Monday, October 31, 2011

The Master of Horror - Dario Argento

Next year's lists will not be so crammed, I promise. I'll admit I tried to squeeze a few viewings in of films the night before, having not seen them but knowing they had a strong legacy in the genre. I'm sure some that I critiqued or rather ignored will grow on me and the list will inevitably change, hell Boyfriend's With Fangs needs a drastic update since last year. So do know that none of them are absolute or near such (maybe with the exception of Stephen Kings) and that all contain the fine print "So far".

Thus to prevent addressing it in ever paragraph of this list (as it inevitably would be) lets just mention the flaws of Argento's work; awful sound transfers, not the best acting, and plot instances that fail. Its safe to say character development and the logical plot are not his strong points. What are? Setting up atmosphere in set design (I've heard he's meticulous about such things), collaborating well with composers, directing his DP's to gorgeous cinematographic heights and creating a beauty in death, something I don't believe any other filmmaker has done quiet so well. To note I didn't get distinctly different in separating the giallo's from the true horrors as I would therefore not have a list and they are scary despite trying for a more crime fiction motif. Not solely a master of Italian horror but basically a master of horror in general Dario Argento's films established a cult following based of his work. Not all can be Argento fans (understandably) but those who are appreciate them for what they are, broken masterpieces. So for this year's Master of Horror I focused on my favorite country of horror by one of my favorite directors, My Top Five Favorite Dario Argento Films:

#5 Phenomena (1985)

This is Argento's heavy metal rock film of the 80's, a combination I couldn't dream up if I'd even believed it to work. However, it does in this outlandish piece of cinema. Usual Argento the film has excessive flaws in plot, where most lead dead or near death, and dialogue. Often I'm afraid that he's more interested in surprising us with a killer than establishing a substantial reason as to why this person is murdering everyone. Regardless Phenomena did capture my heart briefly at it's start, young Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasence are good in their roles which they play against a beautiful Swiss Alps scenery. The soundtrack is killer as it plays loud chords and blares inside the story, and unlike other films its never inaptly played (I'm looking at you Deep Red). Jennifer's creepy bug telepathy and the rest of the works I've praised place this as number five on my list.

#4 Opera (1987)

Another gore fest Argento with surrealism at play. Again he creates a beautiful sculptured film that transcends the expectation of art. A deeply unhinged but emotionally sympathetic lead makes this the closest thing Argento has had to a character study. Of course bad dubbing doesn't precede the film but no less tolerable than normal. This is by far the most brutal flick ever conceived from this MOH. Harsh and stunning at the same time.

#3 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Oddly The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is less known or rather less acclaimed than his other films. I'm a little confused to this; yes there's an absence of blood but this is one of the best Argento films ever, and it happens to be the first he directed. It follows the basic giallo plot of a writer who witnesses an attempted murder outside an art gallery and begins to investigate for himself. In a way I felt that Deep Red was almost a remake of this, between the similar plots and Sam eerily wearing the same black button up shirt and khaki pants as Marc Daily. The film, though mostly giallo, has a very haunting atmosphere, curtosy of an enchanting score by Ennio Morricone. It takes a real horror turn when Sam's girlfriend is locked in her apartment and the killer is trying to break in. A little excessive reaction but ultimately effective in capturing the terror of that moment, which is to attribute to good acting, especially by lead Tony Musante. No amateur directing shown on his half, Argento's first try was impressively good and a tense suspenseful watch, with a bit of humor.

#2 Deep Red (1975)

If Phenomena hadn't of fallen apart towards the end it had a better chance at ranking higher than Deep Red. But overall Deep Red is the more composed film and the quintessential of his giallo's. A complex range of characters speaking between Italian and English this was the film that scared me since seeing Suspiria. A breach of safety in my seat when I jumped from that laughing doll, a provoked chill from the break in and the death at Amanda Righetti's house, and essentially a great build of tension for the Italian thriller. Deep Red is a quite important viewing in the world of giallo films, not only Argento's most significant but arguably one of the most significant of the genre. And even better a killer with motivation! Deep Red is topped with good performances and an astounding soundtrack (though not the best, in my opinion) which makes it a must see.

#1 Suspiria

This was likely obvious as my header is of the film's eloquent cover but it's not as if there's any other choice. As gathered I liked/loved the other four films on this list nothing comes close to the bravura of Suspiria; a bleeding array of colors via the director of photography and a deafening soundtrack by the Goblins escalate the film to horror movie greatness. The lost in translation aspect appears here as Jessica Harper's Suzy is attending a ballet school in a foregin country. The plot doesn't succumb to the typical monsters as we tend to expect (vampires, werewolves, etc) but does a more rare fear of witches. Suspiria is the work of an preeminent nightmare caught on film, the images, the blood, the lack of distinction to what's going on, the distorted set pieces...nothing is right within the film. Captured soundly by Argento, bad dubbing and odd dialect aside this I'd argue is Argento's most seamless film. Unlike the others which become tangled in themselves Suspiria stays generally focused (I didn't say absolute now did I), and delivers a horror induced ending. As said Suspiria does not go without faults but I don't care, my favorite Argento film is certainty not Oscar worthy, nor is my favorite horror movie. Two titles that Suspiria shares.

Honorable Mentions: Inferno (1980), the sort of sequel to Suspiria that takes a focus on the Mother of Darkness, with a beautiful underwater sequence guest directed by Mario Bava. Tenebre (1982), another giallo piece that follows the murder surrounding a novelist's new book; a blood spattered ending is undoubtedly to satisfy fans.

If you're reading post your own.


Carrie Green, said...

Thank you so much for this collection of mini reviews introducing me to a horror master that I was unaware of previously. I will be sure to look up these titles!

Bleeding Dead said...

Ohh you will love Argento! Like said he's not...perfect but the cinematography is beyond this world.
Thanks for the comment and kind words :)

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen any of those. Will look for them on Netflix.