4 Shots From 4 Daria Nicolodi Films: Deep Red, Shock, Tenebre, Opera


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Today is Daria Nicolodi’s birthday!

Daria Nicolodi has been called the “unsung hero of Italian horror” and it’s an apt description.  Along with starring in several of the films that Dario Argento directed during the first half of his legendary career, Nicolodi also was responsible for the story of and co-wrote the script for Suspiria.  (Nicolodi has always said that Suspiria was based on a true story involving one of her ancestors.)  Argento’s decision to give the lead role in Suspiria to Jessica Harper, instead of Nicolodi, is often cited as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

(It’s also a shame — actually, a more accurate description would be to say that it’s a goddamn crime — that Nicolodi apparently will not have even as much as a cameo in the upcoming Suspiria remake.)

Nicolodi also appeared in films directed by Mario Bava, Luigi Cozzi, Michele Soavi, and several other distinguished Italian directors.  In Scarlet Diva, she was directed by her daughter, Asia Argento.

This edition for 4 Shots From 4 Films is dedicated to Daria Nicolodi!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

Tenebre (1982, dir by Dario Argento)

Opera (1987, dir by Dario Argento)

20 Horror Icons Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


Though they’ve given some of the best, iconic, and award-worthy performances in horror history, the actors and actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar.

Scarlet Diva

  1. Asia Argento

Perhaps because of charges of nepotism, people are quick to overlook just how good Asia Argento was in those films she made with Dario Argento.  Her work in Trauma especially deserves to be reevaluated.  Outside of her work with Dario, Asia gave great, self-directed performances in Scarlet Diva and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

“Prom Night!  Everything is all right!”  Did you know that Jamie Lee Curtis received a Genie Nomination for her performance in Prom Night?  That could be because, in 1980, there weren’t that many movies being produced in Canada but still, Jamie was pretty good in that film.  And, of course, there’s a little film called Halloween

3. Peter Cushing

The beloved Hammer horror veteran did wonderful work as both Frankenstein and Van Helsing.  Personally, I love his odd cameo in Shock Waves.

4. Robert Englund

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

5. Lance Henriksen

One of the great character actors, Lance Henriksen gave one of the best vampire performances of all time in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

David Hess, R.I.P.

6. David Hess

In just two films — Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park — Hess defined screen evil.  If nothing else, he deserved an Oscar for composing The Road Leads To Nowhere.

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7. Boris Karloff

As our own Gary Loggins will tell you, it’s a crime that Boris Karloff never received an Oscar nomination.  He may be best remembered for Frankenstein but, for me, Karloff’s best performance was in Targets.

8. Camille Keaton

Yes, Camille Keaton did deserve a Best Actress nomination for I Spit On Your Grave.

Kinski and Butterfly

9. Klaus Kinski

The notorious and talented Klaus Kinski was never nominated for an Oscar.  Perhaps the Academy was scared of what he would do if he won.  But, that said, Kinski gave some of the best performances of all time, in films for everyone from Jess Franco to Werner Herzog.

Christopher Lee Is Dracula

10. Christopher Lee

That the amazing Christopher Lee was never nominated is a shock.  Though he will always be Dracula, Lee gave wonderful performances in films of all genres.  Lee always cited the little-seen Jinnah as being his best performance.

 

11. Bela Lugosi

The original Dracula, Lugosi never escaped typecasting.  Believe it or not, one of his finest performances was in one of the worst (if most enjoyable) films of all time, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

12. Catriona MacColl

This English actress gave three excellent performances in each chapter of Lucio Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy, with her performance in The House By The Cemetery elevating the entire film.

13. Daria Nicolodi

This Italian actress served as a muse to two of the best directors around, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Her award-worthy performances include Deep Red and, especially, Shock.

Near-Dark-Bill-Paxton

14. Bill Paxton

This great Texas actor gave award-worthy performances in everything from Near Dark to Aliens to Frailty.  RIP.

15. Donald Pleasence 

Dr. Loomis!  As good as he was in Halloween, Pleasence also gave excellent performances in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac and a nightmarish Australian film called Wake in Fright.

Roger Corman and Vincent Price

16. Vincent Price

The great Vincent Price never seems to get the respect that he deserves.  He may have overacted at times but nobody went overboard with as much style as Vincent Price.  His most award-worthy performance?  The Witchfinder General.

