Guest Article: ARGENTO SYNDROME Author Derek Botelho’s FIVE FAVORITE DARIO ARGENTO Films!
*Editor’s note: Icons of Fright friend Derek Botelho is set to release his new novel, entitled, The Argento Syndrome, an in depth look at the career of horror master, Dario Argento. The book features many candid interviews with everyone from John Carpenter and Asia Argento, to screenwriter Sean Keller and many more. We asked Derek to contribute his five favorite films by Argento, and alas, here they are. Read on!
When the name Dario Argento is uttered to a casual horror fan, you’ll often get a blank stare, or a puzzled, “Who?” in return; replace the neophyte in this situation with a horror junkie, the reaction could be a chuckle followed by, “He hasn’t made a good movie since Opera”. It’s a common, knee jerk, and dangerously nostalgic reaction I’ve been audience to many times. While it’s true that his career has seen better days, it’s still no small feat the he is making genre films some forty years after his debut with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1969. Those who claim his career died in the 1980’s are sorely mistaken. Trauma, and The Stendhal Syndrome, both made in the 90’s are good and pretty great, respectively. The millennium has been a bit rougher, as The Card Player, ‘Pelts’ (an episode of Masters of Horror), and Sleepless are his strongest output thus far, but they’re not as strong as Stendhal. However, if you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and you’ll likely stick around to see what he does next. If you’re new to his work, here’s my attempt to sway you to the dark side, or should I say, the yellow side?
As we all know, opinion of any kind of art is a personal matter, and there are no actual “best” of anything, contrary to what award shows want to tell us. So, here are my top five Argento films in no particular order*:
5.) TENEBRE (1982)
This may be my favorite of all Argento’s films. Luciano Tovoli gets a lot of love for his work on Suspiria, but I think what he does here is just as effective. It’s set in a cold, sterile version of Rome, which only a true native could show us. Anthony Franciosa and Daria Nicolodi make a nice pair, he as an American writer whose latest novel is the inspiration for a serial killer, while she’s his assistant along for the not so pleasant ride. The movie has lesbians, murder, groovy music, a dog attack, and killer art (literally). Possibly my favorite scene in the film is a walk on the beach with a naked woman that keeps getting stranger, and stranger…and gayer and gayer…but not in a sapphic way. Tennessee Williams would be amused.
4.) THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996)
This psychological mind fuck truly stands apart from anything Argento has made. It’s an interior monologue en route to hell. Asia Argento gives an unhinged, yet restrained performance as a young policewoman on the trail of a serial rapist/murderer in Florence. When she gets far too involved in her work after a brutal attack, things take a turn, then another, and another, until she finds herself staring into the abyss, and it is indeed looking back. Random fact: this is reportedly the first Italian film to feature CGI effects, but don’t hold that against it because their lack of quality somehow enhances the strangeness of what’s going on.
3.) THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)
It all starts here, folks. This unofficial adaptation of Frederic Brown’s noir potboiler, ‘The Screaming Mimi’ is a lot of fun. Tony Musante is our “hero”, an American writer in Rome (again) who becomes the target of a killer after witnessing an attempted murder in an art gallery. Suzy Kendall is his girlfriend who has the best scene of the film, when she’s trapped alone at night in their apartment and the power has gone out, leaving her in the dark. Only, it’s not the dark, it’s the stylishly composed version of the dark, thanks to Argento and Vittorio Storaro to evoke something primal, and quite creepy.
2.) SLEEPLESS (2001)
This one may be pure sentiment because I was on set a few days. Yes it’s a bit long, but I find its insanity infectious. Young Giacomo, played as an adult by Stefano Dionisi, witnesses his mother being murdered and many years later, the killer blamed for her murder is back and at it again! Did I mention the killer was a dwarf who wrote mystery novels? You could say this is Argento’s greatest hits package, as it has hints of many other movies (the puppet/doll from Deep Red, the aural clue to the killer from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, etc…) This one features a fantastic score by Goblin, after the band had been separated for decades, and some interesting camera work by Ronnie Taylor, especially a camera crawl along a carpet in a theater, but best of all, Max Von Sydow plays a detective who recites monologues to his parrot.
1.) DEEP RED (1975)
Possibly the pinnacle of his creative career, Deep Red sees another creative soul in crisis. David Hemmings is a pianist living and working in Rome, and in grand Argento fashion witnesses the murder of a neighbor. It’s not long before he’s in league with a plucky journalist played by Argento’s longtime girlfriend and muse of sorts, Daria Nicolodi, and the two are on the trail of and on the run from the killer. With style to burn, the camera caresses every surface, hovers with fetishistic adoration above objects of childhood adoration, and then there’s the music. Argento’s first collaboration with Goblin is sensory overload. There’s no escaping that bass line, and Giorgio Gaslini’s haunting lullaby and themes work well in a more classical mode alongside the band’s rock tunes. Keep an eye out for an early clue to the killer’s identity, it’s really smartly placed and I’ve only watched the film with one person who’s caught it!
*Favorite is relative, and may change next month.
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