INTERVIEW WITH TROY HOWARTH, AUTHOR OF THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA
Conducted by Mike Kenny
MK: Alrighty, well first and for most Troy, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to sit down with Mike's Pop Culture Playhouse.
TH: My pleasure.
MK: Let's go back to the beginning when you were a wee lad, where did your first influences with the horror genre come from?
TH: I can't ever remember NOT being into horror movies. My maternal grandmother died when I was two years old, and even she commented on me being into this stuff! My mom is a fan, so I grew up watching Universal and Hammer and AIP movies on TV... and my parents were fairly liberal with what I was allowed to see, so I even got to see hard R movies like Friday the 13th sequels, etc. Other kids in school idolized Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but I was a devotee of Cushing and Lee.
MK: Fantastic! I'm sure many of us who follow your work have had similar experiences in their childhood being introduced at such an influential age. As you matured, did you find yourself favoring particular studios more than others, as you mentioned you were a kid of the Universal, Hammer, AIP age, so I'm curious on that front?
TH: Well, the Universal stuff pulled me in when I was very, very young... I have a notion Tod Browning's Dracula was the first film I ever saw. The Hammer stuff scared me a bit too much when I was very young, but then I became obsessed with their stuff. I'd say as I got a bit older, like towards my teens, I was a diehard Hammerhead and tended to ignore Universal as a result. Nowadays, I love them about equally - but nothing can top the run Universal had from 1931 to 1936, not even peak period Hammer. But again, I love them both... and of course, AIP's Poe stuff, Amicus, Tigon... they all made some wonderful contributions to the genre, as well.
MK: In the preface of your revised and expanded edition of THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA, you site a college professor, Dr. David Ward as being influential on your journey with the book. Can you speak a little bit more about that and his influence?
TH: Well, you have to bear in mind I never intended for this to be a book. To me, that was something real writers did, and I didn't consider myself worthy of that. I figured it would be an article, maybe a monograph. But I showed it to Dr. Ward and he saw the potential right away. He had no clue who Mario Bava was, but he saw that I had invested this time and detail and felt it could become a book... if it hadn't been for him pushing me, I doubt I ever would have taken it to that level. He was a tremendous support and for that I am eternally grateful.
MK: It truly is a testament to how important and crucial influencing figures can be in our lives, isn't it?
TH: Absolutely. We all need people to support us and cheer us on. Without that, it can get very lonely.
MK: While, the first edition of THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA, was published in the early 2000s and was met with rave reviews and earned you a few awards, how did the aspect of ushering in a revised edition come about? Was it directly your idea or was this something your publisher Midnight Marquee Press approached you with?
TH: There were a few negative reviews here and there, but the majority of the reviews were good and it won a few prizes. I had no idea in the beginning that another writer had been laboring on a "definitive" Bava book for many years; if I had known that, I probably would have abandoned it. But by the time I found out, I was too far along. I'm glad I didn't chicken out and allowed my own book to take shape. It stands on its own merits. For a number of years I was approached by people wanting to know if/when it was coming back into print. FAB and I discussed a reprint, but it would have had to have been more or less the same as before, or else a new layout would have to have been done. The rights reverted to me in 2012 and in 2013 I approached a couple of publishers with the idea of redoing it; they weren't interested and I figured that was the end of that. Then, one day out of the blue, I received a catalogue from MidMar in the mail and thought about contacting them. Gary was very enthusiastic and it all went from there.
MK: I'd say horror fans are all the better for having this edition back in print as it truly does stand on its own merits, as you mentioned. As a modest fan of Bava, simply because there are just not enough hours in the day to cut into his vast catalog as much as I plan to, your book allows readers to learn much about his productions and greatly entice people to see his films amidst their flaws. Was there ever a conscience balance to not reveal too much about the films in your writings?
TH: When I wrote the first edition, his films were not so readily available. Now most of them are out on blu ray in special editions and people have more or less found the films they really care to see. I figured that in the context of a book like this, I couldn't worry too much about spoilers, whereas with the study of the giallo I recently wrote, SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE, I was determined not to give the plot twists away.
MK: I see. In your tireless research, what were some of the biggest obstacles in obtaining information with the exception of the films availabilities?
TH: When I first started the book, I really wasn't on the internet much.. these days, so much is out there - but of course you have to cherry pick and be careful to see if the info you utilize is accurate, because there's so much misinformation out there! I would have liked to have been able to have talked to more people who worked with him, but at that time my resources were limited... so the new one has input from Barbara Steele and Lamberto Bava, for example, both of whom were delightful to deal with.
