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.

boris-karloff-1939-the-man-they-could-not-hang

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

The Films of Dario Argento: Inferno


I’ve been using this October’s horrorthon as an excuse to rewatch and review the films of Dario Argento!  Today we take a look at one of Argento’s best and most underrated films, 1980’s Inferno!

inferno

“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.”

— Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff) in Inferno

When 20th Century Fox released Dario Argento’s Suspiria in 1977, they weren’t expecting this Italian horror film to be a huge box office success.  That it was caught them totally off guard.  Though the studio executives may not have understood Italian horror, they did know that Suspiria made them a lot of money and they definitely wanted to make more of it.

As for Dario Argento, he followed up Suspiria by producing George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  He also supervised the film’s European cut.  (In Europe, Dawn of the Dead was known as Zombi, which explains why Lucio Fulci’s fake sequel was called Zombi 2.)  When Dawn of the Dead, like Suspiria before it, proved to be an unexpected box office hit, it probably seemed as if the Argento name was guaranteed money in the bank.

Hence, when Argento started production on a semi-sequel to Suspiria, 20th Century Fox agreed to co-finance.  Though the majority of the film was shot on a sound stage in Rome, Argento was able to come to New York to do some location work, hence making this Argento’s first “American” film.  The name of the movie was Inferno.

Sadly, Inferno proved to be a troubled production.  Shortly after production began, Argento became seriously ill with hepatitis and reportedly, he had to direct some scenes while lying on his back while other sequences were done by the second unit.

As well, Argento had a strained relationship with 20th Century Fox.  Argento wanted James Woods to star in Inferno but, when it turned out that Woods was tied up with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, the studio insisted that Argento cast an actor named Leigh McCloskey instead.  As a performer, James Woods is nervy, unpredictable, and compulsively watchable.  Leigh McCloskey was none of those things.

Worst of all, as a result of a sudden management change at 20th Century Fox, Inferno was abandoned by its own distributor.  The new studio executives didn’t know what to make of Inferno and, in America, the film only received an extremely limited release.  The few reviews that the film received were largely negative.  (Like most works of horror, Argento’s films are rarely critically appreciated when first released.)  It’s only been over the past decade that Inferno has started to receive the exposure and acclaim that it deserves.

Argento has said that he dislikes Inferno, largely because watching it remind him of a very difficult time in his life.  That’s unfortunate, because Inferno is one of his best films.

The Mother of Tears (Ania Pieroni) in Inferno

The Mother of Tears (Ania Pieroni) in Inferno

“Have you ever heard of the Three Sisters?”

“You mean those black singers?”

— Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) and Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) discuss mythology in Inferno

As I stated previously, Inferno is a semi-sequel to Suspiria.  Whereas Suspiria dealt with an ancient witch known as the Mother of Sighs, Inferno deals with her younger sister, the Mother of Darkness.  The Mother of Sighs lives underneath a German dance academy.  The Mother of Darkness lives underneath a New York apartment building.  The Mother of Sighs was a witch.  The Mother of Darkness is an alchemist.

Beyond that and the fact that Alida Valli is in both films (though apparently playing different characters), there aren’t many references to Suspiria in Inferno.  The tone of Inferno is very different from the tone of Suspiria.  If Suspiria was perhaps Argento’s most straight-forward films, Inferno is one of his most twisted.  It makes sense, of course.  Suspiria is about magic but Inferno is about science.  Suspiria casts a very Earthy spell while Inferno often feels like a scientific equation that cannot quite be solved.

The film deals with Mark Elliott (Leigh McCloskey), an American music student in Rome.  After he gets a disturbing letter from his sister, Rose (Irene Miracle), a poet who lives alone in New York City, Mark heads back to the U.S. to check in on her.  (That’s right — Mark and Rose are two more of Argento’s artistic protagonists.)  However, when Mark arrives, he discovers that his sister is missing and it’s obvious that strange inhabitants of the building are trying to cover something up.

inferno2

“May I ask a strange question?”

“How strange?”

— Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) and Mark Elliot (Leigh McCloskey) in Inferno

Even more than with some of Argento’s other films, the plot of Inferno isn’t particularly important.  One reason why it’s easy to get annoyed with Mark is because he spends the entire film demanding to know where his sister is, despite the fact that those of us in the audience already know that she’s dead.  Argento showed us her being murdered shortly before Mark’s arrival.  Argento makes sure that we know but he never bothers to reveal the truth to Mark and one of the more curious aspects of the film is that Mark never discovers that his sister is dead.  (By the end of the film, one assumes that he’s finally figured it out but even then, we don’t know for sure.)  The fact of the matter is that Mark and his search for his sister are never really that important.  Argento doesn’t particularly seem to care about Mark and he never really gives the viewer any reason to care either.  (Of course, it doesn’t help that Mark is rather stiffly played by Leigh McCloskey.)

inf

Instead, Argento approaches Inferno as a collection of increasingly surreal set pieces.  Much as in Lucio Fuci’s Beyond trilogy, narrative logic is less important than creating a dream-like atmosphere.  Often time, it’s left to the viewer to decide how everything fits together.

