Tag Archives: dario argento

Deep Red – Review

22 Aug

Oh boy, here we go again. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, time I’ve talked about that crazy weird Italian horror film maker Dario Argento. This time, we’re going back to the time before Suspiria, which I never even thought existed. Alright, that’s not true, but it was strange seeing what came before that one since I consider Suspiria to be the go to film for Argento. Two years before Suspiria there was a movie that many say is Argento’s best film, Deep Red. While there are a lot of great things in Deep Red that foreshadowed what excellent things this director was capable of, I felt that this movie lost its focus way to often to be really taken seriously.

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During a performance, psychic Helga Ullman (Macha Meril) begins sensing very violent thoughts being sent to her by someone in the audience. Later on that night, she is brutally murdered with the only witness being jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings). Soon, Daly makes himself part of the investigation along with the persistent journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), but it aways seems like whenever the two find a clue or a lead, someone involved ends up dead in the most discomforting of ways. As the bodies begins to pile and resources being to run out, Marcus and Gianna begin to seriously wonder how the murderer seems to always be one step ahead of them, and also how long they will stay alive in order to uncover the twisted mystery of the murderer’s past.

Depending on which version you see, you may have different takes on the movie. I saw the completely uncut version which runs a little over two hours. For some people who know me through this blog or in real life, you know that I’m a real stickler for run times. If a movie is too short or too long, the entire experience may be ruined. In this case, the movie was far too long. There are other versions that exist that run an hour and a half or an hour and forty minutes, which is a much more acceptable run time for a movie such as Deep Red. The extra twenty minutes to a half hour that were added in for the uncut version is just a bunch of bantering between Marcus and Gianna, which is really boring considering Gianna is pretty much a useless character to begin with.

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That is really the main problem that I have with this movie. Those added scenes that make the “complete” movie completely veer from what makes Deep Red fun and exciting. But that’s not the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way. At first, I thought whoever was responsible for the sound design should be executed, because it is absolutely horrendous. The cast would all of a sudden start speaking Italian and then back to English, which is weird enough, but the Italian voices didn’t match the English voices at all. It’s laughable! Turns out, the movie was originally shot in Italian with English voices dubbed over, but some of the English was lost which meant that the Italian actors spoke with their real voices in some scenes, and someone else’s voice altogether when they were speaking English. Talk about distracting.

But, let’s be real. This movie isn’t all bad. In fact, there were some scenes that literally almost made me jump up and down out of sheer excitement. These served as a reminder as to why horror buffs love Dario Argento in the first place. First of all, the death scenes in this movie are so strange that you can’t help but chuckle at the morbid silliness. Sure, they’re kind of gross at times, but there’s plenty of that trademark bright red Argento blood to fill the screen. There are also other frightening scenes that are wonderfully unique, including a hidden skeleton behind a wall and clever usage of children’s music. Also, the soundtrack by Goblin, who would also do the soundtrack to Suspiria, really drives the action onscreen.

All in all, Deep Red is a disappointing film for me. There are some really excellent scenes of horror, but above all else, this movie is a mystery film. I’d be totally fine with that if the focus was kept on the mystery and not the useless banter between the main protagonist and another character that serves next to no purpose. It’s really a shame since there are sections of this movie that are sincerely creepy, while there are more scenes that are really boring. I’d be curious to watch another version that’s shorter to see if I enjoy it more. Still, Deep Red is reserved to horror buffs only.

 

Opera – Review

6 Feb

I’ve already talked a lot about Dario Argento on this blog. So far I’ve talked about Suspiria, Inferno, and The Mother of Tears. Well, here we are, back with Argento, one of the masters of the horror genre with his 1987 film Opera. When it was first released for U.S. audiences, it was heavily cut, and therefore never complete. Luckily, I’ve seen the uncut version and I have quite a bit to say, both bad and good.

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MacBeth has always been a cursed show, but never before seen like this. After the original choice for Lady MacBeth is injured in adar accident, the role then goes to newcomer Betty (Cristina Marsillach). Her first performance is met with a standing ovation, but also attracts the attention of an obsessive and violent stalker. Soon after the performance she is forced to watch the masked man kill one of her friends. In the days to come this happens again and again, giving her all the more reason to find out who the murderer is and stop him before she becomes the victim.