MK: Having firsthand insight from such crucial talent in Bava's career was certainly a delight to read.
TH: I was thrilled to get them onboard. Lamberto wasn't just his son - he was his assistant and they had a very close bond. Barbara Steele was absolutely charming - I had to follow up with her on a few things after her interview was submitted and she couldn't have been nicer to me.
MK: Bava was a master behind the camera, filling his films with rich colors and alluring compositions alas, he sadly never achieved the acclaim he so rightfully deserved, especially in his country of Italy. Why do you feel it took so many years for his films to catch on as they have, influencing people such as Scorsese and Joe Dante in the process?
TH: Horror films in general are regarded as garbage by many critics. Bava was also a very shy, self deprecating man. He called his work "bullshit" in print - I can't imagine many directors doing that. He took pride in the work but wasn't interested in self promotion in the way that Argento was/is, for example. Many of his films were not released properly over here and many that were, were cut and not properly presented. Dubbing is also a big stumbling block for many people. So the deck was stacked pretty high against him for many years.
MK: In your opinion, which Hollywood talent do you feel has subscribed to the School of Bava and used his techniques and style most fittingly?
TH: I think Joe Dante has proven to be a very worthy disciple. Scorsese is not beholden to any one director, but the times when he utilizes Bava-type effects, the results are superb. Del Toro has also pointed to him as an influence, but he leans more towards excess than Bava ever did. On the whole, I'd say Dante probably shows the most overt Bava influence in films like The Howling and The Hole, and they are worthy tribute to his style.
MK: I couldn't agree more. It's interesting in an "art imitates life" way as many people believe Dante himself is a wildly creative filmmaker who has yet to receive his proper due.
TH: Well there again, he does genre films... and people who make genre films don't tend to get that respect. Even when Scorsese made Shutter Island, which has some definite tips of the hat to Bava, it was derided by critics. Genre films simply do not tend to be taken very seriously, so directors like Bava and Dante and John Carpenter don't get the attention they deserve in general.
MK: Which yet again is another shame, as I found Shutter Island to be a fantastic Scorsese offering.
TH: I loved it. I am a diehard Scorsese fan, but I thought it one of the best genre films of the new millennium. Great stuff and very layered.
MK: Pleasure to meet another Shutter Island fan (HA-HA-HA).
TH: There are a few of us - I think as time goes on, people will appreciate it more.
MK: Indeed, especially with it now receiving the HBO treatment.
TH: I am not sure if I think that is a good idea, but we'll see... I think Scorsese is a genius and if he is involved in any capacity, it at least won't be soulless hack work.
MK: I imagine he'll be executive producing and it wouldn't surprise me if he films the pilot. Sheer speculation, of course.
TH: In that sense, that would be like Boardwalk Empire, which is a terrific show. We shall see.
MK: Back to Bava, it's incredible the respectable treatment his films have been garnering in recent years. Do you have any personal favorite editions that have emerged since this Bava home video renaissance began?
TH: I am very pleased with the Arrow blu ray releases from the UK. In fact, after I finish this, I am going to watch their release of Rabid Dogs. I am thrilled with their release of Black Sabbath, in particular. I'd appreciate a little more variety in some of the extras we get on his films, but I won't complain too loudly about that. For example, if they ever do Four Times That Night, I hope they at least interview Brett Halsey... he's a great guy and he loved working with Bava. The Kino releases in the US have been disappointing overall, though they did fine with Bay of Blood and Hatchet for the Honeymoon.
MK: It's unfortunate the US cuts of Black Sabbath and Black Sunday were halted with mere weeks before their street date as well.
TH: I have my suspicions about what happened there, but that's not for me to get into. Fortunately the AIP edits were included on the Arrow editions.
MK: Overall, it's remarkable the state his films are in now amongst collectors as opposed to when you first started researching your book. I'd say you started 10 years too early (HA-HA-HA).
TH: Back then, you had to go the grey market VHS route. Some of the films were only available in very rough condition - Roy Colt & Winchester Jack didn't even have subtitles at the time, which made assessing it all the trickier.
MK: We are quite spoiled in this day and age, so I can only imagine the difficulties back then.
TH: It's a double edged sword: while it's great to be spoiled for choice, I find that very often the films are ignored in favor of discussing minutae. There is too much obsessing over aspect ratios, missing frames, alternate edits... I mean, this stuff has merit and value, but that seems to be the only thing people want to talk about. I used to pay $30 for a VHS in very rough condition, nowadays people bitch when a pristine blu ray release is $25 or more... We have lost perspective.