17. Giovanni Lombardo Radice

The greatest of all the Italian horror stars, Radice is still active, gracious, and beloved by his many fans.  Quentin Tarantino is a self-described fan so it’s time for Tarantino to write him a great role.

HenryPortrait

18. Michael Rooker

To many people, this great character actor will always be Henry.

19. Joe Spinell

This character actor will always be remembered for playing the lead role in the original Maniac but he also appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of all time.  Over the course of a relatively short career, Spinell appeared in everything from The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Rocky to Starcrash.  He was the American Klaus Kinski,

20. Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele has worked with everyone from Mario Bava to Jonathan Demme to David Cronenberg to Federico Fellini.  Among her many excellent performances, her work in Black Sunday and Caged Heat stands out as particularly memorable.

black-sunday

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #25: Marie Antoinette (dir by Sofia Coppola)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Tuesday, December 6th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On November 12th, I recorded 2016’s Marie Antoinette off of Starz.

Before I review Marie Antoinette, I think it’s important that you know that I am an unapologetic Sofia Coppola fan.  I love every film that she’s made and I look forward to her upcoming remake of The Beguiled.  At the same time, I can also understand why some people feel differently.  Sofia Coppola’s films are not for everyone.  For one thing, almost all of her films deal with rich people.  The existential angst of the wealthy and/or famous is not a topic that’s going to fascinate everyone.  When you watch a Sofia Coppola film, you never forget that you’re watching a film that’s been directed by someone who largely grew up in the spotlight and who knows what it’s like to have money.  An ennui born out of having everything and yet still feeling empty permeates almost every scene that Sofia Coppola has ever directed.  (If you have to ask what ennui is, you’ve never experienced it.)  Many viewers look at Sofia Coppola’s filmography and they ask themselves, “Why should we care about all these materialistic people?”

However, while Sofia Coppola may not know what’s it’s like to be poor (or even middle class for that matter), she does understand what it’s like to feel lonely.  Her filmography could just as easily be called “the cinema of isolation.”  It doesn’t matter how much money you may have or how famous you may or may not be, loneliness is a universal condition.  A typical Sofia Coppola protagonist is someone who has everything and yet still cannot connect with the rest of the world.  More often that not, they turn to excessive consumption in order to fill the void in their life.  To me, the ultimate Sofia Coppola image is not, regardless of how much I may love them, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.  Instead, it’s Stephen Dorff (playing a far less likable version of Bill Murray’s Translation character) standing alone in the desert at the end of Somewhere.

Marie Antoinette, which was Sofia’s follow-up to Lost in Translation, is technically a historical biopic, though it makes little effort to be historical or accurately biographical.  Kirsten Dunst plays Marie Antoinette, the final queen of France before the French Revolution.  It was Marie Antoinette was accused of dismissing starving French peasants by announcing, “Let them eat cake!”  (For the record, it’s probable that Marie Antoinette never said that.  It’s certainly never heard in Coppola’s film.)

Marie Antoinette opens with the title character arriving in France at the age of 14.  She’s an Austrian princess who has been sent to marry the future king of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman).  From the minute we meet her, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as being a pawn.  Her mother arranges the marriage as a way to seal an alliance with France.  The king of France (played by Rip Torn) expects Marie Antoinette to get produce an heir to the throne as quickly as possible.  Meanwhile, her new husband is an infantile and immature fool who doesn’t even know how to make love.  Marie Antoinette finds herself isolated in a strange country, expected to be all things to all people.

And so, Marie Antoinette does what I always do whenever I’m feeling unsure of myself.  She hangs out with her girlfriends.  She throws expensive parties.  She gambles.  She flirts.  She shops.  She has fun, regardless of whether it’s considered to be proper royal behavior or not.  Occasionally, she is warned that she is losing popularity with the French people but she’s not concerned.  Why should she be?  She doesn’t know anything about the French people.  All she knows about is the life that she was born into.  She didn’t choose to be born in to wealth and power but, since she was, why shouldn’t she have a good time?

The French Revolution doesn’t occur until near the end of Marie Antoinette and when it does happen, it happens quickly.  And yet, the shadow of the revolution hangs over the entire film.  We watch the knowledge that neither Marie Antoinette nor her husband possess: eventually, they are both going to be executed.  And knowing that, it’s hard not to cheer Marie Antionette on.  She may be destined for a tragic end but at least she’s having a little fun before destiny catches up with her.

