Film Review: Tenebrae (1982)

Also known as: Unsane (US alternative title)
Release Date: October 27th, 1982 (Tortona, Italy premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Music by: Goblin (credited as Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante)
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma

Sigma Cinematografica Roma, 101 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?” – Peter Neal

Tenebrae or Unsane, as its also been called, is one of the Dario Argento movies that I’ve seen the least. In fact, it’s probably been twenty years since I last watched it. I kind of regret not revisiting it sooner, though, as my experience with it this time was pretty incredible.

While it’s not the best of Argento’s stories, it is one of his best directed films and it has some of the best visuals he’s ever done outside of Suspiria and Inferno.

This isn’t as stylish as his earliest giallo pictures but it feels more fine tuned and refined. It feels like the giallo style actually adapting and moving into a new decade. Now while the style was starting to disappear into the ’80s, this kept it alive for a bit longer and I think that’s because it feels like a more mature film. It certainly shows that Argento had really found his stride and in some regard, it almost plays like an Italian version of an early ’80s Brian De Palma neo-noir picture.

It’s almost uncanny that this was able to look so clean yet be so gritty and raw at the same time.

I think that some people may see this and think of it as watered down when compared to Argento’s earlier work but I think he really just tried to make a more palatable movie for a wider audience. Granted, Argento also doesn’t betray himself, as the finale gets incredibly bloody. However, the more reserved tone actually sets the climax up perfectly, as seeing an immense amount of vibrant red blood spray across a plain, white wall is pretty fucking jarring in an awesome way.

Additionally, this film features amazing camera work. There is a long tracking shot done by crane that is breathtaking to see and it has held up tremendously well. Also, some of the shots during the murder sequences are fantastic. The moment where you see cloth tear to reveal a woman filled with terror just as blood splashes across her face is, hands down, one of the best shots Argento ever captured.

Lastly, the score by three of the four members of regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, is one of their best. The film’s main theme would even be sampled by the French band Justice for two songs on their 2007 album Cross.

While this isn’t my favorite film of Argento’s from a story or even visual standpoint, it’s still a breathtaking experience that hit all the right notes and made me appreciate the director even more. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Dario Argento’s other giallo pictures.

Film Review: Deep Red (1975)

Also known as: Profondo Rosso (original Italian title), Profoundly Red (European English title), Dripping Deep Red (US pre-release title), The Deep Red Hatchet Murders (US DVD box title), The Hatchet Murders (US censored version)
Release Date: March 7th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
Music by: Goblin, Giorgio Gaslini
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Macha Meril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra

Rizzoli Film, Seda Spettacoli, 127 Minutes (original), 101 Minutes (R rated cut), 105 Minutes (export cut)

Review:

“It seems there are just some things you can’t do seriously with liberated women.” – Marcus Daly

This was the first giallo film that Dario Argento directed after what’s unofficially referred to as his “animal trilogy”, which featured the films The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971). This also came after Argento took a break from the giallo style with 1973’s The Five Days, which was a dramedy about the Italian Revolution.

Like most of Argento’s giallos, this film was a proto-slasher movie that employed some pretty good, artsy gore. You know, the type that isn’t just gore for the sake of gore but is instead creative, full of vivid color, especially in regards to blood and other bodily fluids, and done so masterfully with practical, real effects that you kind of just stare in awe of it.

The story is about a killer that seemingly kills at random and that you are only given small clues about over the course of the film. Eventually, the crime is solved but there are great film-noir-esque twists throughout the picture and the most haunting thing about this movie isn’t the killer but it’s the picture’s atmosphere.

I’ve often mentioned about how film-noir influenced giallo and how giallo influenced slasher films. This is a movie that, honestly, makes one of the best supporting arguments for my theory. In a lot of ways, it pulls from the best bits of Argento’s previous giallos but it also reminded me a lot of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, which might be the best example of giallo bridging the bizarre gap between classic noir and slashers.

I thought that some bits of the movie were bonkers and insane, like the bit with the robot doll. But stuff like that is so surreal, cool and terrifying in its own way that it actually makes the picture work better in how it overwhelms you with weird, creepy shit.

Certain things don’t have to make sense and Deep Red is an example of how bizarre, nonsensical moments can actually throw your scent off just to hit you with something else unexpected and jarring. This was something that Argento would actually get even better at, as can be seen in films like SuspiriaInferno and Phenomena.

Deep Red is not Argento’s best picture but it is well constructed, visually rich and it delivers the type of experience a giallo fan should greatly enjoy.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Dario Argento giallo films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.” – Kazanian

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Suspiria (1977)

Release Date: February 1st, 1977 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argneto
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi

Seda Spettacoli, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate, International Classics, 98 Minutes

suspiriaReview:

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s fantastic picture Suspiria. While I have seen the film many times and this website’s name Cinespiria is even inspired by the film, I had to watch it again, on its anniversary. Frankly, it isn’t a film that I could ever get tired of and it lead me down the path of exploring Italian horror as well as the colorful and suspenseful giallo genre.

