Alan Jones is one of the foremost horror connoisseurs.
He is one of the main components of the UK’s largest and most successful horror film events, FRIGHTFEST and when he’s not carefully piecing together such an event, he’s further building on his reputation as an acclaimed film critic.
We caught up with Alan in the run up to his prestigious horror featival to talk about his greatest horror moment, ever.
“The title of my favourite horror movie is tattooed on my left arm. And I went to a great deal of trouble to ensure it was an exact copy of the Italian poster font. It’s Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), the middle part of his Thomas De Quincey-based ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy begun by Suspiria (1976) and finished off, literally, with Mother of Tears (2007). I had adored Argento’s work the moment I saw his giallo debut feature The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969) and although his subsequent movies were difficult to track down in the 1970s I managed to catch every single one on the big screen – even hitchhiking to Paris to see Deep Red (1975).
But Inferno was something completely different. For a start it was properly released in the UK by 20th Century Fox because of Suspiria’s massive global success, and actually opened in London’s West End. Because I have kept a meticulous diary of every movie I’ve ever seen, when and where, I can tell you precisely that I saw it at 7.15 pm on Saturday, September 20, 1980 at the Classic 2, Oxford Street, the site now occupied by a Primark superstore. Considering the high expectation I had for this sequel after the thunderous terror tour de force of Susperia, Inferno didn’t disappoint in any way whatsoever. Actually I was even more galvanized by Argento’s masterpiece and left the cinema in a daze convinced I had witnessed Gothic perfection.
Forget the story, it’s about Leigh McCloskey’s frantic search for the evil Mother of Darkness in New York. Back then at the pinnacle of his career Argento took a simple narrative conceit and embroidered it with stunning visuals, technical brilliance and in this instance a wonderful Keith Emerson score. An alchemic tapestry which, like the music world it’s set in, plays symphonic variations on themes of surrealistic magic, dream-like horror and graphic novel art landscapes, INFERNO contains one of my all-time favourite shocker sequences. It’s the death of Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), orchestrated to stopping and starting classical Verdi music on the record player due to a faulty electrical fuse, and ending with a vicious neck stabbing.
I was writing for the UK-based fantasy magazines ‘Starburst’ and ‘The House of Hammer’ and the seminal US publication ‘Cinefantastique’ at this time. Because Inferno had it’s American release scrapped due to internecine Fox politics (it was never theatrically released there), I wrote a rave Inferno review for ‘CFQ’. Two years later I was working for Videomedia, one of the first home video release companies, and my boss had bought Tenebrae (1982) to distribute. Part of the press campaign meant bringing Argento to the UK for interviews, we met, he had read that INFERNO review, knew I was a massive fan, and invited me onto the set of his next picture being shot in Rome. That ever-growing relationship has resulted in an extraordinarily strong friendship, becoming a permanent fixture on every single one of his subsequent movies to date (Giallo in 2009 the only blip thanks to star Adrien Brody’s demands) and my best-selling FAB Press book ‘Dario Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic’ now entering it’s third printing this summer.
Strangely enough Inferno is the one movie I argue with Argento about the most. Because he was ill when shooting it, he doesn’t recall it with the fondness he does of, say, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). He’s always amazed when fans call it his best because of its hallucinatory power to beguile and frighten.
But he felt that way about Opera (1987) too for years and I managed to talk him round on appreciating his labours on that one during another stressful time (his father Salvatore died halfway through shooting). So I’m fully expecting the tide to turn at some point because Inferno truly is an astonishing and poetic magnum opus that crystallized my devotion to Argento forever. And I’ve been reaping the benefits of my association ever since.”
Film critic, author, broadcaster and co-director of Film4 FrightFest.