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Tag: Dario Argento

Black Swan

by on Jan.30, 2011, under Daily Review

I’ve neglected this site for a while, or should I say, I’ve neglected the genre as a whole. After a year of horror films, the past few months, i’ve been catching up on Rom Coms, Drama and Period pieces. With the awards season upon us, I’ve been bagging as many as possible in order to set my own predictions on the table which brings me to Black Swan, which in turn brings me back to the horror genre.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a dedicated ballerina who dreams of the lead role. A vivid premonition comes true but it’s soon quite apparent that the path to success is not always the fairytale. The nightmare is about to begin. The new production is a reinvention of Swan Lake, a tragic tale, a princess is transformed into a swan who needs to find true love to release her from the curse, but her prince picks the wrong girl and our princess dies of a broken heart. So while Nina is pushing her body to the limit, her mind is crumbling with paranoia.

The film is a stunning character study which delves deep and offers multiple layers for the viewer to play with in their own mind. A crazy mother, pushing her own dreams onto her daughter, an ageing star now replaced, an eager dancer looking for competition and then there is Nina who is struggling with sanity, in need for compliments, success and love. What we also get is a balance or reality and fantasy. As we have the whole film from the view of Nina, every single scene can be questioned as to is this really happening and is it all in wrapped in desire or deep dark thoughts. Notably, the scene at the Hospital with the nail file, I’d question if Nina ever even visited the place or if this is just a subconscious dream of guilt and a desire to succeed, stabbing everyone in her way. The scene between Lily (Milla Kunis) in Nina’s bedroom reinforces this as we obviously see a graphic interaction between the two girls, yet later Lily’s involvement and attendance is questioned. Her mother (Barbara Hershey) also shows conflicting love, singled out mainly as an evil domineering tierant, although her final key scene suggests she is the only person who really knows what is going on in Nina’s head and is concerned about her daughters health. Let me also mention her lustful desire and obsession for the production’s artistic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel); just who is he having an affair with, Nina? Lily? I’d again, argue this is all in Nina’s mind.

Now, let’s look at the horror side of things. The film is filled with classic 80’s jumps, which with big sound design allow the audience to feel on the edge of their seat, tension and terror with people appearing from behind doors, from the darkness… Classic stuff here. To fuel this, the main narrative focus’ on body horror, a finished result which Cronenberg would be proud of, although, any film fan would be aware, Aronofsky has a reoccurring theme here, the stength and power of the mind through obsession, desire and love which a poses the weakness of the flesh, the cask that we live our lives within; similar to Cronenberg although with immense depths of paranoia. Physically, we see some pretty nasty moments of skin ripping, self harm and the will to get under the irritation of the flesh. To top this all off, we have some weighty tips of the hat to Argento, close similarity to his 70’s masterpiece, Suspiria and his 80’s Opera, but also Nina’s apartment holds some uncanny resemblances to that of Deep Red; similar mirrors in the hallway and horrific paintings of Nina by her Mother and of cause, Argento’s signature theme, protagonists haunted and damaged by the actions of their past or parents. Finally, the club scene completes the salute with red and green lights filling the screen and dance floor, pure Suspiria.
Black Swan is something to watch, something experience and soak up the whole emotion of a woman on the edge and beyond. It’s beautifully horrific, uneasy and at times, difficult viewing, which gives the film that punch. Portman offers a flawless performance here, Cassel, Kunis and Hershey all support perfectly.

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Suspiria

by on Oct.28, 2010, under Daily Review

There is a reason why Dario Argento’s 1976 masterpiece is held with such high regard, as there is nothing else quite like it. A stunning sensory feast for audio and visual delights. Cinematic art at its finest and by far most gruesome.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is from a long family line of ballerinas, traveling to German to craft her art at the most famous and respected of institutes, she soon discovers her American values clash with that of the Europeans. After a student is brutally massacred, Suzy discovers there is more going on in this institute than ballet. Black magic by the hand of a coven of witches. A trail of vicious murders leads Suzy into their lair.

This is an outrageously good film, through the collective strange and original storyline, incredible cinematography, outstanding lighting and to top it off an ingenious score by Goblin. Argento collects the pieces and masterfully creates the visuals using the screen as a pallet to paint dramatic colour. Scenes awash with gels, red, blue and green. Perfect balance on all accounts. The set design is also of the most outlandish which creates a maze like feel to the institute. Suzy wonders along lush corridors looking for clues lit dramatically allowing every frame to be represented independent as a beautiful photograph.

