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.
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.
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.
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.
Let me tell you about this film. I’ve actually watched two versions today, Romero’s original and also the Italian re-edit. I’m not about to discussed the obvious winner of the two, but let me tell you, the Italian one is a great surprise to those who have seen Martin on occasion. I’d still opt for the original, personally.
Martin (John Amplas) is an 82 year old vampire whose cousin, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) intends to save his soul. Cuda’s daughter Christina (Christine Forrest) actually sees Martin as a confused teenager in need of a shrink. So who’s right here? A stunningly original vampire film which stands up today, untouched as one of the greatest of the genre. Martin prey’s on local pretty girls, using hypodermic needles to drug them before he slashes open their wrists (Amazing effect, c/o Tom Savini who also stars) to drink their blood. Before and during each attack, we see a vision of how the situation will flow, in Black and White, the victim embraces Martin in a silver screen movie style. It’s dreamy and romantic, but as the viewer, we are witness to the harsh reality and less attractive situations which occur. One has a girl on a train, holding out her arms with loving mesmerised eyes, the reality has her stepping from the toilet cubicle, face mask and blowing her nose.
Another attack, one of the finest in the film has a Martin break into a woman’s home only to find himself in the middle of an affair. The bloke tries to make excuses until the women explains she’s never seen Martin before. This is a classic Romero moment. Human emotion and situations which become a blunder on martins behalf, but ever so familiar to the viewer. The scene holds up a game of cat n mouse as Martin hides around the house, awaiting for the drug to take effect on the bloke, who he’s stabbed with the needle. A very clever scene.
Meanwhile, his uncle, obsessed with the family curse is convinced that Martin is the legendary vampire, Nosferatu. Crucifix and garlic cover every door. He knows what Martin is and isn’t about to let his soul be taken over, seeing this as his own personal mission to save the boy.
Now, let me mention this Italian print once more. Many scenes have been rejigged completely, some removed, some added which works and feels fresh and new, but the biggest plus for this edition is the score. The original has a very minimalist score which allows the actions to take priority for the viewer. The Italian has a crazy big 70’s score, care of the Italian genre gods, Goblin. A must for any fan. Again, this works but on a very different level, creating even more chaos in the scenes of bumbled attacks and injecting a harsh unbalance for the viewer.
Personally, I’d take the original print every time. This is one of my favourite Romero films, and one of my favourite all time movies. I’m glad it holds up after all these years as this is the fist time I’ve seen if for 23ish years. Masterpiece. The new print below is beautiful too.