We close out the week-long tribute to Italian horror master Dario Argento with “Opera.” A loose adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera,” the film follows opera understudy Betty as she gets her big break when the star of Verdi’s “Macbeth” is injured and she’s given the lead role, attracting the attention of Argento’s ubiquitous black-gloved killer. He has a tendency to tie her up and tape needles under her eyes so she’s forced to watch as he murders her friends and co-workers. That’s about it, really.
Argento loads this movie with tons of eyeball devastation and sometimes it’s tough to watch. He also pulls a page from the “Phenomena” playbook and uses animals in a unique way. Add in the rumor that the finale of the film is a parody of “The Sound of Music” and you’ve got a pretty fun, if slightly slow, film.
For me, “Opera” is pretty close to the end of his “great” period and signaled a transition into an “okay” period. His other movies aren’t terrible, with the exception of “The Card Player,” but they don’t possess the same spark as his earlier, more powerful works. The killer in “Opera” has, from what I remember, a pretty flimsy motive for all this murder and it doesn’t really hold up, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
This week has been fun, but really stressful. It’s been tough to come up with a good image that really represents the film, but I think I’ve been pretty successful. I hope these little write-ups have inspired at least one person to check out some of Argento’s work.
“Phenomena” (1985) has a few similarities with Argento’s earlier film “Suspiria”: a young girl arrives at a European school, another girl is viciously murdered, and there’s lots of mysterious goings-on. “Phenomena,” however, might be even more insane than his 1977 masterpiece. There’s a girl can communicate telepathically with insects, a well-trained monkey, a beastly creature locked up in a quaint Swiss cottage, lots of bugs and maggots (accompanied by respective POV shots as well), tons of gross goop and an absolutely crazy ending, perhaps even more so than the bloody “Tenebrae.”
This is also probably the one movie that audiences unfamiliar with Italian cinema might be drawn to just because of the actors. Jennifer Connelly stars as the telepathic protagonist and she’s as fresh-faced as she was in “Labyrinth,” and maybe just a little bit more because this was filmed prior to the David Bowie fantasy film. She’s aided in her murder mystery-solving quest by a crippled entomologist (and monkey-owner) played by Donald Pleasence, who would be easily recognizable to anyone who’d seen the original “Halloween” from John Carpenter. They both give good performances, as you’d expect. Pleasence lends just about any project he’s in some level of class and that’s no different here.
Argento is in top form here and gives you just what you’d expect by now. He’s never been a master dialogue writer, but it’s not something that’ll keep you from enjoying the movie, especially with that bizarre abrupt ending. Definitely check this one out.
“Tenebrae” tells the story of American author Peter Neal, who arrives in Rome to find that his latest novel is inspiring murders around the city. As is standard in these types of stories, the police are clueless and Peter begins an investigation of his own, becoming more and more tangled up in the case.
“Tenebrae” is another of Argento’s trademark giallos, and like “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” and “Deep Red,” it’s pretty fantastic. It seems like this film was important to Argento because he seems to have pulled out all the stops, delivering some amazing shots along with his twisted murder sequences. Argento also delivers one of single most impressive camera tricks of his entire career in this film. Take five minutes, watch the clip and marvel at home much work and planning had to go into that sequence. “Tenebrae” also boasts possibly Argento’s bloodiest finale, where there seem to a dozen twists and almost as many murders. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity.
A thematic sequel to “Suspiria,” Dario Argento’s “Inferno” is one of the director’s lesser works. The film follows Rose Eliot, who ends up researching her apartment building and finding out that it might belong to the sister of the evil creature that ruled the ballet school in “Suspiria.” She asks her brother Mark, who’s studying in Rome, to come to New York and help her.
Strange things happen, as per usual, and there are some great, gory kills, but nothing quite as astonishing or surprising as the rooftop murder in “Suspiria.” The one thing that “Inferno” does have going for it though is an amazing, completely implausible scene where a character drops her keys into a decent sized puddle in the basement only to discover that it’s actually a hole into a water-filled chamber. She has to climb inside and swim down to retrieve her keys, coming into contact with a grisly dead body. This scene is the most like “Suspiria” with its bright colors and unusual surroundings.
On a whole, the movie’s not terrible, but it’s not incredibly memorable either. The typical Argento-isms are in full effect and the movie does disappoint, but it doesn’t hang around in the back of your mind like “Suspiria” or “Deep Red” either.
“Suspiria” (1977) is probably Dario Argento’s best known work and often cited as his masterpiece. Protagonist Suzy Bannion arrives at a European ballet school on the same night as the brutal murder of another student. Strange happenings abound almost from the start and Suzy eventually discovers the terrible truth behind the school’s existence.
“Suspiria” is the first film of Argento’s I ever watched and, as such, I hold it in high regard and generally overlook most of its flaws. For instance, Argento originally planned to cast twelve-year-old girls, but it was feared that the graphic violence with such young characters would put off some audiences, so he made the characters older, but didn’t go back and change the dialogue. So the majority of these older teenage girls act like little brats. But I’ve known girls like that, so it didn’t bug me too much. Whatever problems I might have with the movie, I tend to forget them due to the beautiful imagery he puts onscreen. He does some amazing work with colors and lights and the score by frequent collaborators Goblin really ratchet up the tension. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a damn entertaining surreal nightmare.
Dario Argento’s “Deep Red,” released in 1975, is another of the director’s trademark giallo tales. The film follows musician Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) after he witnesses a murder and attempts to save victim. He realizes he may have seen the killer’s face when entering the apartment, and sets off trying to solve the murders.
“Deep Red” is a great film with some really amazing sequences. Argento chose to stage his murders using things that the audience could relate to and then amplifying them, such as having a character burned to death and another’s teeth smashed out. He even makes use of a creepy doll on a tricycle that is directly referenced in the “Saw” films 30 years later.
Like yesterday’s “Bird,” “Deep Red” plays on the audience’s perception and shows you things you might not realize you saw. There are numerous twists and red herrings, but everything feels earned. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.
And because I generally try to be awesome on a daily basis, click below the jump for an added bonus.
Welcome to the long-promised Dario Argento Week! Italian filmmaker Dario Argento rose to prominence in the 1970s with bloody, sexy little flicks in the giallo horror sub-genre. His first film as writer/director was 1970′s “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.”
I have a fondness for Argento’s work and his use of strong camera angles and an overly stylized color palette, which comes to the forefront during “Suspiria” (1977). The main complaint I can lodge against Argento is that occasionally his stories a bit simplistic, but the visuals and incredible beauty of the carnage he puts on display make you forget any issues you might have with the story. But that’s not something you’ll have to worry yourself with while watching “Bird,” though, as it’s a great film with a wonderfully devilish twist ending that really plays up the importance of perception, something that comes up again in “Deep Red” (1975) and “Tenebrae” (1982).
As I was working on an aborted version of today’s piece (last week), I stumbled across these minimalist posters by Federico Mauro. Very different from what I had planned, but his posters are damn beautiful and they do a great job of distilling the movies down to a few core elements. I’m going to do my best to not imitate him too much, though I did sort of steal his idea for my Nosferatu poster a few days ago. My hats of to you, Mr. Mauro. I’m mad I didn’t think of these first, but that seems to be a big problem I’m having lately.