While not exactly a giallo picture, Suspiria has strong giallo elements, especially in its visual style and with the inclusion of what seems like a slasher-like serial killer during two key parts of the film. Directors Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci were the maestros of giallo. Argento’s Suspiria just fits in so well with the classics of that genre, despite the added elements of supernatural horror and witchcraft.

Even if, for some strange reason, someone doesn’t like this movie, its gorgeous color palate and mesmerizing surreal world has to be appreciated. Suspiria plays like a sinister dream with shocking and horrifying twists and turns as it builds suspense in a way that very few films can. It is a vibrant and haunting fairy tale that somehow manages to be a perfect balance of horror and beauty.

One could argue that Suspiria is a film that values style over substance but the substance is still very good. The story plays out nicely and it is well-paced. The movie is only 98 minutes but it feels like so much happens in that time. Some sequences seem to be drawn out but ultimately, it serves the film greatly, as the suspense reaches fairly extreme levels.

Suspiria, in a nutshell, is the story of an American girl who travels to a professional dance school outside of Munich, Germany. While there, she has very weird experiences and slowly discovers that the school is a front for a coven of sinister witches.

Jessica Harper is the perfect lead for this movie. She was beautiful yet intelligent and had a real charm to her. She was an innocent girl introduced to a horrifying reality but despite her overwhelming fear, was able to come off as a strong and tough female, in a time when that was rare in film. She was the precursor to the American scream queens that would dominate horror pictures once Jamie Lee Curtis appeared a year later in Halloween.

Eva Axén, who played the first victim in the film, had a classic old world beauty to her and regardless of her short screen time, really hit it out of the park, as she was brutally murdered on the rooftop of an opulent apartment complex.

The other young girls in the film were standard fare: nothing special, nothing extraordinary.

The two actresses that really nailed their roles were Alida Valli as the domineering Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as the dance school’s assistant director Madame Blanc. Both women did a fine job of conveying their roles as leaders of the school while slowly evolving into suspicious characters and later, sinister witches.

Suspiria benefits from some of the most amazing cinematography ever captured on film. Every frame was captured with anamorphic lenses while sets were decorated with vivid primary and secondary colors. All of this care to color and atmosphere were enhanced by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. This old school style was used to magnify the nightmarish visual tone of the picture. In fact, Suspiria is one of the last films to be processed in Technicolor. The amazing visuals of the film also owe a lot to the meticulous set design and architecture.

To coincide with the hypnotic visual tone of the film, the score by Goblin was equally impressive and responsible for creating this dark yet colorful nightmare. While the songs that Goblin used had been produced before the film, Argento did a great job of including them in just the right places. The sound of the film is just as surreal and haunting as the sights.

Suspiria is near perfection. It is an incredibly visceral experience and in many ways, quite unsettling. It is also pristine in its presentation. My biggest regret, is that I haven’t seen this motion picture on the big screen. This is one of those bucket list movies that I must see in a theater.

Unfortunately, the film is being remade. To me, that seems like cinematic sacrilege. But maybe it will come and go, unnoticed like that awful Black Christmas remake.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Opera (1987)

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, Daria Nicolodi

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Cinematografica, RAI Italiana, Orion Pictures, 107 Minutes

opera_1987Review:

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.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Phenomena (1985)

Also known as: Creepers (initial USA release)
Release Date: January 31st, 1985 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Music by: Goblin, Simon Boswell
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Bauchau

Titanus, New Line Cinema, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 115 Minutes (Italy), 82 Minutes (USA)

3837bba643806aa2d785d17cfb30ccc21Review:

Phenomena is a semi-English language Italian horror film from Dario Argento. If you have ever seen his most well-known film Suspiria, then you can understand the bizarre visual ride of dread that this film is.

It stars a 15 year-old Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasence. There is also a monkey, who is the caretaker of Pleasence’s character. The rest of the actors are mostly Italian and have their lines dubbed, which is typical of many of Argento’s films and just adds more bizarreness to the overall vibe of things.

The film follows an American girl sent off to a foreign school (similar setup to Suspiria). She sleepwalks and sees things psychically, she is also able to control bugs. There are strange murders happening nearby and the girl gets mixed up in trying to solve the crime with help from an old crippled bug scientist and his monkey nurse. Yes, it sounds incredibly insane and it is. But that monkey is one of the most tragic characters ever in film – more so than any human in the movie, even with the sweet Connelly winning you over immediately.

If you are a fan of Argento’s work and haven’t seen this, you need to. I hold it in the same regard as Suspiria. It is a beautiful film to look at, even at its most grotesque. Like other Argento films, this plays like a horror fantasy and there is a beauty about the surrealistic essence of this movie. It is an art film without intending to be an art film but that is sort of the Italian horror style.

It doesn’t use a diverse and vibrant color palate like Suspiria or its sequel Inferno but it is still colorful – mostly with rich blue hues. Even during the day, the film feels like night.

The soundtrack is just as bizarre as the movie and immediately feels like it is in conflict with it when you hear Iron Maiden blaring in this artful Italian picture. Then as the film unfolds, the music adds something more to it. It becomes a weird companion that pushes the surreal effect even further.

Phenomena may not be as good as Suspiria but it is still a damned good Argento flick. It is a giallo classic, as far as I am concerned. Even if no one really knows about it.

Rating: 8.75/10