DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR (1985)






Written and Directed by MICHELE SOAVI


FEATURES CLIPS FROM:
(W/D designates films written and directed by Argento; W/P indicates those films produced and written by Argento)

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969, W/D) with TONY MUSANTE and ENRICO MARIA SALERNO
THE CAT O'NINE TAILS (1970, W/D) with KARL MALDEN and JAMES FRANCISCUS
FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971, W/D) with MICHAEL BRANDON and JEAN-PIERRE MARIELLE
DEEP RED (1975, W/D) with DAVID HEMMINGS and DARIA NICOLODI
SUSPIRIA (1976, W/D) with JESSICA HARPER and ALIDA VALLI
INFERNO (1980, W/D) with LEIGH McCLOSKEY and DARIA NICOLODI
TENEBRE (1982, W/D) with ANTHONY FRANCIOSA and JOHN SAXON
PHENOMENA (1984, W/P/D) with JENNIFER CONNELLY and DONALD PLEASENCE
DEMONS (1985, W/P) Directed by LAMBERTO BAVA with URBANO BARBERINI and NATASHA HOVEY



SYNOPSIS AND REVIEW BY TROY HOWARTH



SYNOPSIS:
Produced as a promo for Lamberto Bava's Demons, which was produced and co-written by Argento, this documentary looks at Dario Argento's unique career as a director of horror films and thrillers. Argento and some of his key collaborators (including art director Maurizio Garrone and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli) are interviewed, in between a healthy dose of clips from such classics as Deep Red and Suspiria.


REVIEW:
This interesting, but ultimately superficial, overview of Dario Argento's filmography offers some interesting glimpses of the master at work, but little in the way of in-depth analytical study.

The son of producer Salvatore Argento and Brazillian photographer Elda Luxardo, Dario Argento was immersed in the world of art from the very beginning. Initially setting out to be a writer, Argento wrote movie reviews and served as a journalist before entering the film industry as a screenwriter. Receiving his first credit as the co-writer (with Bernardo Bertolucci) of Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Argento then went on to pen a number of (largely forgotten) sex comedies and spaghetti westerns before making his directorial debut with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1969. A surprise box office smash, it opened the gateway to a series of progressively quirky and stylized gialli which found Argento obsessively re-visiting certain key themes and ideas. Like his idols Alfred Hitchcock and Mario Bava, Argento generally sticks to the same subject matter (specifically, the thriller) as a means of dealing with the themes that interest him. Fascinated by the emotional and psychological dimensions of violence, and the fallibility of human perception, Argento continues to mine the thriller/horror genre to this day.

This documentary covers all of Argento's films from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to Demons, which he produced for Lamberto Bava (son of Mario). Making good use of some haunting pieces composed for Argento's films by Ennio Morricone, Keith Emerson, and The Goblins, director Michele Soavi reveals genuine respect for his subject. The clips are carefully selected and do not run for too long.

However, the difficulty stems from Argento's basic unwillingness to reveal too much of himself. Like a magician carefully guarding his tricks, Argento is loathe to discuss what makes him "tick." The most open (and controversial) statement the maestro makes is in reference to his well-known propensity for graphic violence. To Argento, the murder set pieces are like "a beautiful party." In truth, this idea is no different from what Mario Bava had achieved in Blood and Black Lace (1964), in which the brutal murders are staged and photographed like a macabre fashion show. Argento knows Bava's movies very well, and has become the natural successor to that most underrated of the Italian masters. Yet where Bava's movies were suggestive and elegant, Argento is much more up-front and realistic. Nowhere is this more evident than in Phenomena (1984), the last Argento-directed film covered in the documentary. Having devised a totally bizarre and unrealistic scenario (Jennifer Connelly plays a teen who has the ability to communicate with insects, and who uses this power to track down a psychopath), Argento then unfortunately opted for a realistic, hard-edged style. The two extremes do not mix, however, and the result is a schizophrenic mess of a movie -- the closest to a disaster that the director has ever filmed. That said, the film receives a lot of attention in the documentary. Soavi shows how some of the effects were achieved in interview segments with FX whiz Sergio Stivaletti (the director of Wax Mask after Lucio Fulci passed away), and there are some outtakes which never made it into the finished film -- one such scene shows Jennifer Connelly floating about a room while having one of her psychic "episodes." The behind-the-scenes footage should also be of interest to Donald Pleasence completists, as the great man himself is seen between takes talking with Soavi (the assistant director on the film) and Argento.

More interesting are the music recording sessions for Inferno, featuring Keith Emerson. Those who doubt that Argento involves himself with every facet of the making of his films will find the footage of him instructing the musicians especially interesting. The only real affront in this segment is the lack of credit received by Mario Bava. Inferno was the last film on which Bava ever worked (he died at age 65 in 1980), and with his genius and expertise, such effects as the lunar eclipse and the submerged ballroom were made possible. Likewise, Bava directed parts of the film when Argento was taken ill. Especially since this was his last film, it seems rather callous that Bava's contribution should have been ignored.

Nothing more than mere window-dressing, perhaps, but interesting just the same. As a result of this documentary, Soavi graduated to the front ranks of modern Italian horror. In 1987, he directed a superior slasher (Stage Fright, aka: Aquarius), before re-joining Argento, who produced The Church (1989) and The Sect (1991) in rapid succession for the hot young talent. Soavi's most recent work, Cemetery Man (1995), confirms him as the most talented Italian director of his generation. If his documentary on Argento seems shallow, his talent is nevertheless confirmed when compared to the dismal sequel, Dario Argento: Master of Horror (1992), which was helmed by Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash).

In the end, this above-average documentary should serve as an adequate introduction for the uninitiated, but more die-hard fans would do better to watch Deep Red or Tenebre for the hundredth time. Those Pleasence-ites looking for a lot on their idol will likewise be disappointed, but since when has a brief appearance been a deterrent for fans of the late actor?



Synopsis/Review submitted by Troy Howarth

Synopsis/Review © 1999 Troy Howarth. All Rights Reserved.

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