When thinking of how to even attempt an article, let alone a review of any of this directors cinematic treasures, of which there are many! I suddenly became very nervous at the prospect of how one would rightly convey or even approach the often mad world of this cinematic enigma and his sometimes astonishing canon of work. His undisputed positioning in the world of cinema also coincided with a moment of changing mood in a rapidly changing historical British film viewing culture shock that gave Dario Argento as a noted and established genre director, what can best be described as a defining and symbolic notoriety that went on to well-and-truly make him beloved by his UK fan base in this particular case. So, after due consideration and countless hours of thinking what best describes the man born, darjo arˈdʒɛnto in Rome on the 7th September, 1940; In order to understand his massive contribution to the horror genre we must include his unique, groundbreaking approach to his venture into what became better known as his early giallo work. With this strong genre influence foremost, I finally decided on trying to make a number of valid points of important reference that best summed up both the man, his work and also what it is like to be a fan of his differing output, which may also go some way at least to explaining his undeniable cinematic greatness. So with trepidation… ‘here goes?’
Point No1: If Dario Argento had never written for the like of the great Sergio Leone, using the exampled – magnificent, Once upon a Time in the West (1969) which Argento Co-wrote with Bernardo Bertolucci, or had he never even made his directorial début with the forward thinking giallo movie, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) (a brilliant must see film effort!) Basically if you removed him from his entry into giallo/horror cinema or his work previous to his eventual categorisation as horror royalty, for arguments sake – Metaphorically. With this horrible thought in mind it then occurred to me, the void left in the genre would be truly unbearable and would have irreparably damaged the future movement of horror film to the point of cinematic sabotage. In all probability the cinematic endeavours he created as future standards of filmmaking; would I even dare suggest, not have advanced the genre in the powerful form, Argento as an important auteur would go on to create and inspire, which would be a dreadful situation to harsh to even contemplate.
Dario Argento in his own personal thought processes of future filmic progression was obviously inspired by another Italian directing legend in the form of the late Mario Bava, who had clearly influenced Argento’s search and pursuit for the additional ingredients that would further matters and in time would also form a considerable part of his own established trademark output. Like Bava before him Argento had an eye for exquisite visual detail and beautifully described colour palettes of amplifying his own visual version of creative horror mayhem. Even to this day, both Bava then following-on, Argento have set the standards for genre cinema expansion with their self styled approach which obviously, had a massive influence on cinema, especially when noting in particular Argento’s blatant, further extension of these influences within the whelms of the horror based film industry and those whom has a result of his input have either tried to aspire too or even try to dip figuratively into the original Argento formula for tips, often secretly attempting the Argento look and imagery as their obvious template/salute. It is really inconceivable to think of a film world without Dario Argento who is clearly the master of dark cinema, therefore if we had never had his presence or bearing on the world of cinema, the thought would be truly unthinkable!
Yes… the honest truth is, it has been an age since he has produced anything worthy or comparable to his earlier output and yes a large amount of his work in recent times is now so in-cohesive and disjointed, that it frustrates the hell out of those that still love much of his past work in particular. The exception to this rule probably last came in 2001, when briefly his movie Mojo seemingly returned with, ‘Non Ho Sonno’ aka Sleepless, which for me gets very close to recapturing his earlier giallo work in particular.
With this in mind, it is perhaps that in my last comment there lies a serious point, does it not? He is probably the only director I know that has not made anything of the incredible significance of his early wonders for two, maybe three decades now, yet his output since his inspirational periods from the early 1970’s onwards into the beginning to the mid 1980’s ended is in all fairness his highest productive period, yet when his name is still mentioned and despite unrealistic expectations, fans of the genre still get very jittery, perhaps even hope or pray for that one last masterpiece that will complete more favourable recognition from that of his past glories. I am also really trying to tread very carefully here but is it also fair to say that no other director could create such work of mediocrity since his earlier, defining output and yet on the very odd occasion still dazzle us from time to time with odd moments of sheer horror genius, those captured seconds of direction and spellbinding brilliance that make his films still draw you in even today, he able to create set pieces incorporated into his beautiful camera work that often just leaves you with jaw agape and that feeling of being left totally flabbergasted. Unfortunately when I hear his name mentioned now, I am all too aware of the fact that in all likelihood I will never see anything like his two [possibly three?] real masterpieces, again this man as created two to three significant genre masterpieces let us not forget and again this is only in my humble opinion of course and possibly just slightly missing out on making it three, possibly four, even five with a couple of his other ‘superior’ offerings. Go on tell me any other director who can still hold a fans horror psyche in such a way and even today be held in such massive esteem, many decades after his best work came to its real conclusion!