Kirsten Dunst makes no attempt to come across as being French or Austrian but then again, neither does anyone else in the film.  After all, this is a movie where Rip Torn plays the King of France without once trying to disguise his famous Texas accent.  Coppola isn’t necessarily going for historical accuracy.  Instead, in this film, Marie Antoinette serves as a stand-in for countless modern celebrities.  In the end, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as not being much different from Paris Hilton or Kardashian.  Meanwhile, the people who eventually show up outside the palace, carrying torches and shouting threats, are the same as the viewers who loudly condemn reality television while obsessively watching every episode of it.

Coppola’s stylized direction results in a film that is both thought-provoking and gorgeous to look at and which is also features several deliberate anachronisms.  (In many ways, Marie Antoinette blatantly ridicules the very idea that history can be accurately recreated.)  Perhaps because it was following up the beloved Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette has never got as much praise as it deserves but I think it’s a film that is totally deserving of a reevaluation.

(Sidenote: Fans of Italian horror should keep an eye out for Asia Argento, who has a small but very important supporting role.)

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Demons 2 (dir by Lamberto Bava)


demons-2-2

1985’s Demons was such a success that it only took one year for it to be followed by a sequel.  Like the first film, Demons 2 was directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento.  (Once again, Argento is also credited with co-writing the script.)  Bobby Rhodes appears in both films, though he plays two different characters.  And again, it’s the same basic plot: watching a movie leads to an outbreak of a plague that transforms a group of people into a pack of murderous demons.

And yet, despite all the similarities, Demons 2 is a hundred times better than the first Demons.  And I say that as someone who really likes the first film.  There simply is no comparison between the two.  If Demons was a nonstop thrill ride, Demons 2 is a filmed nightmare.

Demons 2 takes place in a high-rise apartment building.  In the style of any good disaster movie, the first part of the film introduces us to the tenants and gives us just enough information so that we’ll be able to remember who is who.

For instance, in one apartment, we have George (David Knight) and his pregnant wife, Hannah (Nancy Brilli).  In another, we have a woman (Anita Bartolucci) who obsessively dotes on her dog.  Down the hall, ten year-old Ingrid Haller (Asia Argento, making her film debut) watches TV while her parents eat dinner.  In the basement, a gym instructor named Hank (Bobby Rhodes) shouts encouragement at a group of body builders.

And finally, in another apartment, a teenage girl named Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) sits in her bedroom and cries.  It’s her birthday but her parents are out for the night.  Meanwhile, her friends are gathered in the living room and wondering if Sally is ever going to come out of her room.  Sally is upset because her boyfriend didn’t come to the party.  Poor Sally.

In her sadness, Sally has turned on her TV but she’s barely watching.  And what’s on TV that night?  A horror movie, one that tells the same story as the one we saw in the first Demons and the one that we will eventually see again in Demons 2 (and also in Michele Soavi’s The Church).  A group of teenagers come across a dead demon.  When one of them accidentally gets splashed by the demon’s blood, he is transformed into a demon himself…

(If this sound familiar, that’s perhaps because the same idea was later used in 28 Days Later, a film that owns a not insignificant debt to both of the Demons films and Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City.)

Suddenly, the movie demon stops and seems to be staring straight at the unseen camera.  He starts to approach it, until his twisted face fills the entire TV screen…

Suddenly, the demon bursts out of the TV and infects Sally.  Sally finally leaves her bedroom and proceeds to attack everyone at her party, spreading the infection.  Meanwhile, acidic demon bile eats through the floor and drips into the apartments below, infecting everyone that it touches…

demons-2

And I do mean everyone!  If there’s anything that truly separates the Demons films from so many other horror films, it’s that literally anyone can be infected.  It doesn’t matter if you’re likable or if you’re funny or if you’re played by a familiar actor.  If you get infected, you’re going to turn into a demon.  Usually, when you watch a horror film, you can sure that children and pregnant women will automatically be safe.  Demons 2 wastes little time in letting you know that this isn’t the case as far as this film is concerned.

