Dario Argento has been responsible for some great horror-thrillers. His early films are not necessarily flawless but they’re classics nevertheless; they might not be heaving with edge-of-your-seat thrills but the constant sense of intrigue coupled with the dazzling visuals is a superb mix for the audience. With an affinity for dark, empty streets, vast auditoriums, knives, leather gloves, some animal cruelty, a touch of sexism, and gay stereotyping, Argento’s films look and feel like no other. Working predominately in the Giallo (mystery fiction) subgenre, Dario’s lighting and colours are beautifully put together to give an atmosphere not seen in American movies (maybe lighting gels were superior in Europe in the late twentieth century 😆). Suspiria and Inferno for example, both sport a warm glow; electric blues and brothel reds making for a music video experience with added depth; artistry and substance. Whether it’s theatre curtains, street lights, or blood, Dario somehow creates the reddest reds you’ll ever see. Argento also frames scenes perfectly, making full use of the space. Scenes in cobbled streets, open squares, and long hallways are always captivating as you sit in awe of the scenery and his camera movement.
Given that Dario Argento is an Italian filmmaker but taking into account that many of his fans are located in English-speaking countries, his best films feature an international cast doing a multi-lingual rendition of the script, with an English dub that fits over only some of the actor’s voices. The positive of this is, there’s no subtitles to read, and for me, it gives Argento’s (and some other Italian horrors) a unique kitsch or trashy style of their own like Britain’s distinctive Hammer Horror which was easily set apart from its North American filmic peers.
I will say that some of Dario’s films are now extremely overrated by critics; for instance Suspiria holds a 93% and Deep Red a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. I wouldn’t say any of Argento’s films are that close to perfection, but because of his trademark aesthetic, I’d still put most of his early work in whatwentrightwith.com rather than whatwentwrongwith.com. The great thing about Argento’s films is once you’ve seen them, you’ll never forget them thanks to the unique look which is more than 50% of the appeal. Whilst on the topic of rating or overrating, my personal favourite Argento movie is the routinely underrated The Cat ‘O’ Nine Tails which features a sleuthing team that consists of an old blind bloke and his young niece which is so unconventional yet endearing, that I wanted the pair to go on and solve more crimes.
Going on to influence the likes of John Carpenter, Dario Argento’s storylines and style is something that should be emulated by more directors. The swinging pendant reveal in Four Flies On Grey Velvet is simply brilliant and the doll coming toward the camera in Deep Red is surprising and chilling. If only more contemporary directors attempted to create memorable scenes such as this; watching so-called thrillers would be a lot more thrilling. That being said, the aforementioned scene in Deep Red may have influenced the only scary scene in James Wan’s original Saw (Billy The Puppet on a trike) and a character getting shot though a peephole as seen in Opera was copied in Hard Target. I’m also quite certain that Goblin’s rhythm in the Tenebre/Tenebrae theme influenced both The Untouchables and Breakdown, and the indistinct background noise within a sound recording from The Bird With The Crystal Plumage has gone on to feature in films like The Fugitive. Intentional or not, I just wish Argento-isms were done more often.
If you’re a fan of Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock, or even the thrillers of Roman Polanski and David Fincher, you’ll appreciate not only the visuals of Dario Argento but his adherence to the genre. His filmography may have declined since his heyday in the 1970s and 1980s but the same has befallen many of the greats. Even though I haven’t gravitated to Dario’s films from the 1990s onward, I hold his first seven Giallo movies as some of the best in the subgenre. Whether you enjoy slasher movies, detective thrillers or supernatural horrors, Dario Argento’s golden era should feature in your collection.
Four Out Of Five On Grey Velvet.