Point No 2: So what are these two [three?] masterpieces of pure horror cinematic magic that I mention before we even add the additional inclusion of those that I feel have just missed joining that illustrious list. For me Dario Argento has made two major, significant films that have been unparalleled or matched in horror cinema history and though polar opposites of one another in terms of subject matter, they still have that Argento watermark deeply en-grained throughout their creation. The first of his masterpieces is his Hitchcockian compared film, Profondo Rosso aka Deep Red, (1975). Starring David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi, (Argento’s long term partner & mother of actress Asia Argento). In Deep Red Nicolodi gives a wonderful warm and at times comfortable, amusing performance with her Gianna Brezzi journalist character and most certainly holds her own considerable screen presence along side David Hemmings with his imperious, Marcus Daly portrayal. There are to many obvious superlatives that best describe this classic giallo, ‘Hitchcockian’ being the main descriptive note to date and often a noted word of contention with true Argento fans, I am afraid. This word has often been used to sadly cast a silly shadow in its often used metaphorical comparison, this having been made throughout the early part of Argento’s career in particular. To this point I say this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the honourable comparison, I believe Argento ( A fan anyway) understands that Hitchcock’s constant mention is purely based on a juxtaposition of time and many of the film critics of that period using lazily formed comparisons; often attempting to be clever but failing miserably in their terminology. The simple fact however, is Deep Red is pure Argento and this film could only have been made by this director. In time I imagine Deep Red will doubtless appear on this site at some point but for now let us just concentrate on the basic elements of this classic film, which is absolutely astonishing to the point of near perfection. Further, if you want to consider yourself a giallo fan of any stature, then no film collection should be without Deep Red amongst it! It is as clear as daylight that you cannot earn your own honorary captain stripes (so to speak) until you have seen Profondo Rosso in all its powerful, beautiful glory; I do not exaggerate. The performance of David Hemmings in this film is, I still believe easily his best ever, made easier by Argento allowing such a wonderfully written/scripted character to appear as the films unsuspecting oddball hero with his “artistic temperament”, willing or otherwise to pursue a dangerous obsession to an even greater and deadly conclusion.
The glorious choreographed opening scenes of this film are both a mixture of musical brilliance with the inclusion of the apt and beautiful Goblin soundtrack, which shows no mercy in attacking the senses, aligned with the visual immersion of Argento’s, ‘shadow-play’ within the back story of the violent opening murder scene. This is the mysterious and wonderful ‘whodunnit’ precursor for what is install for the viewer further down the line. This disturbing implanted murder mosaic is shortly followed by the dark foreboding subliminal Macha Méril – Helga Ulmann conference scene, which includes her personal and extremely disturbing and palpable indulgent dip into the actual vision and thought processes of a killer whom it seems is an onlooking audience member whose thoughts are being sporadically unveiled in a live theatre setting! Shortly after this chilling psychic confrontation the first of a series of present day murders within the films glorious plot start to unfold. The death and the event filled aftermath of the killing of Helga Ulmann is quite extraordinary to the point of unflinching mastery. The blink and you will miss it moment in the scenes that follow the slaying of the psychic are for me personally still one of cinemas greatest tantalising ‘Thriller’ moments period; That simple folks! It also has a massive bearing come the films spectacular, bloody violent climax, when all is gloriously revealed in a film ending that will never be forgotten once it coats your cerebral, grey matter. Before all that however, Argento backs up the opening onslaught with further set pieces aplenty, which when added to a full well planned written script, at times oozes of a genuine creepy thriller undertow that keeps the script alive with possibilities and is continually vibrant with an originality hard to replicate. You have not just got the thriller element here but the additional nightmare scenario it conjures up is of truly extraordinary proportions, also the seething horror aspects of this film are simply sublime. This double combination of thriller/horror momentum gives this film an impeccable quality that no one as been able to reproduce since. Take my word for it when I state Deep Red is not just a horror movie but is also a fabulous thriller of the highest order with a climax like none you have ever seen or ever will again. I find it hard to believe that any fan of the genre will not know of this giallo masterpiece and perhaps I am therefore talking to the already converted. For those who have not yet witnessed this movie wonder, well then, maybe it is indeed time for you to view this thrilling masterpiece, is it not.