Demons was pretty much distinguished by nonstop action.  In Demons 2, director Lamberto Bava devoted more time to atmosphere and characterization.  As a result, Demons 2 features characters that we actually care about and  some truly haunting images, everything from Sally’s friends moving, in slow motion, down a dark hallway to Asia Argento watching as her parents are literally ripped into pieces in front of her.  If Demons was defined by its relentless heavy metal soundtrack, Demons 2 is defined by the ambient but haunting new wave music that plays through the majority of the film.  Demons was an action-horror film.  Demons 2 is a nightmare from which you cannot awake.

If you have the opportunity, I would say to watch both of the Demons films.  But if you have to choose only one to watch, go with Demons 2.

Horror Scenes I Love: Asia Argento Gets Hit By The Stendhal Syndrome


Since I just shared 4 shots from 4 Dario Argento films, I figured why not take this week’s horror scene that I love from an Argento film as well?

Argento’s 1995 film The Stendhal Syndrome has always gotten mixed review but I think it’s actually one of the better of his post-Tenebrae films.  In the scene below, police detective Anna Manni (Asia Argento) wanders through Florence and finds herself overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place.  Eventually, while looking at Bruegel’s Landscape With The Fall of Icarus, Anna is so overwhelmed that she faints and has a fantasy where she swims through the ocean and kisses a fish.  Of course, as this happens, she is watched by serial killer Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann).

I have to admit that one reason why I like this scene (and this film) is because I had a similar experience when, the summer after graduating high school, I visited Florence.  No, I didn’t faint but I definitely found myself wandering around in a bit of a daze.  Standing in Florence is like finding yourself in the middle of living painting.  It’s an amazing experience and one that I recommend to everyone.

Film Review: Misunderstood (dir by Asia Argento)


Misunderstood_(2014_film)

I’ve always loved Asia Argento because, as both an actress and a public personality, she is tough, hard, and sexy all at the same time.  She’s not one of those actresses who feels the need to hide who she really is.  Watching her on-screen, you realize that she doesn’t give a fuck whether you like her or not.  Instead, she’s going to do whatever it is that she wants to do and, if you’re lucky, you might get to watch.  Some hold her responsible for the erratic output of Dario Argento’s post-Opera career but those people far too often fail to take into account that Asia, with her naturally off-center presence, has often been the most interesting thing about Dario’s later films. (Say what you will about Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, and Mother of Tears, they’re all better with Asia than without her.)  Asia Argento is one of those talented actresses who could never have played Ophelia because no one would ever believe that she would so easily drown.  Instead, she’d simply pull herself out of the water and then go kick Hamlet’s ass for being so indecisive.

If that paragraph sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same paragraph that I used to start my review of Asia Argento’s directorial debut, Scarlet Diva.  I have no shame about recycling that paragraph for my review of Asia Argento’s third directorial effort, Misunderstood, largely because Misunderstood is, in many ways, a companion piece to Scarlet Diva.  Whereas Scarlet Diva was based on Asia Argento’s life as an international film star, Misunderstood is based on her famously dysfunctional childhood.  And, much as your enjoyment of Scarlet Diva was dependent upon how much you already knew about Asia’s life, how you feel about Misunderstood depends on whether you know that nine year-old Aria (Giulia Salerno) will eventually grow up to be Asia Argento.

Aria is the daughter of celebrities.  Her father (Gabriel Garko) is a famous actor who appears to be incapable of maintaining any sort of emotional attachment with his family.  Her mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg, made up to look like Asia’s real-life mother, the actress Daria Nicolodi) is an unstable and emotional musician who bitterly feels that she’s sacrificed her career for both her husband and her children.  She spends her time dramatically playing her piano and angrily arguing with the neighbors.

When we first meet Garko and Gainsbourg, they’re shouting at each other while eating dinner, a scene that should be painfully familiar to far too many of us.  It’s not surprising when Gainsbourg and Garko tell their three daughters that they are getting a divorce.  One of the daughters — who is obsessed with the color pink — goes to live with Garko.  Another daughter stays with Gainsbourg.  As for Aria, she finds herself constantly shuttling back and forth between her parents.  The film’s dominant image becomes one of Aria walking down a street, often between homes, while carrying a black cat with her.  (Her cat, by the way, is named Dac.  My black cat is named Doc.  That’s just one of the many things that made me relate to poor Aria.)  Aria is desperate to be loved but she’s almost too desperate.  Even her best friend eventually says that Aria is too clingy.

