October 9, 2014 · Behind The Scenes

Film: The Sandman’s Dario Argento on the ‘Reel’ Meaning of Horror



Readers, you’re in for a treat: Legendary Italian filmmaker Dario Argento has penned a special post in honor of Indiegogo Horror Month—in which he details the differences between terror and well, horror, and the delightful syntheses in between. Another incredible treat? You can contribute to Argento’s campaign for his next film, The Sandman, starring Iggy Pop. Crowdfunding the film helps give Argento creative freedom, and allows you to literally become an  associate producer. Fun perks include access to the production diary, time on set, and lunch with Iggy. Talk about a Happy Halloween.


I am here today to talk to you about terror. Not horror; we’ll get to that in a moment. No. Right now, my first concern is terror.

What is the difference, you ask? Is there a difference, or simply two interchangeable words to talk about the same thing?

Not at all. The two terms are very different, and we who deal in such things as tools of our trade must know the difference between these tools… and how best to wield them.

The British author Ann Radcliffe set out to clarify this difference in the late 18th century, as she and a few select others began to shape the tradition we now know as The Gothic, a tradition in which I am proud to play a part.

“Terror,” the good Ms. Radcliffe tells us, “awakens the faculties to a high degree of life.” What she means (I think—but she’s not around to tell me if I’m wrong!) is that terror awakens us from our humdrum, everyday existence to a greater sense of ourselves and the universe. It is an experience of the sublime–akin in its effects, strangely, to meditation and prayer.

Its effect is spiritual, which may account for its unique and powerful hold over so many, despite all efforts by those who do not understand to denigrate it as coarse, trivial, even harmful. Great art will always have its enemies, those who cannot and will not understand!

Horror, in comparison with terror, “freezes and annihilates” those same faculties that terror activates. It is the revulsion and shock that follows the anticipation of some evil, while terror lies in that very anticipation. It is the culmination of the experience that terror begins, the yin to its yang.

I am so tired of those who say they like the “subtle” scares of terror, but are “disgusted” by the brutal violence of horror. You cannot have one without the other; otherwise, it is all buildup and no payoff. It is foreplay with no climax.

Likewise, violence without the dread of anticipation is a cheat. I also have no patience for those films in which someone simply pops out, and rams an axe in someone’s head.

Where is the art in that; where is the terror to savor? No, my friends, this will not do! For too long you have been forced to contend with limp “terror,” which refuses to deliver the goods after getting you all worked up—or oafish “horror,” which bludgeons you over the head with ham-fisted jump-scares the filmmakers were too lazy to prep you for, leaving you unsatisfied and angry. And rightfully so!

Are you longing for the creeping dread of terror that will awaken your senses, followed by the nightmarish horror that will annihilate them? Of course you are!

And THE SANDMAN is my new film, my good friends, which will deliver these both. This I promise you. Rooted in the dark Gothic tradition that came from Germany, this is a classic tale of terror. And one that will fill you with horror.

You’ll know the difference when the time comes.

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