I’ve been writing as Andre Dellamorte on Chud for nearly a decade. But my real name is Damon Houx. Let me come to that.
By 2001, I had figured out my job. I was 25 and working as a film buyer for Wallace theaters. There were a number of important aspects to my job – like charting the business of our theaters versus our competitors, and going to see movies before they came out to see if they played, setting prints for locations, schmoozing/arguing and cajoling the people at the studios, and passing emails back and forth, etc. – but they didn’t usually fill the day. Having spent years in the retail business, downtime was a foreign concept to me. The first couple of months I would panic without something to do – trying to look busy, but also in that early job shuffle where you want to do your damndest to impress, especially as I was one of five people in the entire office who was under forty (two were the I/T guys, another the receptionist). My boss basically had to hold my hand and tell me that it was okay if I wasn’t doing anything. I started in the summer of 1999 – relatively fresh out of college – and by 2001 I had come to learn that most people in jobs like that spend a chunk of their days fucking off. You get the work done, of course, but you definitely spend time with nothing to do because the job isn’t about what you do, but you. My work ethic was such that I wasn’t happy about it at first.
In 2001 I was already writing for Binaryflix.com and for The DVD Journal. I had asked permission from my boss to write for them, but the first site was barely read (and no longer exists) and the second I often took no credit (or only took credit for the long pieces – the short reviews had my initials DSH). By that point I figured out how to write reviews in my downtime, which gave me purpose. My boss didn’t care about me writing them because I fed him whatever DVDs I didn’t want – he hired me because we both loved movies, and he was equally passionate about the old and new stuff. DVD was also in its infancy, and as a laserdisc guy I was fascinated by the development of supplementary material, so I had no problems writing about crap and then passing it on. The wheels were greased.
But I loved movies, and I wanted to talk about new releases. Therein lay the difficulty – I was already friends with a number of the critics in Portland, so I felt a little discomfort about anything I might say that could end up in print. I needed a pseudonym. If I wrote under my real name, it was possible someone might see it and get me in trouble, and though that might be a small risk, it seemed unnecessary. And the threat was real, someone who sent a trade screening report to AICN was fired for it, and there was a more personal incident for me when an AICN screening report was tracked to a friend I took to the screening. Shortly thereafter, I was no longer invited to their screenings, but this was after I left the business.
I liked my job too much to put it at risk, but I had needs, so I saw the Chud message boards as a chance to talk movies somewhat anonymously with people around my age who were passionate about films. And there you’d find Nick and Devin and Smiling Jack Ruby/Mark Wheaton mixing it up with board regulars and cameos from Internet stalwarts like Patrick Sauriol, Drew McWeeny (still Moriaty then), and Jeremy Smith. I had seen some of the more snooty sites, but message boards are communities, and you can’t fit into all of them. I wanted a site that mixed highbrow and lowbrow, and there were people there who were either seeing great movies, or got excited when we talked about them. I figured that as long as I didn’t talk about movies before they came out and used a fake name, I would be fine.
But I needed a name.
In 1997 I was voraciously reading Video Watchdog, and they gave a great review to a film I had never heard of. Around that time Video Search of Miami was the king of grey market titles, so you could finally see Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci films in uncut and widescreen version. Movie Madness – my local video store – had a great selection of the obscura (I would later work there) and one night I rented The Mack and Cemetery Man. I watched the first with a friend, but he begged off before the start of the second. From the opening sequence where main character Francseco Dellamorte (played by Rupert Everett) reacts to a zombie attack with annoyance, I knew that this was going to be special. But I can pinpoint the moment I knew I was in love with the film. There’s a shot in it where Rupert Everett lights a cigarette and the flame that appears to be from his lighter is actually the fire he set reflecting on his car window. It was an electric moment – pure cinema – that from that moment I knew I had found a film to champion, so much so that I made a pilgrimage to Scarecrow video and bought the Japanese laserdisc (the only way to see it widescreen). I would show it to my friends, and then double back to show them how one of the first shots of the movie reflected the last. I bought the Italian 40×60 poster, which was one I had framed for my work office, and still has a special place in my poster collection.
So I had a film that meant a lot to me (and was slightly obscure, as the film was barely released stateside) but I wanted to show that I was not just referencing the film, but making a reference to something very specific. There is a passage in the film where the main character Francesco Dellamorte makes a joke about his name: “My name is Francesco Dellamorte. Weird name, isn’t it? Frances of Death. Saint Frances of Death. I’ve often thought of having it changed. Andre Dellamorte would be much better.” Boom. Sold. It also appealed to me on a weird level because Andre has a parallel with Damon in that both are more commonly the names of black men (or at least amongst the famous).
And so I began on the boards in June of 2001. At first cautiously and then once I had settled in to the board’s rhythms and its cliques, I posted more and more. At first it was just something to check at work, but as I got to know the community it ate up more of my time as I got to be friends with people like Devincf, Innocent X, Hot Animal Machine and Django. In a couple of years, I was staying with board members I’d never met in real life to go to Comic-con, and having de facto Chud gatherings in Portland, with old members like Big Black and Waco, who then became two of my closest friends in town (true story: I was the maid of honor at one’s wedding). If I went to Los Angeles or Dallas for a business trip, I would see who was around and get together with them. If people came to Portland, I would get them drunk. When I moved to Los Angeles, it was the late board member The Hellboy (better known as Paul Prischman) who first got me work. And to this day it’s still a very critical part of my life: I went out drinking before the holidays with three people I know because of the boards. This place is very special to me. It’s done virtually everything but get me laid.
Now I’m doing more for the site, and this is the initial debut of my new column “From Damon’s Desk.” (I couldn’t think of a better title.) I want to write about the movies that get me excited, and hopefully stuff that people will want to watch after I write about it. Since coming on staff, Nick has wanted me to do a column (and also change my pen name to my real name), but it’s hard to figure out what that will be. For now it’s going to be something every other week where I talk about a film I love. Like Cemetery Man. But as we transition into the next iteration of Chud, I thought I’d start out my column on why I’ve had this nom de plume (or nom de guerre if you like) for nearly a decade. It’s such a part of me I will respond to Andre or Dellamorte in person. And it’s hard to let it go, but I’ve never not been me. So welcome Damon Houx to the world of Chud. Here he/I am.