Misunderstood has been getting mixed reviews here in the States but anyone who has ever had to watch her parents split up will be able to relate to Misunderstood.  As I said, it helps to know that Aria will eventually grow up to be Asia Argento because, otherwise, parts of the film would be almost unbearably sad.  For those unfamiliar with Argento’s previous directorial efforts (Scarlet Diva and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things)it may take a while to get used to her exaggerated directorial style but, ultimately, it must be remembered that the film is not meant to be a literal representation of reality.  Instead, we are seeing things through the prism of the adult Asia’s memories of her dysfunctional childhood.  Asia Argento also proves herself to be a great director of actors and Charlotte Gainsbourg gives an amazing performance as an all-too human monster.

Reading some of the reviews of this film, all I can say is that many critics have misunderstood Misunderstood.  Is Aria always likable?  Of course not.  Does the film occasionally attempt to alienate the audience?  Yes, it does.  However, that’s always been the appeal of Asia Argento.  Largely as a result of the childhood that inspired Misunderstood, she never feels the need to pander as a filmmaker.  For those willing to give the film a chance, Misunderstood is an insightful look at what it’s like to grow up unwanted.  Asia is proving herself to be just as memorable a director as her famous father at his considerable best.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Daria Nicolodi Edition!


Daria Nicolodi in Tenebra (1982, dir by Dario Argento)

Daria Nicolodi in Tenebrae (1982, dir by Dario Argento)

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

I have to admit that I’m breaking the rules here.  When Arleigh first suggested 4 Shots From 4 Films as a feature here on Through the Shattered Lens, I promised myself that I would pace myself and, at most, only contribute once on a weekly basis.

But then, after Arleigh posted the first entry in 4 Shots From 4 Films, I realized that it was Lucio Fulci’s birthday and, being the lover of Italian horror that I am, there was no way that I could pass up the chance to post a Fulci-themed 4 Shots From 4 Films.  And now, less than 24 hours later, I find myself posting yet another 4 Shots From 4 Films.

But can you blame me?  It’s Daria Nicolodi’s birthday and, if you love Italian horror, then you know just how important an actress Nicolodi is.  Not only did Daria Nicolodi serve as the inspiration for what is arguably Dario Argento’s best film, Suspiria, but she also appeared in Mario Bava’s classic Shock.  The combination of her undeniable talent and her outspoken and eccentric style — there is no such thing as a boring Daria Nicolodi interview — has made Daria Nicolodi into an icon of horror cinema.

And, on top of all that, she’s Asia Argento’s mother!

So, indulge me because, as a lover of Italian horror, there is no way that I could pass up a chance to present our readers with 4 Shots From 4 Films: The Special Daria Nicolodi Edition!

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

Inferno (1980, dir by Dario Argento)

Inferno (1980, dir by Dario Argento)

Delirium (1987, directed by Lamberto Bava)

Delirium (1987, directed by Lamberto Bava)

 

 

Embracing the Melodrama #52: The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (dir by Asia Argento)


600full-the-heart-is-deceitful-above-all-things-poster

Based on a controversial collection of short stories by JT LeRoy (which was a pen name used by the writer Laura Albert), The Heart is Deceitful About All Things covers three years in the life of Jeremiah and his dug addict mother Sarah.  Over the course of the film, Jeremiah is played by thee different actors — Jimmy Bennett at age 7 and, at age 10, Cole and Dylan Sprouse.  Sarah is fearlessly played by the film’s director, Asia Argento.

Partially in response to her extremely religious upbringing, Sarah spends most of her time drinking, smoking meth, and moving from man to man, the majority of whom treat both her and her son badly.  It looks like things are going to get better when Sarah marries the seemingly stable Emerson (Jeremy Renner) but, when Sarah suddenly abandons both her husband and her son so that she can go to Atlantic City, Emerson rapes Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is sent to live with his grandfather (Peter Fonda) and grandmother (Ornella Muti) who, it turns out, are members of an ultra-religious cult.  Thought Jeremiah initially manages to bond with his cousin Buddy (Michael Pitt), life in the cult proves to be no safer than life with his mother.  After three years with the cult, Jeremiah is standing on a street corner and yelling that everyone is going to go to Hell unless they repent when he is suddenly approached by Sarah.  Sarah grabs him and carries him over to a nearby truck that is being driven by her current boyfriend.