The second stand out Argento masterpiece and my own personal favourite is Argento’s supernatural odyssey Suspiria (1977) which stars Jessica Harper. What a movie? Visually it is unbound. The soundtrack like Deep Red is masterful and is simply part of the films actual live DNA, it brings evil spirits to life, it makes you think these omnipresent entities are with you at all times, just simply lurking, waiting to pounce when the moment calls upon them to commit to their evil deeds. Not since Robert Wise’s, The Haunting 1963 has another film ever terrified or captivated by what you do not actually see initially but feel as a looming presence, just before the visual onslaught in the case of Argento then goes on to pursue; quite unlike Wise’s more restrained masterpiece? Argento in his direction makes the combination of colour and sound irresistible, seriously it is a movie experience to the senses of sound and vision and is unrelenting in its tale telling. As a horror movie it stands alone in its individualism that to my knowledge as never been tackled in such a way since, well not with any notable success I would have to add? This masterpiece has been reviewed in depth by this site. Goosebumps aplenty even thinking about it. The first ten minutes of this spectacular film will leave a long and lasting impression, long after the films final credits. The cinematography alone is probably some of the greatest ever to grace a movie, especially a ‘horror’ movie. (Witch Sighs?) Simply one of the best ever genre movies of all time. So with Argento’s best film already done and dusted by TCMR, it allows us to move onward.
So what comes next, well before we move forward let us briefly first just go back in time so we miss nothing out of great importance. Before Deep Red, Argento’s first movie and directorial début, L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), a movie which gave starring roles to Tony Musante and horror form legend, one Suzy Kendall. For a directorial début this film clearly hinted at what was to come and again is quite an extraordinary movie in its own right, especially as a visionary first piece. In 1971 Dario Argento directed two movies back to back. Il gatto a nove code aka Cat o’ nine tales, starring James Franciscus and Karl Malden. Again creepy, atmospheric and graphically spectacular at times. Argento then followed this giallo with, 4 mosche di velluto grigio aka Four Flies on Grey Velvet starring Michael Brandon. Which up until recent was a very difficult movie to purchase for those seeking it out as part of a home entertainment collection. Fortunately UK company Shameless Entertainment gave it a new lease of life in a wonderful 2012 remastered version DVD or Blu-ray edition. All of the films noted before Suspiria were giallo or graphic thrillers if you don’t like its other descriptive genre vernacular. These films were all a little different than the usual fair and definitely more visually visceral than most standard thrillers of that time. The eventual Argentoesque feel to his work was what would become his defining trademark, it would be his signature style, his alone and his fan base would simply lap it up. Deep Red would be the first of his films to really benefit from his early achievements and his early learning curve therefore putting him in good stead for what was to lay in store.
In 1973 Dario Argento left the big screen temporarily when he produced for TV a four part serialisation La Porta Sulbuio, Door into Darkness. In this mystery thriller production not only did he introduce each episode, he also directed two of the four episodes. Argento’s next turn would be back to big screen ambition but temporarily away from giallo with his 1973 Italian historical drama, Le Cinque Giornate aka Five Days in Milan. This film also showed elements of a more adult theme and though classed as a historical drama did at times push certain unusual boundaries.
When we get back to Suspiria the game changed and Argento went pure all out supernatural ‘horror’. The crossover from Profondo Rosso to this movie was the intersection of something that became set in horror film history. This new direction in storytelling allowed Argento to loosen the constraints of outright thriller and instead of dealing with broken minds he now entered the world of monsters and demons, witches covens, alchemy and the study of the dark arts which now became his focus of attention. Let us be honest here, no one as held this market better than Argento and his film Suspiria which he was to follow up in a trilogy of work concerning the tales of the three mothers, his next film in this trilogy would be the wonderful, Inferno (1980) and the first directorial work since Suspiria coincidentally. This film nearly makes the hat trick and though again visually astonishing in the same mould as Suspiria’s winning and at times repeated formula, however it becomes so nightmarishly lavish, it deviates just slightly and therefore becomes more disjointed than Suspiria’s tightness and edge, though I add, it comes very close to being just as beneficial as a third perfect masterpiece, it just lacks that new tweak that I think it needed to remove itself from its semi – sequel (mother). In saying that, I have noticed in recent years in particular, Inferno may join the ‘masterpiece’ club very soon as it as become more oftly viewed when I need to journey in to my horror metropolis for my fear factor fix. I hope one day Inferno hits the spot that both Profondo Rosso and Suspiria offered me in terms of pure horror power but we are not quite there just yet!
