Tag Archives: Dario Argento

Fright Club: Best Argento Movies

How can it be that we’re more than 250 episodes in and we’ve never done a podcast on Dario Argento? Well, we’d like to thank the Wexner Center for the Arts for inspiring this episode. We will introduce one of the films in their upcoming Dario Argento series, as will our podcast guest Scott Woods. But first, we’ll get together and hash out our personal favorites.

5. Inferno (1980)

The second of Argento’s Mother Trilogy, Inferno orbits Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness. She lives in a foul smelling but phantasmagorically constructed building in New York City, where Rose Elliott believes something diabolical is afoot.

A sequel to the filmmaker’s most lauded work, Suspiria, Inferno mirrors the stagey quality of the first in the trilogy. The architecture, the color scheme, the dizzying nature of the building itself give the film the surreal quality of a spell. This one takes on a neon soaked nighttime aesthetic that’s hypnotic. The opening underwater sequence is among Argento’s best set pieces.

Per usual, the Argento’s plot takes a backseat to the experience. A couple of these murders are especially grisly – appropriate, given that Mater Tenebrarum is the cruelest of the sisters.

4. Cat o’Nine Tails (1971)

Argento’s second feature delivers perhaps the most strictly giallo of his films, in that (before Argento reinvented the genre) a giallo is a mystery thriller. In this one, a blind former newspaperman (Carl Malden) teams up with a sighted but far less savvy newspaperman to figure out why so many murders are connected to the Terzi Institute.

Items that will become standards for the filmmaker: don’t trust what you see, science is a fun underpinning to a mystery no matter how ludicrous that science is, Hitchcock is cool – plus, the extreme close up eye balls and murderer POV that would become trademarks.

Surprises that he drops after this movie? Not only does one character deliver an insightful piece of feminism – “Whore equals liar equals murderer, perfect Italian logic!” – but the film actually murders more men than women.

Its color palette is a bit of a let down and it drags in parts, but it delivers a number of excellent set pieces and it’s really fun to see Carl Malden in an Italian horror movie.

3. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Argento’s first and arguably one of his best opens with a bang. Frustrated writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is killing time before he finally returns home to the States from Italy. But he witnesses an attack through the massive glass storefront of an art gallery.

It’s such a gorgeous frame for violence, and a perfect introduction to the maestro of sumptuous slaughter. There’s childhood trauma (the sort that turns a person toward mania), which will go on to become a go-to in the filmmaker’s arsenal. But what an introduction to his style!

2. Suspiria (1977)

American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school staff are freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, Argento saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works beautifully to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

It’s a gorgeous nightmare, bloody and grotesque but disturbingly appealing both visually and aurally (thanks to the second scoring effort by Goblin).

1. Deep Red (1975)

Maybe not the most traditional choice for Argento’s best, but it’s such a powerful step in his overall collection. He made three straight up gialli – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat o’Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet – before taking a break from the genre with a dark historical comedy.

And then, Deep Red – a giallo, to be sure, but one that predicts the entirely surreal, aesthetic-over-plot supernatural thrillers he’d make next. Deep Red is gorgeous and bizarre, full of red herrings, childhood trauma, traumatizing children, tormented lizards as well as a number of themes he’s hit on since his first film.

David Hemmings (Marcus Daly) saw a murder, but he can’t be sure what exactly he saw. He’s sure if he can just remember it clearly, it’ll all make sense. This is a preoccupation of most of Argento’s films, but he’s never more curious than he is here. And the bloody, almost exquisite murders are more excessive and interesting here than in anything else he made.

Sunglasses at Night

Dark Glasses

by Hope Madden

Giallo is the soap opera of horror, and you have to embrace that to appreciate it. Emotion and drama, tension, fear and sexuality are amped up to a ludicrous degree, with sense and sensibility tossed out the window.

Few have ever done this as well as Dario Argento. I’d argue Mario Bava, but many consider Argento the king of giallo, and with good reason – his landmark 1977 film Suspiria may be the high-water mark for the entire genre. After a decade away from filmmaking in general and longer still since his last giallo, Argento returns to form with Dark Glasses.

Passions run high and bad decisions are rampant as Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) attempts to evade a serial killer. But wait, it’s more complicated than that! You see, she’s also blind and has sort of kidnapped this kid. It’s better if you don’t ask.