The gore is also extreme but created and executed to artistic levels. Sara (Stefania Casini) ends up in a grave of wires, cutting and slicing her flesh. Later, here body is discovered by Suzy, laid out prepared and crucified and what a scene this is. Beautiful. The inicial murder, once again shows Argento’s liking for windows as the victim is first suffocated against glass by a beast like creature whose eyes where peering in through the pane. The window shatters. This is a familiar murder which Argento uses again and again as his entry gore moment in most of his movies, but here we are awash with glorious colour and framed perfection of the finished massacre, topped off with bubbling vibrant red blood. Another scene has a blind bloke attacked by his own dog, possessed by something, it viciously rips at his neck. A truly shocking moment as the dog chews up the flesh.

Harper is a perfect choice for the lead here allowing the film to build and grow around her character who is quiet and timid although questioning. Her scenes discussing Witchcraft with Dr Frank (the genre legend, Udo Kier) are beautifully paced and sympathetic to her loss and need for knowledge. A similar scenario in one of Argento other classics, Phenomena shows a different side to the American lead, (Jennifer Connelly) who is brash and feisty.

This is a gorgeous film. If you only see on Argento film, make it this one. I’m not sure Argento captured the essence from this one in any of his other movies. There is something quite special, magical and fantastical about this one which leaves it out on its own. There’s nothing else quite like it.

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Tenebre

by on Oct.02, 2010, under Daily Review

Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is a horror novelist, in Rome to promote his latest novel, although on arrival, he’s questioned by the police as to a related murder. Soon, the bodies are amassing from all sides, all linked back to the author. So whose bumping these girls off?

Argento takes us on a sleek contemporary giallo which is toned down from his previous deep pallet of colours, this time, we get a somewhat blank canvas which allows the master to spray blood all over the place to maximum effect, and believe me, when I say spray, I mean spray. The tale is a straight to the point affair for the most part, with some great twists and an effective conclusion. There’s some interesting dreamlike back story which is all good stuff and brilliantly created. The film works well with a very talented cast here too. Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, John Saxon and Giuliano Gemma.

The promo poster for this film shows a girls head, held backwards through a pane of glass, neck sliced wide open. He’s Argento’s window murder again, a great scene, a shocking double murder which follows one of the most dramatic, stylish and accomplished cinematographic scenes in any of Argento’s films, care or Luciano Tovoli, as the camera pans slowly through a window and up over a house, dipping into windows and rooms. Tremendous.

Score here is also  stunningly good, once again provided by the magnificent Goblin.

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Opera

by on Oct.01, 2010, under Daily Review

I have a real soft spot for this film but as always, have been avoiding a revisit. Could it live up to my rose tinted memories?

This is a beautiful film and works on so many levels. I could controversially suggest that this is Argento’s finest moment, but of cause, to compare with Suspiria, Inferno and Deep Red, could be a tricky feat, but in my opinion, it stands on its own, a masterpiece of not only the horror genre, but cinema as a whole.

The story, set in a theatre. A horror film director (Ian Charleson) turns his attention to a grande Opera version of Verdi’s Macbeth. When his leading lady storms from the set, the understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) gets her chance to make a name for herself, but haunted by a strange nightmares from her past and the curse of Macbeth. Following the first night, she is confronted by a masked man, who ties her up, and tapes pins to her eyelids, forcing her to witness a murder. Through a number of flashbacks, we gather a shocking insight of the past, Betty’s mother, the killer and a dangerous taboo game.

Once again, Argento takes us through a tale of crime and murder leaving the audience guessing at who the killer is and what are the motives. The flashback scenes are brilliant, launched by a close up shot of the killers brain, flexing away. Ron Taylor as DP, here with his most inventive camerawork. Swooping shots of the theatre, corridors, through crowds and over the audience. One scene has a track and point of view of a Crow as it flies around the theatre. Magnificent.

Other groundbreaking moments here, a close up of a bullet as it ignites in the barrel of the gun, fires along and out, through a key hole and through the eye of the unlucky viewer, the bullet also taking out the phone at the end of the corridor. One of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed which still lives up to my memory.

Performances by Daria Nicolodi, Barbara Cupisti and the amazing Urbano Barberini. Cristina Marsillach is outstanding here, a brilliant performance from a talented young actress. A great supporting role also by Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni. A fine film which captures the pure style and elegance of Argento in all it’s shocking gory glory, but balanced with the beauty and calm which give the film a somewhat dream like state at times. As always, some subtle green, red and blue gels to attribute the past, but overall, a sleek, stylish modern representation of the master.