Point No3: We now arrive majestically to 1982 and his next offering was to be the wonderful Tenebrae. Again this movie comes close to the expected Argento perfection in many of its conceptual departments but for me it becomes slightly clunky, so is not quite as fully rounded in terms of stylishness. What does make this little gem stick in the mind for many Argento fans, is of course the inventive way in which the director revs up the despatch of his would be character victims and the noted increased use of throat cutting, limb severing bloody violence, with its lashings of blood splattering in may i add a higher quota, even for Argento. Despite the films full on macabre notions this time sadly its natural quality as a genre experience impresses in many areas rather than delight with a progressive background that kicks hard beyond the actual movies internal interest and also its arrival in an era befitting the more amped up visceral approach and intent. Okay, let me explain; The impact this particular film made on its release for those of you either not even born at the time of the good old ‘Video Nasties’ era, or those of you far too young to even recall this illuminating period in the horror fans handbook, then this is a brief journey as I remember it at the time. May I also add now that this part of an evolving film watching experience for those not au fait with this tense time in British film viewing history is from raw but considered memory and as such may give this point a natural coherence rather than a programmed reference point, including the none influence of others purely from my own personal experience. Tenebrae entered a massive cultural event that had far reaching repercussions regarding its eventual censorship and its growing notoriety and therefore the film may have been viewed for more controversial reasons rather than for its aesthetic quality as a genuine genre classic. The reason for this? A sad political blemish appeared on the UK’s national psyche during the early birth of video home entertainment. This poisonous cloud that hung thick and acrid over the horror genre was gaining a momentum which came about because of a mainly puritanical right wing religious and political fervent that suddenly chose a fall guy to disguise a countries period of real political discord and disharmony, where unemployment and class struggle now simmered. There was also the break out of war in the mid – Atlantic ‘the Falklands conflict’ which became a staple diet for the British public to consume during daily TV news reports. So in order to disguise the real horrors of a country going through war, massive social change and upheaval the horror movie and its producers and distributors became the focal point in which to distract the uninitiated from the real core issues that many people were experiencing at the time. Home entertainment ‘The Video Player’ Betamax or VHS had entered peoples homes and gaining such access to the movie world opened up a film infinity that became the way to at times temporarily forget the siege mentality and political woes that were sweeping the nation like a plague of locust. Video rental shops became the pushers of a drug called movies, (genre movies in particular). Video outlets started sprouting up on many a street corner and even the older, more established businesses offered you the customer a chance to rent a world as yet uncontrolled and therefore what you could now view as a individual or family unit became huge. The horror genre simply exploded out of all control be it for good or bad reasons. Teenagers as I myself was back then were reaching the back end of their school days and were now being offered a subversive form of visual entertainment that often mirrored a cultures captured imagination. The bleak feeling and viewpoint that many young people had as a world view seemed distorted and confused. Punk Rock was on it’s last legs but the remanence that remained had warned of a undercurrent of youthful disharmony and discord which consisted of large unemployment and a settled in government that seemed oblivious to the damage it was causing to many of it’s citizens. Therefore Horror movies, including Argento’s output suddenly became the focus of unwanted and at times unwarranted attention, horror had become its own monster of sorts and the extremeness of some of the veritable delights now being offered and made easily available to a focal group of genre fans consisting of a teenager demographic mainly, they themselves now attempting to apply pressures on their parents on what should be considered as viewing material (or if they could not, then hide their elegance’s). The choice of subject matter and what films to watch had never before been seen within the UK, unless of course you had been fortunate to have access to projected material during the mid seventies. This sudden boom in movie entertainment created a new addition to a ever changing world. Music and horror movies now became the cool staple diet of any teenager still schooling or preparing for the big