I had the honor and privilege to be invited to attend the 2014 ITALIAN HORROR FEST in Nettuno, a seaside town in Rome, Italy. I went there to both bless the festival – the brainchild of filmmaker Luigi Pastore – and screen the European premiere of my second feature film, QUEEN OF BLOOD.

The flight was almost nine hours from Toronto, but absolutely worth it. Anyone who even casually knows me, understands just how much I thrive on European – especially Italian – horror films and culture. For me, it was a homecoming to a home that I’d dreamed of my entire life. The people. The language. The food. The sense of rich, passionate history. The films…the filmmakers.

The first mind-melt of many to come came when I saw this poster on a Nettuno wall:

Sure it was due to the alphabetical order of things, but to see my name ABOVE that of one of the greatest filmmakers in history and my own personal horror movie guru, Dario Argento was the stuff of myth. I still cannot believe this actually happened. It’s amusing and surreal and ridiculous…and absolutely wonderful.

Seeing a pair of iconic Lucio Fulci poster art images artfully painted on the adjoining wall sealed the deal.  Here’s FANGORIA scribe Roberto D’Onofrio and I with Lady Catriona…

And a remarkable painting from CAT IN THE BRAIN (aka NIGHTMARE CONCERT):

More WTF moments came in the form of the official program. Could this be real?

With the one and only Luigi Cozzi aka Lewis Coates, guest of honor and director of such cult classics as THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN, HERCULES, STARCRASH and my all-time Cozzi favorite, CONTAMINATION. Here we are with the youthful mayor of Nettuno, Allessio Chiavetta, a massive horror fan who opened his city to the festival with a wide, charming smile. Such wonderful people, all…

Here’s writer Antonio Tentori, he of Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN and Argento’s DRACULA 3D, contemplating his place in the universe while we set up the stunning outdoor theatre, right on the beaches of Nettuno…

One of the craziest sidebars of my trip was meeting and befriending one of the funniest Italian’s alive, legendary CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST director Ruggero Deodato, whose theatrical tantrums and sense of humor were infectious. Who would have known that the man behind such a monolith of depravity like HOLOCAUST would be such a charming gent.

I met some great new friends and talents, including Swedish horror film enthusiast and rock star George Svensson. Here is The George with The Luigi and myself…

Now, I knew I’d be introducing QUEEN OF BLOOD…

…but I had NO idea I’d be accepting an award of any kind.  Imagine my surprise when Luigi Pastore and my dear friend and FANGORIA scribe Roberto D’Onofrio presented me with a this gorgeous statue, a salute to my work and our new friendship.

So many adventures and laughs crammed into such a whirlwind three days.  I saw some fantastic new Italian cinema, like the superlative ACROSS THE RIVER, one of the eeriest films in recent memory. And of course, I saw my beloved CONTAMINATION explode on the screen after midnight, its bass-heavy GOBLIN score blast across the beach.

And what a beautiful sight to see the lovely Shauna Henry on screen in QUEEN OF BLOOD, right there, late at night in the Nettuno heat, while bats flew around above and the ruins of a castle were underlit behind the screen.

No matter what I do in this life, no matter what triumphs and tragedies come my way, I will never, ever forget the incredible people and the wonderful experience of being part of the ITALIAN HORROR FEST.

I cannot wait until next year. Only death would keep me away…