It seems that Argento movies always have their fair share of really great things and really terrible things. This film is case and point to my theory. In that same way, he’s kind of lucky that he’s so good at creating memorable scenes of horror, because there are so many things in this movie that have the potential to drag this movie down. The biggest problem, since it happens throughout the entire movie is the acting. This is a problem throughout Argento’s filmography, and this doesn’t have the worst acting (Suspiria), but it can be pretty laughable when the scene is meant to be dead serious.

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The “joy” that is found in Opera are the fantastic murder sequences. These scenes are some of the best that you will ever see in horror along with Psycho and the original Saw. I find it remarkable how the needles that are taped under Betty’s eyes aren’t recognized as a major symbol in the horror genre. The film also shows that Argento will not hold back in his violence. The first killing that is shown is memorable, unexpected, and wonderfully gory. It was so good that I had to rewind the scene a couple of times just to prolong my giddy laughter. The scene that really stands above the rest in the movie features a bullet being shown shooting through a peep hole and into the victims head, all of it in slow motion for maximum appreciation. And what would these murder scenes be if they weren’t accompanied by some unexpected 80s metal music? There are some against this choice of soundtrack, but I think it’s a great contrast from the opera music heard throughout.

The set design also looks fantastic, especially the opera house, where a lot of the action takes place. The hall and the backstage design is both beautiful and spot on. Even Betty’s apartment has this old Italian style that you can’t really find in America. I wouldn’t be able to fully take all of these sights in if it weren’t for Argento’s stalking camera work. The camera seems to have a life of its own as it chases, stalks, and even flies throughout the opera house and the various apartments.

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The problem that almost ruins the entire movie is its godforsaken ending. I can honestly say that this is one of, if not, the worst ending I have ever seen. Never has an ending felt like it was literally thumb tacked on by a kindergartner. The conflict is over way too fast and the whole scenario is way too absurd, bordering on deus ex machina. It’s a joke.

Opera is a very good horror movie, even though it has all of the makings to be dreadful. There’s bad acting throughout and an ending that will leave even the most casual cinephiles annoyed. Still, the murder scenes, set design, camera work, and idea are all great and work well together. This isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about Argento nor will it be appropriate for anyone with a weak stomach, but it’s a fun watch for horror fans, especially those already accustomed to Argento’s style.

Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” Trilogy (Suspiria, Inferno, and Mother of Tears) – Review

27 Nov

Anyone who loves the ins and outs of horror knows and respects the name Dario Argento. As a director, he helped redefine the horror genre and made great contributions to the Italian style of giallo with famous movies filled with infamous scenes. His films are gory, gothic, and absurdly colorful, giving his style a visual trademark that isn’t soon forgotten. He may be best known for his 1977 film Suspiria, which I was going to review, but I got to thinking that I should review the whole Three Mothers trilogy, all of which are tied together through themes of black magic and covens.

Let’s start with Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria.

Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) has arrived in Germany to study ballet at a prestigious academy in Freiburg. Almost immediately, Suzy encounters several strange, almost surreal, occurrences that makes her begin questioning what is really going on with this school. With the help of her friend Sarah (Stefania Casini), she starts to explore the maze and unravel the mysteries of the academy which sends her face to face with the occult, a dangerous coven of witches, and their malevolent master, Mater Suspiriorum.

Suspiria is a psychedelic trip down a horrific rabbit hole that exists to disorient and confuse. The first thing anyone will notice is the brilliant cinematography which utilizes colors like I’ve never seen before. Hallways are splashed red and blue which mesh wonderfully into purple. This is just one example. Every color is brightly used and covers every corner of the darkened academy. It’s beautiful, yet in context, bizarrely unsettling.

The insane beauty doesn’t stop with the cinematography. The soundtrack provided by the band Goblin is unlike anything I’ve heard before and the camera movement is what makes everything so disorienting with strange low/high angles, the use of negative space, and camera tracking through the labyrinthine corridors. Mixing the soundtrack and the camerawork together is a perfect mixture for memorable art house horror.

The only detraction I can think of for this movie is the acting. It’s piss poor. One reason I could think of is that a lot of the film is dubbed because of the Italian actors. If not that, then the only reason I can think of is bad acting combined with not too great acting direction on Argento’s part. I could see how he would be so into the framing and cinematography that the acting would be a second thought.

Suspiria is easily one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s artistic approach in both sound and visuals, combined with the shameless gore makes this a horror movie for the ages. Plus, the opening scene is famous as being one of the scariest scenes in film. I recommend Suspiria for anyone and everyone. It’s unbelievable.