world beyond. It was a right of passage to become a youthful fan of the genre and both Argento and Tenebrae offered that test of subversiveness that both adults and their children could now view, again be that right or wrong as a proposition. In the meantime ‘grown ups’ also now enthused about their own personal horror favourites and what had made them tick in their youth. I often remember as a movie treat parents would hire the movies of their era that were now available on video and try to pass on their own personal wisdom, influences and film favourites. This was not in anyway in a corruptible malice, it is just human nature to try and influence ‘kin’ on what tales of terror scared the hell out of the older adult demographic generation who previous as the representation of their own younger generation they had once been. There is nothing criminal in trying to offer up scary tales to the young. It has happened since man could communicate and write such fables. That was the whole point of fairy tales (Grimm) was it not. The only difference here, parents could now offer to share their stories and experiences and offer us their horror movie world view. Those very parents who in the main had been brought up on a diet of Universal, Hammer were also beginning to view films they would not normally. Video had become a learning process for everyone unfamiliar with what was out there in the great big world of cinema, including the adult population it as to be noted. By now the press furore that was building nicely for the political right and the use of word of mouth at what visual feasts were now openly available to the public and could now be openly experienced as visual entertainment within the confines of the home had become a massive talking point on a scale not known previous. Those of us who could now be exposed to most of what we were now being offered in privacy no longer gave us that particular need to worry about having to either sneak in or lie about age in order to gain cinema entrance. Films had certification and back then employees of many of our cinema outlets were stringent in who could or could not enter the delights beyond the ticket kiosk guards. With the introduction of video, restriction or lack of! had suddenly become a veritable minefield of the rights and wrongs of home entertainment censorship, though certification still existed even in this new media age. We were at a stage where underage viewing of adult material was now openly or covertly offered to the family unit in the safety of living rooms or bedrooms alike. I clearly remember the example of school conversation the day following the night before and much of the topic was no longer the staple conversational diet of previous times. Before video came along, much talk would have consisted of football, girls, mischief or chat about your favourite band of the moment but now movies, horror movies in particular had also become great talking points, many of us often enthused by what we had viewed the night previous. Talk of what many had recently cast their not so innocent eyes upon suddenly became daily conversation. The monsters had been freed from their box, ‘mainly VHS’ and with it the ‘free for all’ that came with the many local shop owners and not so many major outlets ‘yet’ that had pounced on the free market system which now allowed those with good financial acumen to cash in and benefit from the madness of the video entertainment comet that smashed into the planets movie markets worldwide and from that point on redefined entertainment forever and now offered the general public a new shopping experience to add to what many newsagents, garages and many of the regular outlets now had available for their consumers. New redeveloped sections of their shop where now given up and littered with shelves that held in main, big clumsy video boxes with covers sometimes as extreme as the movies content or cover depictions and synopsis that often hid the sheer dross of many of the films that looked on initial inspection very cool. (It was a marketing dream). Amongst the vast dross and honestly most of it was absolutely crap to be brutally frank. However amongst the vast amounts of sheer diatribe hid genuine classics and it was soon clear with the new audience that through the simple use of word of mouth and not the computer age or telecommunications of today and suddenly films became the new enemy within society as politicians watched on, many of whom had originally sat back and done nothing to stop this new craze initially. Their usual high standard of incompetence even back then as now had allowed this movie invasion to take its firm hold. The politicians had joined the movie party far too late and though they would soon have their way, it seemed most of the damage had already been done. Saving societies horror haggled souls had come after the event. Nothing new there then!
Topics that started with the sentence, “I watched a new movie by ‘that guy’ you know… that guy who made that film about those witches at that ballet school”.