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Sleepless

by on Sep.30, 2010, under Daily Review

Argento’s return to form some might say. It was hyped at the time and I actually remember enjoying this one when it came out, straight to DVD. I’d built it up to a godlike level but forgave it for a lot of what it isn’t or couldn’t live up to. This time around, I’m watching with fresh eyes and less expectation; also directly on the back of Phenomena, how will it sit?

The plot is a complex giallo murder crime flick. A retired officer (Max Von Sydow) is pulled back into a re-opened case which he worked on some years earlier. A dwarf crime novelist, who was the main suspect, committed suicide, leaving the case at a loose end. But someone is back, using the dwarf’s literature as an MO, slashing up girls in a gruesome style.

The film is a kinda homage to all that’s gone before. Argento has cherry picked his way back into the genre by recreating some wonderful set sequences, which are all very familiar and a real joy to watch. The plot is crazy and swings all over the place, but irons out perfectly. Gore is top form here too with Sergi Stivaletti in the hot seat creating some amazing effects and some vicious nasty stuff.

Argento has collected the best of his past and the best he could recruit too. Von Sydow brings credence to the film, Goblin reformed especially for this and knock out a stunning fresh new score. Franco Ferrini script and Ron Taylor on DP. A perfect team by anyone’s standards.

That window is back again! The first murder, a brilliantly played out scene with a girl (Barbara Lerci) stalked on a train. Great pace and a great sequence of events which truly captivate the viewer. At her demise, I was actually awaiting the head to crack through the train window, but this time, a bit subtler as she is left, screaming and dragging her bloody hands down the glass as the train pulls into the station, her friend awaiting on the platform. Stunning stuff.

One further point, Argento seems deeply rooted with the idea of trauma generated at childhood, a haunting which emanates to a point of character decline to a downward spiral of violence. This theme is repeated through many of his films and at play here. Finally, a quick word about his use of colour. As I’ve mentioned, we’re getting a lot of his past through reflection which couldn’t be created without some blue, red and green gels. The disco scene is beautifully lit, a celebration in itself. Likewise, rooms are pained in contrasting reds and blues, a subtle yet distinctive sign of his move back to grace.

Give this one the opportunity it deserves. It’s a stepping stone to what could be a welcome return, and also a tip of the hat to previous accomplishments, and also very enjoyable.

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Phenomena

by on Sep.29, 2010, under Daily Review

Jennifer Connelly gained fame as a young actress with Labyrinth, but prior to this, she’d already worked with two of the worlds greatest directors, Sergio Leone (One upon a Time in America) and here with Argento. It’s obvious, they could see the talent and great potential. Connelly is magnificent here and holds the film together, just as Hemmings did in Deep Red, anchoring the film with Character.

Girls are being murdered in the Swiss Alps with only body parts being discovered months after. (Connelly) is a rich American kid whose father finds her a girls school in Europe to study. She’s not like the other students, her father being a heart throb actor, but that’s not all. She has a secret ability to communicate with insects and sleepwalks too. She teams up with Professor McGregor (Donald Pleasence), an expert in the field of insects who introduces her to the Great Sarcophagus, a fly which lives on rotting human flesh. The investigation begins.

The film is full of wonder, a great plot with a dash of the fantastical and some vicious gore. Cinematography is outstanding but subtle (Romano Albani), once again, Argento pushes for strong characters to take the viewer through some crazy plotlines. Great musical score too, a collective of Boswell, Goblin, Simonetti and Bill Wyman.

As suspected, we have another window murder, the opening scene, first murder, head crashed through glass. This is strange. I’ve seen most of Argento’s films many times, never noticed this connection before. So far, four out of four have window murders.

As mentioned, it’s Connelly who wins this film over. She’s a great actress and here does not disappoint. Talking away to bees and flies, she makes this crazy plot work and takes us to a believable place. Pleasance and Nicolodi as always put in a fine performance too.

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Inferno

by on Sep.27, 2010, under Daily Review

This is something else. It’s quite unlike anything you could ever expect to watch and to begin to describe the plot is slightly outside the realms of possibility here. Argento takes us to a place that very few directors manage to take us, a vision of his own mind, a plot within his thoughts, brought to the screen through determination and a very supportive producer. The result is a glorious visual event which will stimulate the mind as well as they eye.

The plot follows on from Suspiria, the tale of the Three Mothers (Mother of Sorrow, Tears and Darkness), the world leaders of Witches Covens, who rule from mansions in three prime spots, New York, Rome and Freiburg. Here, we witness the events between Rome and New York as Sister and Brother stumble upon the dark secret which is covered up by death to anyone who dares involvement.

