Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Case of the Boy in the Yellow Pajamas

Ah, memories.

I don't remember a time in my life that didn't revolve around movies in some form or another.  Whether it be watching movies, renting them, whatever.

Some of my earliest movie memories come from 1988.  I was four.  My family would often go to City Video of Wyandotte.  I'm sure it was an average size video store, but to my short four-year-old self, this was a great big temple.  Going there was the highlight of my week.

I don't know how it would happen, given that my parents were somewhat concerned about my fragile little mind.  But I always managed to sneak away and gravitate toward the horror movies.  I still remember my first impression of the Evil Dead 2 box, with the skull and the eyeballs.  It freaked me out, but I couldn't look away at the same time.  Didn't help matters that I was quite the reader already.  I can only imagine Mom's reaction to asking her what "Dead by Dawn" meant.

I'm sure y'all remember your VHS tapes with the slipsleeve boxes made out of the lightweight cardboard.  But 1988 was part of the golden age where many movies still came in the great big plastic clamshell boxes as well.  These boxes were almost as wide as my head, and way out of my reach.  Which, of course, made them more desirable.  To my knowledge, I never climbed a shelf to reach the big ass clamshell copy of Seven Doors Of Death (which you Fulci fans will know as The Beyond), complete with comic book illustrations rather than actual stills from the film.  I'm sure that if I had, Mom or Dad would have told me about it by now.

But there was one video box that always pulled me in like a magnet.  The front of the box had a closeup of a girl, half of her face eaten away.  In her outstretched hand were what to my young eyes looked like thousands of bugs of some type.  Underneath, in yellow font, read the title: Creepers.

I was always transfixed by this box.  I couldn't get enough of it.  I dunno whether I ever asked to rent it, but if I had, the answer was most definitely a no.  Again, fragile little mind.

We moved before I turned five.  City Video of Wyandotte closed a couple years later.  A casualty of the rise of Blockbuster.

Cut to 1999.  My family moves to Ashland, Kentucky.  Home of the Judds.  Neighbor town to the home of Billy Ray Cyrus.  Luckily this was during that period of time when Billy Ray was an Achy Breaky joke and he hadn't thought of whoring out Miley yet.

Every Friday, we would go out to eat at some restaurant right outside of town.  At the end of the plaza was a mom & pop video store.

After dinner, Mom and Dad would take me there and let me loose.  And I went straight to the horror section every time.  Some things never change.  This time, however, I was allowed to rent whatever I pleased.  That, plus a "5 movies for $5 for a week" deal, lead to the palest summer of my existence (I'm still only two shades darker than albino at the moment.  Spray tans make me look like a mad cow, while real tans don't exist for us German Scotch-Irish folk).

Every week, I'd pile five new movies on top of the extra VCR that Dad put in my room.  Not only would they have the original VHS boxes, they also utilized those clear plastic protective boxes that fit overtop of them.  Well, they were clear at one point in time.  After years of use, fingerprints had discolored them and taken away their shine, leaving a rough matte texture behind.

During one of these weekly trips, my eye happened to catch something familiar.  Could it be?  Yes it was.  CREEPERS!

I decided to hold off on it until another day...

Um, HELLO!  Of course I picked it up.

I dunno if I popped it in the VCR immediately or not.  I may have waited until the next day, because I remember it being daytime when I first watched it.

Anyhow, Creepers was a total disorienting fever dream.  A sleepwalking girl that can control bugs, razor-wielding chimps, Donald Pleasence.  Holy shit.

Okay, I know this isn't exactly a textbook giallo.  But it's a giallo nonetheless, and it leads to a bigger story.  Bear with me.

I checked out the credits and saw the name that's stuck with me forever: Dario Argento was the man responsible for all of this madness.  Needless to say I searched him on the IMDB.  With dial up.  That shit required a lot of time to devote.

Unfortunately, the mom & pop store didn't have anything else he had directed.  However, this was also the summer I discovered online retail sites.  And Creepers was available on DVD, under its original title, Phenomena, with 28 (!) extra minutes of footage.  I had to own it.  As well as another movie of his that was on DVD: something called Tenebrae.

I'm so happy I convinced my parents to buy me a DVD player for the Christmas of 1998.  If it weren't for my constant pleading, I might be writing about something completely different right now.

Anyhow, whatever of my allowance didn't go to the mom & pop store got put away.  By the end of the summer, I had both Phenomena and Tenebrae in my grubby, pasty hands.

While Phenomena was a total mindfuck, Tenebrae was a straight-up kick in the face.  With everything filmed in white, with the exception of the blood that (at times literally) sprayed across the walls, I was floored.  This one-two combination turned me into an Argentophile for life.

As time passed, my Dario Argento collection grew.  I got Suspiria on VHS (I tried to borrow it from my grandma, who actually had a copy, to no avail).  On my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me the cash to buy Bird with the Crystal Plumage.  I miss that VCI disc, with the cigarette burns still intact on the print.  Reminded me of the Ford Tel dollar theater (but that's another story for another day).  Then Deep Red and Inferno came to DVD on the same day.  Phantom of the Opera, Stendhal Syndrome (albeit by Troma), amongst others.  2000 was a good year moviewise.  Too bad a housefire took all these discs away.

After rebuilding my collection of all things Argento, I read up more on the giallo as a whole, and came across the Giallo Collection by Anchor Bay.  Four non-Argento gialli: Who Saw Her Die, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, The Bloodstained Shadow, and The Case of the Bloody Iris, which introduced me to the pure loveliness of Edwige Fenech (who will be discussed at a later time).  While Short Night was more boring than watching paint dry, the others steered me to a new track that I've refused to get off ever since.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to today.  I've spent many years, and many dollars, tracking down as many gialli as I can.  I own at least 50, and have rented countless others through Netflix/Blockbuster Online.  While I know I will never see every gialli ever made (nor want to, Giallo A Venezia will not likely be in my player anytime soon), I want to see as many as I can.  What can I say?  I love the black trenchcoats and fedoras of the murderer.  Plus the lovely exotic beauties on the screen.  The decor and costumes and pure style of it all.  Oh, to have been in Italy during the 70's and 80's.

I think I'll leave things at that for now.  This was a long write, and I'm sure a long read for you.



My tattoo, an image from the poster for Suspiria.  Yes, I'm that much of an Argento fan.


  1. Seriously duder, the story of how you got into gialli is very similar to mine. Were we separated at birth or what?

  2. I wonder. If so, I must apologize. My ginormous head must have taken up the majority of the nutrition in the womb.