum Experience shot on iphone 5S.
Music by “Skeletons Fighting Over A Pickled Herring” by John Badger & The Moustache Riders of Doom.
Upon spending more than my money’s worth in the museum (because there is so much to experience and appreciate without any time limit ensued), I slowly walk back up the steps and into the main store. I drift towards the books section, Luigi points me to where the English versions are. The books I’ve found are actually from the Profondo Russo publishing house. Luigi tells me that he’s written many of the titles and has been writing since 1963 – for fifty years!
Profondo reminds me of the joke shops I used to visit in the early 90s, ones which don’t really exist anymore. The shop where I’d find myself squeezing the fake poo in the palms of my hands and trying on the weirdest costume I could find.
I approach Luigi after selecting gifts for my friends and having fun trying on various different costumes. ‘You have too much already,’ my friend Sam’s voice pops into my head. Sam should know, she’s the queen of all things goth and is always telling me not to buy anything new. She’s also very inventive, often transforming my existing clothing items into completely new costumes.
Looking around the shop, I wonder just how it’s survived.
“It’s a miracle really. We were in Pittsburg, me and Dario in 1988 shooting Two Evil Eyes with George A. Romero and we had seen Forbidden Planet in London. We saw a similar shop in Pittsburg where I went very often buying stuff because I’m a collector,” explains Luigi. He continues “Dario says ‘I would like to open something similar in Rome, but not just a shop but a meeting point for fans from all over the world,’ and then Dario said he would like to put the original props from his movies otherwise they would get destroyed. He said ‘Why don’t we put them in the basement or a store?’ So the idea was born and we put it together with a film crew. When we finished the movie, the crew came here and put up the museum with Dario’s props.”
This is the beauty of the museum, it actually feels like you’re in Argento’s movies, as if you were a character from one of his many film sets, right down to the surrounding sound effects, echoing dialogue and music score by Goblin playing in the background. It’s the ultimate horror film experience, and, like you’re part of something very special. Although the props and sets are old, the workmanship and detail in the figurines/characters from films such as Demons or Opera are still spectacular.
“We opened in 1989 at a time when everybody said we were crazy-nuts, but we’re still here more than 25 years later!” He laughs adding “You were just a 4 year old girl!”
The Profondo Rosso museum and shop is an international success with celebrities travelling from all over the world to visit, some of whom both Cozzi and Argento have worked with.
“There’s a long list. Tim Burton came twice, Alice Cooper, Brian Hosner and many others. People who like horror know about this store, they know about the museum so usually visit. Tom Savini came several times.”
I ask Luigi which well-known celebrity has visited recently. “I have a mind blank at the moment,” he says, but soon after establishes that this person is a famous singer currently making many horror movies, followed by “he makes rock music,” I immediately realise it’s Rob Zombie. “Yes that’s him, he came with his guitar player John 5 who bought the White Zombie t-shirt you had.” He explains how John 5 played in a group called White Zombie which is why he bought the t-shirt.
It’s clear that the novelty of this shop will not disappear but I still ask Luigi why he thinks the shop has survived all this time.
“Horror changes but it’s still horror. In the beginning everything was very new, now it seems like what we had in the beginning, you can now find in other places, but we are the most famous,” says Luigi.
Giallo sounds like such an ancient term, it’s not one you see often in a tagline of horror or suspense movies today. There’s only a handful of directors that come to mind who have been able to recreate giallo, Peter Strickland for example is a director who is often inspired by the style.
“Movies have really changed since 25 years ago, there are still movies but now they’re completely different, they’re more like video games and it’s not the cinema we were making at that time.” Luigi explains. I ask him whether it’s possible to recreate giallo as how it was – this is a question prompted by my own secret desires to make a technicolour film one day in the style of films from the booming 60s. “You must forget about the 60s because today’s audience cannot watch a picture in the style of the 60s as they’re very different. But it’s possible to change giallo in order to have it modern. I met a director called James Wan who came here too. He’s adapting old things to a new audience, making them in a new way, and this is possible but you can’t make them as they were being made in the past. Today’s audience just don’t react.”