MK: I agree, we have countless indie distributors who are doing phenomenal work and handing over so many lost gems in formats we could have never dreamed of before. The experience of the film itself has certainly become secondary to technical merits, which of course, should be of importance to paying customers, but there has to be a balance and the sheer joy of the film should be first and for most.
TH: I miss the sense of anticipation of seeing something for the first time... waiting and waiting for it to crop up on TV or to show up in some grey market catalogue. The sense of fun is lost now, I think. But it's not all grim, for sure: that we can see these films so easily, often in very nice presentations, is its own reward. It could be that I am just a little nostalgic for a bygone period.
MK: I look back fondly on Friday afternoons, walking home from school and heading to the video store to rent no less than 5 tapes for the week. Call it my own personal cinema school, the allure of the artwork and the anticipation of seeing something memorable.. or not. That fun is nearly extinct isn't it?
TH: It seems to be, but maybe it's not for a younger generation still discovering this stuff... it's hard to say.
MK: Before we fall into crying over our youthful years, we have to discuss the seemingly endless projects you have in the works. Can you give us some insight on what's on the horizon for Troy Howarth?
TH: There are a few projects, yes. Beginning in 2008, I believe, I started working on a horror encyclopedia series with my friend Chris Workman. We covered from 1895 to 1939, then decided to take a break and find a publisher before continuing; we didn't have any bites for a while, which was disappointing, but then Gary expressed an interest... So the 1930s volume of TOME OF TERROR will be out by the end of the year, hopefully. Six months later, more or less, the second volume devoted to the 20s will come out. The 1895-1919 volume is not bound to be a huge seller, so it will be released later in the run, depending on how well they go over. Then there's SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE: 50 YEARS OF ITALIAN GIALLO films, which covers the giallo genre from Italy. I wrote that earlier in the year and it got to be so big that it had to be split in two. The first volume will be out around Christmas, from the looks of it. Then the second will follow six months later. And right now I am in the midst of writing a book on Lucio Fulci. I am excited to announce more about it very soon, but for now I am not getting into too many details... suffice it to say, I'm hoping it will be a very in-depth and comprehensive study of his life and work. And from there, who knows? I have an agreement with Gary to do a book on the krimi genre and it looks likely I will also do a book about the actor Robert Quarry. Plus there are future installments of TOME OF TERROR.
MK: So essentially, you don't sleep is what you're telling us?
TH: Ha! Well, I get the rest I need, but after the Fulci book is finished I may rest for a couple of months before diving into the krimi project.
MK: You have quite a stack of projects on your plate, all of which sound mighty exciting especially THE TOME OF TERROR series which I admit, I've been counting down on since your original announcement.
TH: I'm glad people seem to be interested in these projects; it makes all the work worthwhile. I can tell you that Chris and I have done our best to make this as comprehensive and indepth as possible. I am hopeful that people will stick with the series and that we can continue to the present day.
MK: It certainly would be an impressive feat, one that horror fans would greatly appreciate having. What direction will the series be taking? Are you hoping to discuss in-depth on every film in each decade or are you guys cherry picking through ones you feel are of utmost importance?
TH: Every single horror film ever made... that's the goal. It won't be easy, but we're going to do our damndest.
MK: We anxiously look forward to the finished product as an effort of that magnitude probably hasn't been attempted since THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR, which although dated, was quite the resource.
TH: That book was probably the most significant reference source I had growing up... I can't overstate what an important book it was for me and for many others. It had some omissions and problems, sure, but what an undertaking that was for its time.
MK: Indeed, I still go back to that book from time to time as it still holds weight amidst its setbacks.
TH: Agreed. It's still on my shelf.
MK: THE REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION OF THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA is available right now. Where can fellow readers pick up this supremely well done book on one of horror's most beloved makers?
TH: You can order it directly from Midnight Marquee at www.midmar.com or you can order it from Amazon.com - I recommend the former, however, if you are in the US because it's important to support these smaller publishers.
MK: Very much so, Troy. In addition, readers can follow THE TOME OF TERROR Facebook page for the latest updates, correct?
TH: Yes, TOME and SO DEADLY both have fairly active FB pages... you can "like" the pages and keep up to date with any news there. The Fulci book does not have a page yet, but it probably will by the start of 2015.
MK: We appreciate the time you've graciously taken with us, Troy and we wish you all the luck in the world with your future endeavors. We can hardly wait to cut into them!
TH: Thank you! I hope you and your readers enjoy them... and thanks for having me!