The year was 1990. While the digital era had definitely begun, the internet as we know it was still a few years away. Now if you were a dedicated horror fan and wanted to know the latest in news, reviews and conventions, you read magazines like Fangoria and Starlog. From there you could learn of cons happening all over the country. Living in the NJ/NYC area afforded me the opportunity to go to many great cons. Back then I ran with a regular crew of fans as we bounced from one Creation/Fangoria/Chiller con after another and yes, it was more fun than people should be allowed to have.
In September of 1990 a comic book convention was scheduled to be held in Albany NY. Now Albany wasn’t a common destination for my buddies and I to attend a small comic-convention however there was one name on the guest list that was not only unexpected but completely out-of-place. It was Dario Argento! To the best of my memory there weren’t really any big names appearing at this convention. Certainly not film makers. Argento’s name stuck out like a severed thumb. We were bewildered…”what the fuck is the Italian Master of Horror doing at an obscure comic book convention in Albany NY?” We called the phone number to the organizers to confirm (ain’t driving nearly 3 hours just for back issues of Conan the Barbarian) and they said, “yes, Dario Argento is confirmed to appear.” With that we booked a hotel room, still not fully believing the appearance was true.
The faithful morning came and we piled into my Oldsmobile for the 140 mile trek. If someone said, “I can’t believe Dario Argento is going to be there” once, they said it 3 dozen times. We were fully expecting a bait and switch or worse a cancellation.
After checking in and dumping our luggage we scrambled to the convention hall. The place had a cool lay out… there was a “pit area” with vendors and then an “upper area” surrounding the pit with even more vendors. There was also an art gallery and some lecture rooms off the main floor. About an hour into our attendance as we were moving from one room to another the unthinkable happened…I literally walk into Dario Argento! My friends and I cheered, “hey Dario!” in our best Northern NJ Italian accents. He was all smiles as I told him how we came all the way from the NYC/NJ area just to see him. His English was just okay but it didn’t matter, we would learn later that he had gone practically unnoticed up until this point and seemed happy to talk to anyone. After introducing ourselves my friend Matt mentioned that he recently saw “Terror at the Opera” at a theater in Manhattan. Argento’s eyes sharpened, “where do you see Opera?” Matt repeated that he saw it in NYC. “You no see my movie” Argento said. “You no see my movie, my ending.” He seemed determined to make his point. “You come okay at 4 o’clock. I bring my movie, I bring Opera.” Now we had no-clue that there was going to be a screening of the film but this seemed to be Argento’s motivation for being at the convention. He wanted someone to see the film he made, not the version that was cut down for theatrical release in the US. His appearance in Albany now sort of made sense.
Come 4pm myself, my friends and about 15-20 other folks shuffled into a very small conference room. There was a screen on the wall and a video projector at the ready. Dario was introduced by Fangoria writer and reviewer Chas Balun, the only other familiar name at this whole convention. The maestro approached the podium pointed to the screen and said, “this my movie, no cut, my ending.” He then said, “who ever cut my movie, we find and make murder!” My buddies and I cheered and the room responded with laughter. Then the coolest thing happened…he introduced the film, stepped away from the podium and took the last seat at the end of the row right next to me and my friends. It was completely surreal. We watched every frame with the maestro right next to us.
I myself had not seen Opera up until this point and I really enjoyed it.( I hold it in high regard within his library of work.) When the film ended the room erupted into applause. It played very well to the small audience who were perhaps unfamiliar with his films. Dario then returned to the podium to take questions. After a question about the significance of the lizard at the end of the movie, I raised my hand and asked, “Why do some of your killers wear black gloves?” Argento paused and said, “I don’t know…” paused again and said, “you here tomorrow?” “Yes” I replied. “I think about it…you, come ask me tomorrow.” And he took the next question.
It was after the screening where we learned that Argento had a table on the convention floor with nothing on it. No sign, no pictures…nothing but this skinny Italian man. He was sitting next to Chas Balun for most of the time basically being ignored by the people in attendance. Naturally, we took a few pictures, chatted to both Dario and Chas about the film. (RIP Chas) We then went on our way to grab some food and drink…our feet hovering slightly off the floor.
While in a complete state of disbelief we found a local watering hole and had a few beers and some grub. However, there was but one basic need still not yet attended to. We returned to our hotel room to indulge in the best of what the 90’s had to offer, look at the comics we bought and enjoyed our good fortune in meeting Dario Argento! Given the long drive earlier I was already pretty wiped out so my recollections of the rest of the evening are lost to time.
We got up the morning and went thru the usual rituals but this time as a dedicated and rather proud collection of horror fans. We felt as if we had been let in on some sort of secret. After coffee and breakfast we returned to the convention floor and headed straight back to see Argento. Sure enough there he was and once again he wasn’t really doing much. He saw us and smiled and I of course re-asked my question, “Do you recall that I…” He interrupted, “yes, yes…I think about it. I don’t know why I do. It’s the black, the subconscious. I don’t know why I do.” Now, while this wasn’t exactly the deep, meaningful answer I was seeking, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the simplicity of it. I truly believed him.
What happened next was even cooler. My 3 buddies, myself and Dario Argento took a stroll around the convention floor together. We walked past tables with model kits and rubber severed arms as he said, “This is beautiful…there is beauty here.” and “We no do this in Italy…conventions.” At some point Chas found us and Dario was off for another screening of Opera. We passed on the invitation to come see the film again feeling as though we had already spent enough time with the man and didn’t want to monopolize his attention.
It wasn’t until much later in the day that we met up one last time to say “addio”. We thanked him for coming all the way to Albany and how it made our weekend so great to see Opera with him. We all shook hands and off he went. Again, in as many days my friends and I were in utter disbelief.
As soon as I got back home I had the photos from my trusty Minolta X-700 developed (again, pre-digital era) and the results are here for you to see. I cherish these photos as proof of one of the most surreal convention experiences of my entire life.
Fast forward to the following year, a book about Argento’s work has been written and there’s going to be a screening followed by a book signing at the Film Forum in lower Manhattan. The book is called “Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento” and was written by Maitland McDonagh. The two films screened were “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” and “Suspiria.” Naturally my crew and myself went to the event and this time I brought the photos I took of us all together in Albany. After the double feature with Q&A we lined up for the book signing. As my turn came Maitland signed first and I told her how much I was looking forward to reading the book. Then I approached Dario and we shook hands. I took out the photograph of the two of us in Albany. He looks at me and says, “that’s you and me, where I see you?” I said, “Albany, we met in Albany last year.” “Ahhh Albany” he said loudly. “You come to see my movie, you come see Opera!” We shook hands again and we posed for a picture together. He then signed my book and the back of the photograph I brought with me. Mission accomplished.
That was a good 25, hell 26 years ago. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to meet quite a few of my cinematic heroes but really none of those encounters compares to the incredibly wild unlikely-hood of the events that took place in a small hotel in Albany New York. Where three horror fans from Northern New Jersey didn’t just meet Dario Argento but got to spend more time than we ever thought possible. It’s no fish tale…no tall story. Just four horror fans having more fun than people should be allowed to have.