With audience needs changing so much, and with an inability to understand the old, it makes me think of all of the directors from the past who have struggled to make a comeback.
“We are jurassic,” Cozzi jokes “In the 90s I was working with Dario and Lucio Fulci and Lucio was a very funny man. We were in the same room discussing a project he was going to do and he said ‘look, we are Jurassic Park, we are the dinosaurs!’ And this is true, we have the technique but I don’t think there is much contact with today’s audience. It’s a different world and it’s difficult to adapt yourself and it’s why many giants of the past are out of work.”
It’s something I never thought I would hear: some of the best directors and screenwriters in the world facing the same struggles as independent filmmakers who are fighting against the studios to be heard or even given a chance in an industry dominated by the fast and furious game of filmmaking.
Luigi’s career reflects when this very change began and when visual creep became the blueprint for success.
“At the end of the 80s I realised everything was changing, not just the audience but the mechanism of the industry. Big companies were taking over and we were always working with smaller companies with an interest to do pictures in Italy for a cheaper price. But those companies were disappearing and I saw the trend that was going to wipe out all of that and so I stuck to this.” By this, Luigi is referring to the shop and continues
“I’m a survivor and I’m still here. I’ve worked in the movies, but as a second job no more than my first job. My first job became this shop because this is steady and I can pay the bills. Making movies is now a hobby.”
Again Luigi has taken me by surprise as to just how the paths of the young and overly experienced join. He tells me he’s making a new movie. “I’ve been making it slowly for one year and it will be completed in 6 months. It’s a feature film and we’ll see what happens. But it’s still a hobby,” he explains.
The film is called Blood on Méliès’ Moon.
“Méliès is the guy who made a trip to the moon in 1902. It’s a project that nobody let me do in the past which I decided to do myself. I’m producing it on a very low budget but I’ve already edited one and a half hours which is a lot. I’ve got the movie, but I’ve still got to shoot more. We’ll see what happens,” he says before adding “Would you like to see the trailer? It’s just been completed.” I’m stunned and privileged to be viewing a snippet of Luigi Cozzi’s up and coming film. I step behind the counter and he brings up the teaser on his laptop.
Blood on Méliès’ Moon appears to be a fusion of giallo and science fiction. There’s beautiful composition, the kind you’d expect from a giallo movie, with dreamy tracking shots full of suspense, spurring mystery behind a bloody quest. There’s also a futuristic element wrapped in esoteric mysticism.
“It’s got sci-fi, action, horror and adventure!” I exclaim “Yes it’s a little bit of everything,” Luigi laughs. I ask whether he’s used any famous actors.
“Well when working with a very low budget, you cannot get the actors, so I’ve used myself, Lamberto Brava, Dario Argento, actors and friends who are well known. I put them along with young actors and it’s a strange mix which makes the picture very unusual. I wanted to do something very different because today all of the pictures move the same.”
We talk about the movies of today and just how commerciality drives the industry with it being so cheap to make movies, but also what it means to be an independent filmmaker, and the tools you need to have.
“Everything is cheap but what is not cheap are the ideas,” Luigi continues “There are perfect movies, spectacular, big budgets but no ideas. With a stupid movie, you forget what it was about the very moment you get out of the theatre. This happens with most of the movies today. To be independent, you must have ideas.”
I tell Luigi of my frustration and how I feel that I’m writing all the time without shooting, to which he says “You must write, think and write, think and rewrite, think again and write again until you have something that works on a written page, and then you can turn it into a movie. And not just say ‘let’s shoot, let’s shoot!’ That’s the difference otherwise you are similar to everyone else in the world shooting the slasher, the girl running, the guy with a knife. Invent something please.”
I feel relieved in a way to hear this and that whilst I’m rewriting all of the time and not shooting as much as I wish I was, spending time rewriting isn’t something to be ashamed of. Luigi finishes with “Writing is a must and, it makes a difference.”
It’s confirmation that although my goals appear so far to reach, they are goals in the right direction.
Thank you Luigi Cozzi for your time – maybe one day I too can star in one of your giallo movies!