INT. COUNTESS FREDRICA’S REMOTE MANSION – LIBRARY – DUSK
An aged Countess Fredrica sighs, rolling her wheelchair, turning off lamps, through a
darkening luxurious room. Her red dress blends in with the Oriental rug as she wheels
toward a large bay window. She looks across a shimmering, calm body of water
surrounded by tall, wide trees for a moment. She wheels away from the window, sighing
again, and crosses the threshold to THE FOYER
I’m sitting in the trunk of Brandon’s Honda Element, clutching a bottle of Gatorade, staring up at a tightly-pulled piece of thick cloth. The reels spun loudly while lasers traveled across cool black skies in the middle of nowhere, Florida. It was 11:30 pm on Halloween and the first film was beginning: Bay of Blood (1971) by Mario Bava, the father of a breed of horror films known collectively as Giallo. He is the inspiration for campy-slasher body-count films like Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978). October’s cool breeze across my face and the blanket-of-stars ceiling felt like cuddling under blankets and watching The Shining as my nine-year-old self.
Fredrica’s terrified face. She lets out a loud gasp. A black gloved-hand wielding a long
rope tied into a noose emerges from the dark, looping the noose around Fredrica’s neck.
One gloved hand pushes her head forward while a black shoe simultaneously kicks her
wheelchair backwards. The wheelchair rolls eerily away from her into the darkness. The
rope, hanging low to the ground from the rafter, swings lightly as she continues to gasp.
She dies, her brown eyes and red mouth wide open, hands sweeping the carpet.
I met the king of all classic horror, Brandon, at the Starbucks where we made espresso beverages for cranky old hags and talked about our favorite films together. He took a couple friends to the drive-in because he had free tickets—his reels were being used to show the marathon. He kept the car running and turned on the radio, tuning in to the station that matched the woman’s screaming face from the screen. Together we see brutal and attention-grabbing Italian horror, which is characteristically grueling and bloody throughout. The artistically crafted aspects adopted from Italy’s longstanding tradition of staged and articulated grand guignol, or naturalistic horror dramas, were enamoring: the plot line was mysterious yet logical, the finesse of costuming and the opulent reds, charming.
INT. C. FREDRICA’S MANSION – FOYER – DUSK
The murderer removes his mask, wearing a thin moustache and a coy smile as he
removes the gloves, he admires his work. A KNIFE flashes behind the moustached man.
The blade is pointing down and swiftly lowers into his back. He gives out a short
‘myaahh’ as bright red stains his collared shirt.
I was terrified and mystified. And I was determined to find more. The next day, Brandon and I sat down in his “Masterpiece Lair” and we sorted through a room of VHS tapes dedicated to horror. He gave me over 100 VHS tapes of knock-off tapings, reprints, and movies he was planning on giving to Goodwill for more space for higher-end VHS tapes and rare reels he could play at the next Halloween Horror Marathon.
Another stabs falls into him in the same location in his back. Then a gut stab. Blood
smears across his face as it pours from his mouth. An ‘uft!’ is the last sound
heard before tumbling to the ground, stopping under the woman still hanging from
the rafter. He rolls, looking into her eyes as he dies, the thick, unusually bright blood
trickles from his mouth; her arms swing around, just above his face.
Oh, it’s quite an image–two people, freshly murdered, one above the other, blood flowing out of their bodies into the open world. It’s this type of emotionally-packed and beautifully articulated scene that makes me continuously searching for more beautiful concoctions of blood, mystery, and artfully crafted scenes. Going to a drive-in theatre for an all-night movie marathon is also wuite an image. Drive-in theatres are scarce these days, and finding ones outside of Ocala that hold vintage horror marathons are even fewer.
As I unpack my new collection of black and white, slasher, suspense, and French and Japanese cult classics Brandon makes sure to place all the Giallo films, or Gialli, on top. Gialli is my favorite genre of horror. It appeared in the cinematic “Golden Age” of Italy in the ‘60s that experimented with stylish camerawork and extravagant Italian landscapes for the backdrop. These extravagant gestures are never limited to the scenery. There is one tape strategically placed as the peak on this VHS collection: Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972).
INT. REMOTE MOUNTAINSIDE – OUTSIDE SHACK –NOON
THREE MEN walk slowly towards FEMALE SUSPECT, closing in, never breaking their
gazes with her. The father of the latest murdered child comes forward and swings a
TWO-BY-FOUR over his head. It slams across the dark-haired, bronzed woman’s
clavicle. Blood starts flowing. Little rivers of bright scarlet swirl around her throat as she
falls to the ground, wailing. Another blow slashes her bare midriff, and she wails. A
heavy black CHAIN gripped by the third man comes into sight. The chain breaks skin
across her dirty knee and spouts more blood before a last wail seeps from her mouth.
I appreciate the scene, the bright colors and unusually bright red. It may not be tasteful, but it does make me feel something icky—I always cringe, my stomach sinks, but I also feel alive.
A long-shot of the white cliffs and puffs of green trees that surround a smooth stone
highway. The THREE MEN walk away into the trees, and the FEMAL SUSPECT begins
a slow journey up the mountain. The cliff makes her mangled body look small as she
crawls up the whiteness. Her bloody, muddy hand grasps the final jagged rock at the top
of the cliff. Her mouth is swollen with red and her left jaw is peppered with dirt. Cars
pass by, the faces all looking at her, but ignoring her. Her lips kiss the ground
permanently as she dies, black eyes open, still clinging to the white rock.
Since there is no access to midnight movie festivals at drive-ins, locating and watching rare VHS tapes is my way of getting back to sensations of a raw, strictly human, emotions.