Muskegon filmmaker Tom Berdinski: ‘Imaging’ Italian Horror Films

MUSKEGON — At this Halloween time of year in West Michigan, it’s almost impossible to consider the movie genre known as Italian horror without thinking of Muskegon filmmaker Tom Berdinski (pictured).

Berdinski, after all, was the creator of the no-budget “The Italian Zombie Movie,” which he started shooting in 2002 with local actors and locations, and its various progeny, including his “The Giant Rubber Monster Movie.”

So when The New York Times on Oct. 26 reviewed the current remake of Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 genre classic “Suspiria,” and also published a sidebar on what it called “some of the best films from that Golden Age of Italian horror,” The Fish Bowl thought Muskegon native Berdinski might have some thoughts on the whole thing.
Here they are.

“When I think about the best Italian horror films (made by Mario Bava in the ’60s through Lucio Fulci in the ’80s) and compare them to their American contemporaries, one significant difference comes to mind: The role of my imagination.

“In perhaps the best American horror films (e.g., ‘Psycho.’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ or ‘Halloween’), the really terrifying moments often culminate off-screen or just out of frame, although you may imagine otherwise.

“That’s because you heard the screaming (and the slicing) but most times you didn’t actually see the horror occurring. Your imagination generated that brutal imagery, and if you have a good imagination it was probably scarier than a lot of special effects. You have to want to be scared for this to work, of course, and most people going to see horror movies are game.

“On the other hand, what made the Italian films terrifying is that the horror required no imagination. In Italian horror, it all culminates right on the screen, often in extreme close-up, and when you least expect it.

“In films like Fulci’s ‘Zombi,’ the camera lingers on the victim’s thrashing and blood gushing as her throat is bitten out by a zombie. Another victim never even blinks as her eyeball is pierced by a large wooden splinter.

“The violence on display in Italian horror ranges from butcher’s shop realism (Ruggero Deodato’s ‘Cannibal Holocaust) to the highly-stylized ‘music video’ violence of the giallo films (Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red,’ ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Phenomena’).

“The only thing your imagination needs to do during an Italian horror film is compensate for the plot holes and lack of logic that will probably overwhelm your senses as often as the violence.

“Fans of Italian horror will tell you it helps to imagine you’re watching a nightmare unfold, and many recent American films have taken this cue too (‘Mother’ and ‘Hereditary” come to mind).

“Were the Italian filmmakers trying to make ‘nightmares,’ or were they forced to ignore continuity or delete key scenes due to budget limitations? I’ve heard both explanations but I don’t think it matters. Sometimes illogical sequences with jarring cuts are just as scary as the highly calculated ‘jump scares’ of the recent James Wan films (e.g., ‘The Conjuring’).

“If, for some strange reason, you really want to SEE something horrible happen right before your eyes, and if you can accept sometimes poor dubbing and the oftentimes ‘nightmarish’ logic, Italian horror has a lot of scares to offer.

(And once you’ve gotten a taste for that, come talk to me about Indonesian witch horror next Halloween!)”


Categories: Theatre

1 reply

  1. Wonderful article and interview. I look forward to next year’s interview!


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