Also known as: Terror At the Opera
Release Date: December 19th, 1987 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Music by: Brian Eno, Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman
Cast: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, William McNamara
ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Cinematografica, RAI Italiana, Orion Pictures, 107 Minutes
Dario Argento is a pretty profound director in the Italian genre of giallo. He is also a master of horror. While his later pictures are very hit or miss, mostly miss, during the peak of his run, he made several outstanding and surreal works of live action art. Opera, while not being as great as some of the better known films in Argneto’s long filmography, is still an incredibly effective and frightening picture.
The plot follows Betty, who is pushed into replacing the female lead in an avant-garde version of Macbeth. Betty is reluctant and considers the role to be cursed. Despite her reservations, she takes the part and gives an amazing performance on her first go. Betty is a hit but she draws the attention of a psychotic stalker. The psycho then kills her boyfriend, her costume designer and her agent. Essentially, the killer wants to take away everyone who is close to her in an effort to have her for himself. However, when he kills these people, he typically does it in front of her, as she is forced to watch with needles taped to her eyes, which will blind her if she closes them.
Opera is a mystery and a thriller in the purest sense. You don’t know who the psychotic fan is until the very end. The film also employs an immense amount of vivid gore.
I wouldn’t quite call the film am Italian horror masterpiece, it has its minor flaws, but it is a refreshing experience even though it uses common giallo tropes and follows a similar path to Argento’s previous work. The opera setting and the tone, however, make the movie feel like a more mature outing from the director. There is just something more pristine and refined about Opera.
Many that I have heard talk about this film, often times express displeasure with the use of a heavy metal soundtrack during the gruesome murder scenes. I actually quite enjoy it, as it gives a tremendous feeling of contrast from the beautiful opera world that Betty lives in. It really makes the nightmare come to life in a way that overpowers the senses and can’t be ignored, much like the killings seen through the bleeding eyes of Betty. It takes you out of the film like a shock to the system but that’s the point. It is the horror screaming to Betty and the audience, “Look at me! You can’t ignore it! I am here!”
The use of the birds in the movie was great. Whether it was the use of their eyes as a motif or how they were used from a plot standpoint to expose the killer in a crowded theatre. Their presence added an eeriness to the film, as they also served a real purpose. The climactic scene with the literal birds-eye-view flying through the audience in the opulent cylindrical opera house was magnificent.
Apart from that, Argento captured many wonderful and odd shots in the film. The use of strange angles and incorporating the environment in the way that he did, just magnified the uneasiness of the picture.
In the end, this is one of my favorite giallo films of all-time. It is also worthy of being in the upper echelon of Argneto’s great catalog.