Though the score is not from Goblin, composer Arnaud Rebotini’s electronic soundtrack conjures classic giallo. Indeed, between those recognizable chimes and an early throat severing, you’d think you were watching Argento of old. But the filmmaker does have a couple new ideas in store, and marginally less misogyny onscreen.

Diana’s a harder-edged protagonist than what you find in other films from the Italian maestro. A high-end sex worker, she’s nonplussed about her line of work and disinterested in anyone else’s opinion of it. She’s a peculiar central character and Argento, who co-wrote the script with frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini (Opera, Phenomena), gives her more to do than elude victimization. She develops skills and bonds in the second act that feel reasonable and realistic, sometimes even tender. It helps ground the film in character before those characters step into a den of watersnakes and remind you that you are essentially watching a soap opera.

There are some inventive kills, gore aplenty, and loads of reminders of why Argento has developed such a boisterous following. This is by no means his best film, but it’s by no means his worst, either.

Everyone yells when they shouldn’t yell, everyone pauses when they shouldn’t pause, everyone talks when they shouldn’t talk, but who cares when the blood is this red and free-flowing?

Color Me Weirded Out

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

by Hope Madden

For a Belgian film, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears sure feels Italian.

Married writing/directing team Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani appear to be fans of Italian horror – the gaillo style of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, in particular.  Their more memorable films had a dreamlike quality, and often boasted vivid colors and superb cinematography. Almost invariably their storylines were mysteries wherein an unknown marauder in black leather gloves picked off beautiful women in particularly bloody fashion.

Or, for Cattet and Forzani: check, check, check and check.

Bava and especially Argento have often been criticized for the overt sexuality and misogyny of their work, but Cattet and Forzani are not among the critics. Indeed, their film takes all those elements Bava and Argento are known for, amps them up, then basically drops the idea of any coherent narrative. The result is a visually arresting fantasy of blood and sexuality.

A man returns from a business trip abroad to find that his wife is missing, but the chain was on the door, so how is that even possible? He promptly drinks himself into a stupor, harasses his neighbors, then begins collecting weird clues. There ends any sense of narrative structure.

From there expect a lot of heavy breathing, ornately decorated bedrooms, hidden passageways, and characters with suspicious backgrounds and nefarious motives. Plus a lot of nudity and plenty of blood.

Cattet and Forzani display an imaginative and commanding directorial style. The film’s serpentine structure suits the almost unconnected scenes, saturated with color and surreal imagery. They’ve created a truly dreamlike quality with a film rich with bizarre and provocative ideas. And had their film been a short, or even a sixty minute exercise, it would have been quite a product. Unfortunately, it runs for 102 minutes.

Long before the film is over the novelty may wear off, as well as the astonishment with the directorial mastery. It begins to feel like a bad dream that is no longer very scary, just tiresome in that it won’t end. Maybe a few additional themes or ideas would help, as the film circles back so often to the same cycles of images that it grows wearying. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a fine cinematic experiment, just not an entirely successful one.


Original Title: Lord This Movie Sucks


By Hope Madden

Rob Zombie returns to film after a blessed hiatus with the hot mess Lords of Salem. In it, Zombie’s talentless wife Sheri Moon Zombie plays a radio DJ haunted by Salem’s past.

Try to ignore the ludicrous radio station situation: Boston’s most popular DJs are actually based at a Salem station. Sure, they’re patterned after a  hyperbolic morning show – sound effects and all – even though they appear to be a nighttime program. They also play no music save snippets of hardcore weirdness, but I’m sure that’s the kind of thing a major market really goes for.

What can’t be ignored is Zombie’s mishmash of horror gimmicks, recalling Kubrick and Argento as well as the slew of witch films popular in the late Sixties and early Seventies. This is not a knock, really. It’s Zombie’s overt fandom that has defined his directorial style since his first film. But don’t recall Kubrick unless your film can stand up to the comparison. Lords of Salem cannot.

Overly designed sets and loads of disturbing nudity hope to draw your attention away from weak dialogue, weaker plotting, ridiculous acting and general pointlessness. More than anything, though, the film is dull – just a whole lot of nothing really happening.  A lot to look at, but no action at all.

Just Sheri Moon Zombie and her acting prowess. Yeah, that’s really scarier than anything the film does intentionally.