Dario Argento’s films are like stained glass windows ready to shatter and slice the unsuspecting spectator. He’s a master auteur known for letting characters squirm within the confines of his fragile mise en scène. His violence is quick, intoxicating and unbearably beautiful. He is Mario Bava’s runaway scribe, cut from the same giallo mold (a reference to the yellow covers associated with Italian mystery novels, the “giallo” is the genre cousin of noir, and the films of this mold are populated by perverts and criminals with considerably hefty Freudian hang ups and whose violence is irrational, thievish and perverse), and though he’s been likened to Godard and Fassbinder, Hitchcock and Polanski are more apt points of comparison. But where Bava’s libertine horror chambers were loosely and skittishly scared by the director’s fetishistic lashings, Argento’s gialli are considerably more mannered. His mysteries are psychological puzzles oft-sprayed with grotesque neon blood (think Dashiell Hammett on coke, Raymond Chandler on speed). He is also quintessentially Italian—his compositions are as spare as they are ornate, and the spells they cast are truly disquieting.
Argento was born four days before Brian De Palma on September 11, 1940. Both are relentless fetishists although it’s difficult to imagine De Palma’s glorious and fiendish magpie cinema existing without Argento’s own. Body Double, Dressed to Kill and Raising Cain probably wouldn’t exist without Argento’s Tenebre, but while De Palma’s clout continues to grow among cinephiles, Argento remains a shamelessly underground figure. His horror extravaganzas are far from postmodern, doubly damned by their endless dubbing woes; thus, he remains elusive. The maestro has touched some and has been humbly spoofed by others (few, though, would be able to spot the shout-outs): Takeshi Miike, John Woo, David Fincher, Luigi Cozzi, Michele Soavi, Wes Craven, Cindy Sherman, Sam Raimi, Lamberto Bava, Chang Yoon-Hyun, and so on.
With the exception of 1993’s Trauma and 1971’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, all of Argento’s films are available on DVD, and with the exception of the comedy The Five Days in Milan, a peculiarity in Argento’s career, all of his films are reviewed here. Fans can read though these reviews with ease. Those new to Argento should know in advance that plenty of secrets will be revealed: If anything is universal it is that half the fun of an Argento puzzle is assembling its gloriously colorful pieces.
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