Sarah now supports herself as a dancer and as a prostitute.  When she realizes that the presence of her son is making men reluctant to pay for her, Sarah grows out Jeremiah’s hair and starts to dress him in her old clothes so that she can pass him off as being her younger sister.

Eventually, Sarah and Jeremiah find themselves living with amiable but slow-witted meth addict Jackson (Marilyn Manson) and that’s when things really start to head down hill…

In some ways, The Heart Is Deceitful About All Things is a difficult film to recommend because it is so extremely dark and depressing.  Much as in her debut film, Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento refuses to compromise on the bleakness of her vision.  She set out to make a realistic portrait of what it’s like to live on the fringes of American society and that’s exactly what she did.  If the end result is depressing…well, the fringes aren’t exactly a happy place.  In the end, you’re actually happy that the film is full of familiar actors like Argento, Michael Pitt, Peter Fonda, and Winona Ryder because you need that reminder that, ultimately, you’re watching a movie and that everyone was able to go home after they finished filming.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things may not be easy to enjoy but it is a film that, as a result of its uncompromising vision,  ultimately wins your respect.

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Embracing the Melodrama #49: Scarlet Diva (dir by Asia Argento)


Scarlet Diva

I’ve always loved Asia Argento because, as both an actress and a public personality, she is tough, hard, and sexy all at the same time.  She’s not one of those actresses who feels the need to hide who she really is.  Watching her on-screen, you realize that she doesn’t give a fuck whether you like her or not.  Instead, she’s going to do whatever it is that she wants to do and, if you’re lucky, you might get to watch.  Some hold her responsible for the erratic output of Dario Argento’s post-Opera career but those people far too often fail to take into account that Asia, with her naturally off-center presence, has often been the most interesting thing about Dario’s later films. (Say what you will about Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, and Mother of Tears, they’re all better with Asia than without her.)  Asia Argento is one of those talented actresses who could never have played Ophelia because no one would ever believe that she would so easily drown.  Instead, she’d simply pull herself out of the water and then go kick Hamlet’s ass for being so indecisive.

In the year 2000, Asia Argento made her directorial debut with the underrated Scarlet Diva.  In Scarlet Diva, Asia plays Anna Batista, a 24 year-old Italian actress who, having won both acclaim and awards in Italy, is now being tempted with offers to come out to Hollywood.  Over the course of this frequently (and intentionally) disjointed film, Anna is forced to deal with the dark reality of being young, rich, and famous.  (Yeah, yeah, I know you’re rolling your eyes but just calm down…)  After being told that she’ll costar with De Niro, she finds herself playing Cleopatra in a hilariously bad movie that does not co-star Robert De Niro.  She meets a sleazy producer (Joe Coleman) who invites her to his hotel room and then promptly undresses and demands that she “earn” a part in his next film.  Anna runs from him and the naked producer chases after her with the camera focused (in close-up) on his hairy ass all the way.  While dealing with all of that, Anna also find time to visit her best friend in Paris, just to discover that she has spent the last two days bound and gagged in bed.  She also buys drugs underneath a highway overpass and suffers from frequent dream sequences and flashbacks to growing up with her mentally unstable mother (played by Asia’s real-life mother, Daria Nicolodi).

And yet, during all of this, Anna can still find happiness because she thinks that she’s in love with rock star Kirk Vaines (Jean Sheperd, playing a role that was written for Vincent Gallo).  When Anna discovers that she’s pregnant, she decides not to have her usual abortion and instead to keep the baby.  However, when Kirk reacts to Anna’s news with indifference, it leads to one of the longest (and most emotionally raw) running sequences that I have ever seen, as the pregnant Anna flees down the streets of Rome…

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Just to judge from the movies that various actor have made about the trials of being a star, fame is a special sort of Hell, the type that is dominated with surreal dream sequences and frequent claustrophobia.  That’s certainly true of Scarlet Diva, which is perhaps one of the most self-indulgent films ever made.  And yet, it’s that very self-indulgence that makes Scarlet Diva so much more watchable and, in its own way, likable than most debut films from actors-turned-directors.  For all the drama and pain that Anna goes through, Asia Argento seems to understand just how narcissistic this film truly is and, in a few scenes, it’s evident that she’s gently mocking her own “poor me” self-indulgence.