(Explaining the release of Tenebrae). Dario Argento quickly became a recognisable name as did the Italian stylings of making horror films, other notables (more controversially than Argento) was Lucio Fulci’s output. “did someone mention that ‘Zombie Flesh eaters‘ film at all!” Notoriety noted. (Laughs loudly!) There is a massive difference between Argento’s work as compared to Fulci’s but because of the nonsense that started to focus upon these two directors especially, (The Italian connection) their films seemingly corrupted the minds of our innocent children, they in turn became part of the same hysterical comparison, after all they did perform in the same cinematic arena, it was as simple as that. Yes I know Tenebrae is probably the most visceral of Argento’s output at that point but for true horror fans there is a vast chasm and difference between what Argento produced from what Fulci filmed. (Another discussion for another time, ‘promise’). All horror films where now being systematically tarnished with the same brush strokes, again whether that be rightly or wrongly the case, including Argento’s back catalogue of movies Pre – Tenebrae. Those of political and religious persuasion now watched with more focused attention, their eyes of keen censorship now lasered in on Argento’s work and sadly he would suffer as a consequence. The ridiculous thing was by the time those that began to preach for the moral servitude of people who did not own a ON/OFF switch (sarcasm Ed!) or the logical choice to be more stringent about what was allowed into individual households as movie choice. The ineptitude of both law enforcement and the political wing of which the police now did their bidding finally began their crass and uncoordinated witch hunt. They wanted to tell us what our moral compass ‘was’ or ‘must be’ rather than at least firstly having any sensible or lengthier discussion before making such ridiculous sweeping and foolhardy changes on our behalf and without the consent of the majority. Chaos rained soon after the moral crusade began and rather than make moral outcast of the likes of Argento, Fulci, Romero, Hooper, Raimi, Cronenberg, Ferrara, Deodato, etc. What these people in lofty positions actually ended up doing with their ill advised phobic moralising, (as they had attempted with ‘Punk’) was make these so called corruptors of youth, become living legends. Even when removing this alleged filth from video shelves, more often than not doing so in a haphazard way. The establishment wanted to pursue their pound of flesh and their incoherent, moral crusade rather than being carried out correctly just seemed to go berserk and literally started attacking everything that either ‘looked’ e.g. film artwork, video covers or if a film title sounded outrageous in inference. The attacks on many video outlets did indeed become as monstrous a crime on morality as were the films they wanted removing. Prosecution and prison for some video rental owners followed. ‘The Whitehouse Brigade’s’ moralising had stirred up a bitter climate of antagonism. I am not saying there was NOT a lot of extreme visual stimulation out there but you ask any horror fan of the time and today they simply laugh at and about how ridiculous some of these terrible films actually where. Even more bizarre in hindsight is how those of us who were ‘allegedly’ being made corruptible still went on to in large part lead normal adult lives and even today in a new century were this crazy time needs to be made a clear example of how ‘NOT’ to go about acting for the moral interest (scapegoating). The whole affair back then showed to me and those around at the time why politics should sometimes not interfere and if they choose to do so or felt the necessity to do so, then why did they not prevent the ‘disease’ before the event. Why! Because I imagine many of them had vested financial interest in this new entertainment arena initially? What happened to the introduction of sensible guidelines before this so called corruption took a hold and warped the British public. It could have been so much simpler if people had done their jobs initially, could it not? I am personally glad about these times but not because it was ‘subversive’ but simply because it awoke my passion even further. In this immoral chaos I think the politicians of the day provoked a generation of people that got caught up in all this adventure to become ‘thinkers’. Today we look back on Argento and the likes with a pleasurable fondness and delight in their film creations rather than have some kind of moral outrage or indignation of what he did to peoples minds. What Dario Argento did was make me love his films, love the artistic value in staged violence and extreme set pieces. He did not make me a bad person, he made me a better person. He placed a nasty, seedy, violent world on celluloid “where it should be” and saved me the agony of having to have a moral compass for movie duration time at least. There was no need for moralising after the event about what to accept as personal choice in entertainment and that is the way it should be. That is why it is called choice. Do not treat people like fools. We can actually determine what is morally unacceptable and what is not. We are not all as dumb as you would like to imagine.
Tenebrae beyond the madness that ensued should never have been pursued by those stupid enough to think that they where working for the common good, when in actual fact they never really did. The souls they were trying to save had seen many of the films, Tenebrae included before they went on to ban said films during their over zealous onslaught which was more graphically operant and disturbing than anything we could possibly view. Maybe I am blind or biased to what Mary Whitehouse and her disciples were trying to achieve, maybe I was immoral in my youthful attitude toward viewing such gruesome fair but thirty years plus on from them dark but magical days I am still a fan of the genre and look back on most of the controversial material that caused the problems in the first place and often all I do now is laugh at how terrible many of these ‘subversive’ films are. What was all the fuss about is my only conclusion.
Tenebrae is definitely a more violent movie than his previous work (is that possible). Well yes is the answer. Argento took his imaginings to the next level, he also went back to his thriller/giallo strand (Crystal Plumage, Deep Red) roots and though Tenebrae is a genre classic in its own right, Deep Red it is most definitely not. Was this new – old mix simply Argento trying to create a hybrid or was this the film that saw Argento bow to the pressures of were the genres new viewable accesses were taking both the genre and he as a director. Let us not distract from Tenebrae’s appeal as a movie but we should honestly look at this as the real Argento game changer and the signature of what was to come soon after. Before we leave behind the best of Dario Argento there is one more film that still makes me worship at the altar that is Argento magic but is also for me personally a sad moment too.