The films looks amazing, probably Argento’s greatest achievement. Stunning colour, grand set pieces which collect to an amazing film. It’s unlike anything else due to it’s fantastical plot, which allows characters to discover secret rooms and underground flooded basements, corpses floating too, but characters who will take a dip in such secret places for the chance to discover something special. Old mythical books telling the secret of the house, the witches coven and facing the danger of being discovered. It’s all here, a collection of imaginative set sequences which make up the complete film. Everyone who gets an idea of what is going on is soon murdered in some crazy way, be it by demon of butchers knife, rats or cats.

One of my favourite scenes is in the lecture hall in Rome. A glorious scene with who I can only gather is one of the Mothers with a furry cat, casting a spell on Mark (Leigh McCloskey) in order to confuse his mind, prevent him reading a letter of warning about his sisters discovery in New York. The camerawork, score and visuals here are outstanding, this on top of the plot which is so cool, you just can’t take your eyes off the screen.

Argento’s most outrageous film and my favourite of all.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

by on Sep.26, 2010, under Daily Review

The perfect place to start for any horror fan, or for that matter, any film fan wanting to get an understanding of the reasoning why Argento is credited as one of the leading directors in the field. This is where it all begins, a classic giallo, totally inspired by Bava, but totally Argento from start to finish.

Sam, (Tony Musante) an American writer working in Italy witnesses an attempted murder through a huge glass frontage of an Art Gallery. But something is not right and the situation keeps playing in the back of his mind. Meanwhile, he’s stalked by the killer and questioned by the police. He decides to undertake some investigations himself.

Beautifully shot, this film is crisp, sharp and perfect in execution which in some way differentiates away from the Bava feel which is far more of an artistic one, Argento’s is more clinical. The lighting is also perfect and a toned down imitation of Bava which can be a good thing which can bring a bit more of a balance to the film. The actors can step up to the mark, rather than fade into the arty direction and become part of the overall image. The plot is also very solid and intriguing, the whole idea of Sam having something in his mind, a missing clue to the murder attempt which he witnesses with flash back visions of that night. That whole scene is outstanding too. The structure of the gallery window, through which Sam watches the crime is like a huge cinema screen that Sam is trying to climb through.

Something else to point out, the opening scene totally reshot by Tarantino in Death Proof, frame for frame as a voyeurist takes photographs from a distance of his target. Tarentino also adds the original score from Bird with the Crystal Plumage, adding another little clue as to his chosen homage.

As I say, this is a great place to start. Over the next few days, we’ll see Argento’s direction change and move into a more vivid style, and pull back to this original look and feel as he’s been trying to recapture his original magic, not of the Suspiria and Inferno, but of ‘Bird’, Deep Red and Tenebre.

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Mother of Tears

by on Nov.07, 2009, under Daily Review

Argento’s long awaited 3rd part in his Three Mothers trilogy. Does it disappoint? Not at all. This is pure crazy euro horror, the likes not seen on the silver screen (or betamax video cassette) for 20 years.

The story: During an excavation of a cemetery, a casket containing ultimate evil is discovered, and transported to the museum of Rome for further study. The evil is mother01unleashed spreading a plague of terror though the streets of the capital turning residents into crazed rapists, murderers and loonies.  Only one person can save Rome and the world from domination; Sarah (Asia Argento). As Witches converge in Rome for the event, her adventure begins leading to an awakening within her own soul and the enlightenment that her mother was a great white witch. Sarah alone must defeat the resurrected evil witch Mater Lachrymarum, who is leading this second age of witchcraft.

It’s a crazy film with some very odd moments, which can be excused by such a wild concept. The evil which is first released is in the form of huge fury monster, men in suit types which is great. Some CGI is really bad and the script is slightly off, but this aside, it’s pretty good stuff. Does it stand up against it’s original two parts? Maybe not, but times are different, and films like Suspiria and Inferno just ain’t being made any more, but this is probably as good a third part that we could ever expect.

It may have been a bad decision to cast Asia in the lead role. My theory; all Argento films with Asia are weak. A good theory I know. but it’s not her acting ability in question, but more a matter of direction regarding Father/Daughter relationship.

Other fine reasons to watch this one, include fine yet brief performances from Daria Nicolodi, Udo Kier and Moran Atias as the head witch. Memorable scene being, Asia’s spirit talk with her dead mother with mystic dust is an awesome moment and the whole invisibility trick in the bookshop is magical.

While the current theme for horror films revolves around gore and torture, it’s great to see a film with a bit of fantasy and vision.

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