Dario Argento
Dario Argento began his career in film in the 60s as a critic and screenwriter. His most famous writing credit is ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST written in collaboration with Bertolucci and Leone. By the time he directed his first feature in 1969, Mario Bava and others had already built the foundation of the giallo sub-genre of which Argento would become the most famous proponent. As his work progressed through a dozen or so features, Argento increasingly dispensed with plotting intricacies in favor of vibrant and visceral studies of the terrifying (il)logic of nightmares.

Argento has become known as one of the most visually creative directors in the horror genre, with his use of striking expressionistic lighting and color schemes as well as some of the most unusual and gory fake deaths ever lensed and musical scores that are both pulse-pounding and poetic.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1969)
97 min. VCI/United
This gripping giallo beautifully photographed by famed Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (APOCALYPSE NOW) shows Argento's mastery of the genre even in this, his first film. All of Argento's trademarks are here: the seldom static camera often shifting to the killer's point of view; the loving, fetishizing extreme close-ups of weapons, eyes, and other objects; the play with sex and gender roles; the ineffectual police; the ominous and unsettling use of lighting and architecture. BIRD views like a handbook of Argento's techniques and obsessions. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage 91K

Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1976)
101 min. Thorn/EMI
For American audiences, distributors removed nearly 15 minutes of footage from DEEP RED, and what remains is a somewhat standard horror thriller in which people are killed one after another as they each in turn discover the killer's identity. What is most interesting about the film (in addition to its series of increasingly gruesome set-piece death scenes) is its major theme of a childhood (and ensuing life) destroyed by a parent's psychosis. In fact the theme of childhood trauma and its aftereffects haunts much of Argento's work. In the longer version of DEEP RED this theme is complemented by others that focus on power relations among men and between men and women, but in what footage remains these ideas are only suggested.

Suspiria (1977)
100 min. Image LD
For his first venture into the supernatural, Argento dispenses almost entirely with plot, concentrating instead on creating a bold cinematic nightmare. Of course the murder scenes are new creative milestones, but this only scratches the surface. SUSPIRIA also ascends to new heights of hypnotic set design and decoration, mixing together elements of art nouveaux organics, M.C. Escher's illusionist geometries, and de Chirico's surreal and monumental spaces. In the tradition of the old dark houses of gothic horror classics, Argento breathes scene-stealing life into his glowingly lit and vibrantly colored architectural settings. Also vying for the viewer's rapt attention is Argento's hyper-kinetic camera, which constantly jumps to shots not only from his characters' points of view but also from those of animals and even inanimate objects—truly a stylistic tour de force.

Creepers (Phenomena, 1985)
83 min. Media
After New Line hacked out nearly one quarter of its original 109 minutes, what was released of this film to American audiences makes only the barest minimum of sense. The film revolves around a set of weird and mostly unpleasant characters getting mixed up in a series of increasingly nasty events, many of which involve swarms of maggots and other insects. These events climax in a supremely harsh sequence featuring the only certifiable monster (a severely deformed and demented cannibal child) ever seen in an Argento-directed feature, and a big vat of filthy, decaying, maggot-ridden human corpses. Not quite up to Argento's usual standard (at least in its radically shortened form), but still satisfyingly stomach-churning.

Terror at the Opera (Opera, 1987)
107 min. Southgate
Argento's best work to date. OPERA is drenched in beauty with its attractive cast and sets, its perfect lighting, and its swooping, gliding camera. Beneath this gleaming surface lurk Argento's most engaging and well acted-characters backed by an unfailing and intelligent giallo plot. As his camera continually shifts from one point of view shot to another, Argento reveals a film that is as much about his methods of leading our vision as it is about our conflicted desire to see. This is a film so hypnotic and visually complex that it becomes more riveting with repeated viewings. Its violence is so skillfully delivered that, even with those repeated viewings, it still succeeds in shocking. Finally, OPERA is Argento's most personal and self-referential work—a deeply felt meditation on a career spent unflinchingly realizing his own nightmares on film and powerfully influencing the nightmares of others. Terror at the Opera 84K
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