Point No4. In 1985 Argento directed a film of sheer horror brilliance and entertainment madness, a film that delivers high quality mastery of genuine horror but unfortunately also has a huge amount of rather large holes plaguing it in equal measure. Creepers, 1985 as it was originally called on its first general release in the UK and in later years became re-titled Phenomena and is better known by this title today. This reign of terror was as unique a piece of work as the master had directed previous. Visually it broke new ground (the head through the glass scene is still today so unique and still absolutely stunning). The set pieces of horror and gore are plentiful and a youthful Jennifer Connolly whose performance amongst the very sparse and disjointed at times (terrible) script shows the early promise of a star in the making that we have come to know her to be today. She is simply quite brilliant, breathtaking perhaps? We must not forget that the sheer physicality that Argento forced from Connolly in her very underrated performance (because it is horror) as to be close to a genuine physical abuse by the movies director but he in doing so gains a performance of physical perfection from its leading lady. Connolly’s performance as I said is genuine brilliance from a youthful actress that had to cope with the extraordinary world that now surrounded her, a world that would give most people a sense of natural foreboding. Connolly makes this film better than it actually is in many parts. Visually the film is again stunning as I have already said but it is the gaps in between Connolly’s acting and Argento’s set piece mastery is where the film falters greatly. The storyline on initial inspection sounds like wonderful horror and the premise is quite exciting and unique. I should except the positives, should I not? Well no not really. You see Argento’s earlier work set such high standards that this production on closer inspection is a mess. The strands of brilliance that there undoubtedly are aplenty in this film are let down by a glaring incoherence and storyline that though strange and bizarre do not excuse the often terrible dialogue and the shocking way in which Argento throws away what again with a little more care and attention could have made the fantastic things in this movie even more glorious with a far better approach toward continuity which frankly this film as little if any of. I love this film because it is pure Argento in one sense and some of the films monumental set pieces are worth the time and effort, Connolly’s abuse is clear and defining in her performance. One of the things that also annoyed me was not using the massive talent of Donald Pleasence, though he copes admirably with what he is given. The extraordinary possibilities of the interaction between Connolly and Pleasence is shockingly weak and the use of the character Inga the chimpanzee (Tanga) who is the carer of the wheelchair bound Professor McGregor, (Pleasence) is a wonderful idea but even the use of this relationship falls dreadfully below how such a unique possibility is never given more credences. For how to correctly use such a complex relationship, look no further than Argento’s close friend and horror icon director George A. Romero’s quite brilliant 1988 classic Monkey Shines. During Phenomena’s movies climax Inga the chimpanzee becomes a vengeful blade wielding beast (don’t ask? Seriously don’t). The characters that surround the main storyline and those peripheral barring Connolly are very poor, even Daria Nicolodi who I love in her previous Argento directed appearances is dreadful here, (I cannot believe I am saying that Ed!) but the truth hurts and that is what makes this film very sad for me. All the ingredients are in place, music score, a storyline of great possibilities, set pieces of genius and a actress who gives such a physical performance that Connolly alone deserved her character to be invested in something much better and Argento simply does not utilise those around her to make the performance look stronger, (no fault of Connolly’s). If you put all these problems to one side and simply admire the concept, then this film is a real treat but it could have been so, so much more and with Argento directing this I expected more than just sound-bite scenes, though stunning at times. Sadly all I got is what could have been, rather than what should have been.
I finish Part I of this review with only happy feelings of why being a fan of Dario Argento’s giallo, horror is so wonderful to behold at times and though I have just pulled Phenomena to pieces please note I also quite clearly state that I love the film as well, despite my routine dismantling of it. My reasons are simple. I love Argento’s work deeply, with a silly passion at times but as I want to point out now, not all that I love is good and therefore I would not be very good at attempting to convey things as I see them if I was not being honest when honesty is really needed despite it sticking in the craw at times.
When I eventually start Part II of my look at Dario Argento we will delve into his more off the wall approach, for better or worse and I will try to explain to you why you should still watch Argento’s later work despite its many flaws. Starting from Argento’s 1987 Opera aka (Terror at the) Another potential masterpiece or just another pointless effort and what for me was a slight return to Giallo form with his 2001 movie outing Non Ho Sonno – Sleepless. E.D. Leach.