In 1980, Dario Argento released a thematic sequel, Inferno.

A mysterious book instigates Rose (Irene Miracle) to begin investigating her building for evidence of a witch. She enlists the help of her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), in Rome. At first, Mark is skeptical of the entire situation, but once he arrives in New York City, he begins to see this evidence of the witch Mater Tenebrarum, and also witnesses terrible murders and supernatural occurrences that pushes him to defeat this evil.

Suspiria is a tough act to follow, and to compare it with this film, Inferno feels pretty weak. While the story in Suspiria isn’t extremely solid, the plot of Inferno feels almost nonexistent. The working title could have been called People Run Through Colorful Halls A Lot. That sums up a great amount of time spent in this movie. I didn’t feel like the characters had too much of a goal up until the very end of the story. Having a plot that exists to confuse is good for certain genres, and this isn’t one of them. Leave the disorientation to the cinematography and camera angles, not the plot. It left me confused and a little aggravated.

Still, I can’t complain about this movie too much since it kept the same psychedelic atmosphere as the first film, and it does have memorable moments. One excellent example is showing a killer in the reflection of a broken door knob. It conceals the identity and distorts the image and is the most clever shot in the entire film. The colors once again mesh fantastically although it may have lost some of its effect after seeing it all before in Suspiria. It was still a very nice touch.

And of course, how could I forget about the horror and the typical Argento gore. While the scares may be a little underwhelming, they are still prevalent. Two things come to mind which I don’t really want to ruin: a makeshift guillotine and an awesome “transformation” scene that can be credited to Italian horror master Mario Bava.

So, while Inferno may not achieve the thrills put forth by Suspiria, it is still an above average horror movie that seems to sneak its way onto “Best Horror Movie” lists, and as it should. Compared with the drivel that passes for horror now, this is a masterful work of sight and sound (the soundtrack may even top Goblin’s work).

Finally, in 2007, Dario Argento released the last film of the Three Mothers trilogy, The Mother of Tears.

After a mysterious coffin is unearthed with a box-shaped urn chained to it, the find is immediately sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome. Once the urn is tampered with, a legion of demons led by Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias) are released upon the world. These evil creatures begin possessing the citizens of Rome, driving them to commit horrible crimes or go insane. After soon realizing a power that has been hidden for her whole life, art student Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) discovers that she is the one the world needs to stop the final and most evil Mother, and save the world from its demonic apocalypse.

The first thing the viewer may notice is its lack of visual flair. Yes, it’s true. The colors that heightened the atmosphere of Suspiria and Inferno are nowhere to be seen. Instead, and what is a big improvement over Inferno, we get a coherent story! Yay! Also, the gothic architecture is still there and looks as menacing as ever, especially the Mother’s lair. It’s beautiful set design, and one of the best parts of the entire movie.

Look at the picture above. Ew right? Needless to say, the gore/violence is amped up to an obscene degree that even made me cringe. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the R-rated version, but I’ve read about the NC-17 version, and holy shit, it sounds crazy. Granted, it’s only about a minute of footage, but it sounds like its pretty hardcore. While the gratuitous gore was a dark joy to behold, the gratuitous nudity got to be a bit much. I’m not a stuck up guy who is against nudity in film. I don’t give a shit, but when there’s more than need be it gets to be kind of annoying. Kind of like Argento was like “LOOK BOOBS!” There was even a shower scene with Dario’s daughter, Asia. Hopefully a second unit crew dealt with that scene.

Finally, I’d like to touch on a few minor complaints. For one, the effects were a little lackluster. I’ve said before, small budget movies aren’t a bad thing, but you have to understand your limits. Some scenes with the goal to visually impress fell on their faces at times. Another problem, as with the entire trilogy, is the acting. Save for one small character, the acting is never really bad. Asia Argento is pretty stale, but shines at some moments. Unfortunately, she’s on screen for most of the movie and about 55% she’s a cardboard box. Pretty though. Very pretty.

Mother of Tears may not have the same artistic quality as Suspiria and Inferno, but it does push the story a lot better. In some ways it is superior than the previous two, but it’s mostly the weakest film in the trilogy. If you’re a fan of Argento and gore, then you should still check out this movie. It gets an undeservedly bad wrap. It’s pretty good.

There you have it, Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s weird, psychedelic, brutal, and most importantly, different. They aren’t like any horror movies you’ve ever seen before. It’s guaranteed entertainment and if you can get past some bad acting, then you’re in for a great time.