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Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charlson, Urbano Barberini
Rated: R for Strong Terror and Violence, and a Scene of Sexuality
Running Time: 1 h 47 m
TMM Score: 4 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Directing, Atmosphere, Pacing
WEAKNESSES: Dialogue, Plot Holes (?)
A young opera singer is stalked by a fan intent on killing the people around her.
Argento has a very unique style, one that either you like or you don’t. I belong to the former group; I love Argento’s early work. “The Bird with The Crystal Plumage”, “Suspiria”, and “Deep Red” are all wonderful films. They’re full of atmosphere, style, and bizarre killings, like any good giallo film should be. But while I really enjoy Argento, I can see where others might not. He is not the most affluent writer in the world; his dialogue almost always feels uneven. He also has a tendency to make the murders and situations in his movies a little farfetched, sometimes they even come off as funny. It’s all a matter of opinion, I suppose- some might see the schlockiness of the films and see them as cheesy and ridiculous. But for me, those bizarre aspects are exactly why I keep coming back to Argento. He’s a director that knows how to keep you guessing, even if his films are unpolished and at times they feel cheap or ridiculous. Argento isn’t trying to make a realistic thriller that’s grounded in reality; he’s trying to entertain you. You might think you know what’s going to happen next but half the time the actuality is infinitely more absurd than anything you might imagine.
"I think it's unwise to use movies as a guide for reality. Don't you, Inspector?"
Betty (Cristina Masillach, “Every Time We Say Goodbye”) is a young beautiful opera understudy for a famous actress in a modern retelling of an opera for Macbeth. When a car outside the opera house hits the famous actress, Betty has to step in as Lady Macbeth and is an instant rousing success. Soon after, a deranged fan begins tormenting Betty, stalking her and murdering the people around her.
I recently had a discussion with an old film professor about Argento films, both of us sort of gushed over him for a while. But when we got down to talking about it, it was said that Argento has never really made a film that is fantastic start to finish. All of his films have scenes that play out marvelously, and other scenes that are executed very poorly. This film is just like every other Argento film; there are moments of brilliance, and moments that make you want to roll your eyes, but overall it’s undoubtedly a fantastic thrill ride.
In terms of ranking Argento’s films, I think this is my fifth favorite, behind “Suspiria”, “Deep Red”, “Tenebre”, and “Phenomena”. This film is considerably faster paced than some of his other movies, but it still has that trademark Argento atmosphere and flair. The music in this movie, just like his others, might feel strange or out of place in a horror film, but its very purposeful and, for me, it works quite well. In this film in particular, there is a lot of opera music- Betty sings in the opera, she listens to it to calm down- so we get a sense that she’s at ease around opera music. When she’s frightened, instead of using atmospheric tones, Argeto uses heavy metal. As an atmosphere-setting technique it doesn’t really work- I don’t feel tension from the heavy metal music, but it does say something about how Betty feels. If we hear opera music when Betty is at peace, then heavy metal is pretty much the exact opposite- she’s scared. Though it fails to create tension, I actually appreciated the ingenuity used for coming up with the soundtrack.
Another thing I really liked about this movie was how quickly it was paced. I would say within the first twenty minutes we’re already shown our first murder, and from there the story is breakneck. Betty’s life after she becomes the star of the show is wrought with tension. The murders are, of course, schlocky as can be, and often times are completely unnecessary- they’re just there to add to the body count. The first murder, for example, is that of a poor stagehand that wanders upstairs at an inopportune moment; instead of simply walking away, the murderer slaughters the man needlessly. Other murders are carried out simply because the victims have a tenuous connection to Betty. It is slightly silly; but that’s Argento for you.
One major plot hole throughout this film is that Betty, though she’s oftentimes a witness to the murders happening, never once goes out of her way to call the cops (though she does run into an inspector in a lobby, and then casually tells him about the murder). Instead of confiding in the police, she just runs away, or goes to her boyfriend. Again, it’s kind of ridiculous, but that’s Argento, and for me, it actually makes the movie better. The ways in which the murders happen are somewhat schlocky. The murderer even goes so far as to tie Betty up and tape needles to her lower eyelids, saying that if she closes her eyes, she’ll blind herself. The blood is a vibrant, deep red color that looks so fake that it could be mistaken as paint- but it also adds a layer of flair to the whole film as well. Some of the killings are actually sort of brutal- there’s one in which we get an brilliant shot of a knife going through someone’s jaw and up into their mouth- and those practical effects look fantastic (I’m a horror enthusiast, what do you want from me?)! The sets and production design, particularly when it came to the opera house, were pretty incredible in this film too. They were lavish and extravagant, the costumes were ornate and beautiful.
There are some rather rougher moments of stilted dialogue in this movie, and some moments that don’t make the least bit of sense, but again, that’s something I’ve come to forgive Argento for because his movies are so much fun.
Argento isn’t for everyone. Some people will see his films as cheap, schlocky thrillers without much class. But knowing that those are the kinds of films Argento fully intended to make helps bring to light how crazy and brilliant this man was. His films are full of unconventional moments, and they always keep you guessing. There are scenes that are lacking, true, but overall this film is a blast.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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