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: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Also known as: Zombi (Italy)
Release Date: September 1st, 1978 (Italy)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argento, De Wolfe Music
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato, John Landis

Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 116 Minutes (Italy), 127 Minutes (US)

Review:

I’m reworking my way through The Living Dead series of films. I’m going through the George A. Romero ones first and will then look at the films involving John A. Russo, as the two split the franchise down different creative paths after they made the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

The second Romero film and the most highly regarded of the series is this one, Dawn of the Dead.

This film came out ten years later and was a co-production between the United States and Italy, as Romero teamed up with Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento. Argento edited the film for Italian audiences, who would see it first, and also brought in Goblin, who worked with him on the music for several of his pictures, most notably Suspiria, which came out a year before this.

In Italy, the film was released as Zombi and it would spawn a series of unofficial sequels, the most famous being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. That was released in the States, oddly enough, as Zombie.

To start, Dawn of the Dead is a damn good zombie picture. However, I am in the minority here, as I don’t consider it to be the best of the Romero Living Dead mythos. I actually prefer the other two of the original trilogy and especially consider Day of the Dead to be the best. But I’ll get into why, when I review that one.

Dawn of the Dead is still pretty stellar and it does show the world in a much broader sense than the original. The thing I really liked is that the zombies are everywhere but society hasn’t fully crumbled at the start of the film. Things fall apart over the course of the story, as we learn through television and radio broadcasts until things from the outside world go silent.

In this chapter, two SWAT team members, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend land on top of a mall. They decide to live there, as it has power and it has all the things they will need to survive and then some.

The bulk of the story deals with the men cleaning out the zombies and securing the mall. They take out the living dead and fortify the entrances by moving semis in front of them. Eventually, things go south when a biker gang shows up, trashes the mall and bring the outside zombies swarming in. This isn’t just a movie where our heroes fight zombies, they also have to deal with a biker gang who want to take their home but ultimately ruin it for everyone.

This is the first film, that I know of, that shows humans having to defend themselves from other humans in a zombie scenario. This was the prototype of almost every zombie story after it. Hell, The Walking Dead is, at this point, a seven season television series based on this concept.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made. To many, it is the best. The trilogy of films it is a part of are responsible for creating the genre and its tropes. It is also interesting, when compared to modern zombie entertainment, as the zombies are still fresh and newly created and therefore, aren’t just ragged flesh hanging off of bones.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Church (1989)

Also known as: La chiesa (Italy), Cathedral of Demons, Demon Cathedral
Release Date: March 10th, 1989 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, Lamberto Bava, Fabrizio Bava
Based on: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M.R. James
Music by: Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, Goblin, Fabio Pignatelli
Cast: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Reteitalia, Cecchi Gori Distribuzione, 110 Minutes

la_chiesaReview:

There are a lot of quasi-sequels to Laberto Bava and Dario Argento’s Demons and Demons 2The Church is the one film, that is considered to be the true third part of the film series.

That being said, other than people being trapped somewhere, dealing with demons, The Church really doesn’t feel like it is Demons 3. It is its own movie, the tone is different, the demons are different and it has a much slower pace than those “balls to the wall” Demons films. It also has a lot of gore and disturbing imagery but it isn’t nearly as gross as Demons and Demons 2.

If I am to compare it to the other two, which I have to, it is the weakest in the series.

To start, the film is really slow. If you are accustomed to the pace of the two movies before it, you will be left wondering when the hell the shit will finally hit the fan. The shit never really hits the fan, though. Yes, there are intense moments sprinkled in and the finale is totally bizarre but it doesn’t play like a Demons film. In fact, it feels a lot closer to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. That being said, Carpenter’s film is far superior to The Church and much better paced.

I enjoyed Asia Argento in this. I also really liked the heroic priest. Everyone else just felt kind of flat.

I also liked the opening sequence with the German knights destroying a village in an effort to eliminate witchcraft. Actually, the people were just sick but hey, that’s religion in the dark ages… or now, really.

The Church is worth a watch if you are a completist and you liked the Demons films. However, it really isn’t a continuation of those movies. It is a decent late 80s Italian horror picture but I doubt I would ever watch it again unless I felt compelled to show it to another fan of the series.

Rating: 5.25/10

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, Udo Kier

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: 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