Ultimately, Asia seems to be saying that Anna (and probably, at the time she made this film, Asia herself, since she has said that this film is partially autobiographical) is her own worse enemy.  Hence, this film — which was made with an admirable lack of concern about going too far or for being TMI — is a massively cathartic work for all of the rest of us who are also occasionally our own worst enemy.

Yes, Scarlet Diva may be a self-indulgent, narcissistic film.  It’s also a very brave and honest film that deserves a lot more praise and attention than it has received.

Scarlet Diva

Quickie Review: The Church aka La Chiesa (dir. by Michele Soavi)


The Italian horror cinema scene has always been dominated by such names as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Their films became Italy’s contribution to horror cinema and one cannot find a fan of the genre who don’t hold these three gentlemen in high regard. Other names of the Italian horror scene were not as well-known beyond the most hardcore horror fans and some just don’t deserve to be in the same company as the previously mentioned trio. One filmmaker who should be part of their company is one Michele Soavi. He rose through the ranks as an actor at first before moving on to becoming assistant directors for mentors such as Joe D’Amato and Dario Argento. The latter would become a major influence in Soavi’s work and would help produce some of his films. One of those Argento would end up producing for Soavi is the 1989 supernatural horror film, The Church (known in Italy as La Chiesa).

The Church wasn’t one of Soavi’s best films, but it was still one of the better horror films to come out of Italy during the waning years of the 80’s when Italian horror began a slow decline. Starring a very young Asia Argento (hard to believe that a career which began with reports of nepotism would turn out to be a successful one in and out of Italy) and an Italian-American actor named Tomas Arana (people would know him best as the ambitious Quintus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator), the film starts off with a cohort of Teutonic Knights who destroy and kill a town suspected of witchcraft. The bodies of all killed soon get dumped into a mass grave and sealed with a huge metal cross and prayers to keep the evil that was done from ever coming out.

The beginning does have a somewhat ambiguous tone to it as we the audience don’t know if the villagers were indeed evil. Soavi definitely leaves that up in the air until the final third of the film kicks in and most of the horror scenes appear to satisfy gore fans. The knights destroying the village was well-staged and executed with some cool kill-scenes and effects.

It’s the middle reel where the film slowed down to the point that could lose the more casual horror fan. We get the usual non-believer researcer (Arana) who stumbles upon the ancient cross sealing the mass grave beneath the church that had been built over it down the centuries. Even this researcher and another knows that they should leave it alone, but being the scientists one of them proceeds to unseal the find with the reasoning that pursuit of knowledge should triumph over supersitition. Thus, the church becomes the scene of demonic possessions of various individuals. First, the initial researcher who opens unseals the cross then the parents of Asia Argento’s character before moving on to churchgoers who become trapped in the church after some demonic force seals all exits.

The rest of the film once that church seals itself is one person either getting killed by those possessed by the demons escaping from the sealed grave or someone getting possessed. This third act actually has a touch of Fulci’s nightmarish-style and less of Argento’s more dream-like quality. There’s a beautiful scene of Tomas Aranas’ character made-up to be some verdigrised-bronze angel statue, wings and all, embracing a very naked young woman that looked straight out of a Luis Royo painting. Another scene where regular Soavi actor Barbara Cupisti was shown in sexual congress with a demonic being that should give more than a few people nightmares despite being framed and shot in a beautiful manner.

The final nightmare scene of beauty which pushes The Church over into Fulci territory is when a mass of naked, muddied bodies of all those possessed entwine and writhe to form the likeness of a demon’s head. This sequence alone was worth watching through the much slower middle section of this film and Soavi’s eye for staging and lighting the scene made it look like something out of the pages of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

One could say that The Church just didn’t live up to the usual quality one expected out of a Michele Soavi film after a he made the excellent giallo-slasher film Stage Fright just two years prior. This second full-lenght feature by Soavi showed him still honing his talent as a filmmaker which would finally culminate five years later in one of the best Italian horror films and one of the best films in the zombie subgenre with his Dellamorte Dellamore. Plus, even when he’s not on top of his craft like with The Church it is still worth a watch and better than the stuff released by his contemporaries like Bruno Mattei.