There are so many odd scenes that it’s hard to pick a favorite or to know where to even begin.  Daria Nicolodi shows up as Elise Stallone Van Adler, a neurotic, pill-popping aristocrat who briefly helps Mark look for his sister.  Eventually, she’s attacked by thousands of cats before being stabbed to death by one of Argento’s trademark black-gloved killers.  After Elise’s death, her greedy butler makes plans to steal her money.  Did the butler kill Elise?   We’re never quite sure.  Does the butler work for The Mother of Darkness or is he just being influenced by her evil aura?  Again, we’re never sure.  (By that same token, when the butler eventually turns up with eyes literally hanging out of their sockets, we’re never quite sure how he ended up in that condition.  And yet, somehow, it makes a strange sort of sense that he would.)

inferno-cats

Cats also feature into perhaps the film’s most famous scene.  When the crippled and bitter book seller Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff) attempts to drown a bag of feral cars in a Central Park pond, he is suddenly attacked by a pack of a carnivorous rats.  A hot dog vendor hears Kazanian’s cries for help and rushes over.  At first, the vendor appears to be a good Samaritan but suddenly, he’s holding a knife and stabbing Kazanian to death.  Why did the rats attack in the first place?  Is the hot dog vendor (who only appears in that one scene) a servant of the Mother of Darkness or is he just some random crazy person?  And, in the end, does it matter?  At times, Inferno seems to suggest that the real world is so insane that the Mother of Darkness is almost unnecessary.

inferno-151

Meanwhile, in Rome, Mark sits in class and reads a letter from his sister.  When he looks up, he immediately sees that a beautiful young woman is looking straight at him.  She’s petting a cat and staring at him with a piercing stare.  (She is played Ania Pieroni, who later achieved a certain cult immortality by appearing as the enigmatic housekeeper in Lucio Fulci’s The House By The Cemetery.)  The film later suggests that the woman is the third mother, the Mother of Tears, but why would she be in the classroom?  Why would she be staring at Mark?

When Mark’s girlfriend, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), does some research in a library, she finds a copy of a book about The Three Mothers and is promptly attacked by a mysterious figure.  When she flees back to her apartment, she meets Carlo (Gabriele Lavia, who was also in Deep Red) who agrees to stay with her until Mark arrives.  Is Carlo sincere or is he evil?  Argento does eventually answer that question but he certainly keeps you guessing until he does.

inferno-3

Finally, I have to mention the best  and most haunting scene in the film.  When Rose searches a cellar for a clue that she believes will lead her to the Mother of Darkness, she discovers a hole that leads to a flooded ballroom.  When Rose drops her keys into the hole, she plunges into water and swims through the room.  (The first time I saw this scene, I immediately said, “Don’t do that!  You’re going to ruin your clothes!”)  As Rose discovers, not only keys get lost in that flooded ballroom.  There’s a dead body as well, one which floats into the scene from out of nowhere and then seems to be intent on following Rose through the entire room.  It’s a sequence that is both beautiful and nightmarish.  (It certainly does nothing to help me with my fear of drowning.)

In the end, Inferno is a dream of dark and disturbing things.  Does the plot always make sense?  Not necessarily.  But that plot’s not important.  The film’s surreal imagery and atmosphere of doom and paranoia casts a hypnotic spell over the viewer.  Inferno is perhaps as close to a filmed nightmare as you’ll ever see.

inferno-daria

“She writes poetry.”

“A pastime especially suited for women.”

— Mark and the Nurse (Veronica Lazar) in Inferno 

Finally, no review of Inferno would be complete without discussing some of the people who worked behind-the-scenes.

Along with acting in the film, Daria Nicolodi also worked on the script.  As is so often the case with Daria and Dario’s collaborations, there are conflicting reports of just how involved Nicolodi was with the final script.  Daria has said that she would have demanded co-writing credit, if not for the fact that it had previously been such an ordeal to get credited for Suspiria.  Others have claimed that, while Nicolodi offered up some ideas, the final script was almost all Argento’s creation.

(Comparing the films that Argento made with Nicolodi to the ones that he made without her leads me to side with Nicolodi.)

Working on the film as a production assistant was William Lustig, the famed exploitation film producer and director who would later become the CEO of Blue Underground.  Reportedly, during filming, Lustig attempted to convince Nicolodi to star in a film that he was going to direct.  Nicolodi’s co-star would have been legendary character actor Joe Spinell.  Disgusted by the film’s script, Nicolodi refused the role and, as a result, Caroline Munro ended up playing the stalked fashion photographer in Lustig’s controversial Maniac.

Future director Michele Soavi worked on several of Argento’s films.  I’ve always been under the impression that Soavi was a production assistant on Inferno but, when I rewatched the film, he wasn’t listed in the credits.  Inferno is also not among his credits on the imdb.  I guess the idea that one of my favorite Italian horror directors worked on one of my favorite Italian horror films was just wishful thinking on my part.

However, you know who is listed in the credits?  Lamberto Bava!  Bava, who would later direct the Argento-produced Demons, worked as an assistant director on Inferno.  That leads us to perhaps the most famous member of Inferno’s crew…

Mario Bava!

Inferno was the final film for the father of Italian horror.  As so often happens, there are conflicting reports of just how involved Bava was with the production.  It is know that he worked on the special effects and that he directed some second unit work while Argento was bed ridden with hepatitis.  Irene Miracle has said that almost all of her scenes were directed by Mario Bava and that she rarely saw Argento on set.

Mario Bava is often erroneously described as being Dario Argento’s mentor.  That’s certainly what I tended to assume until I read Tim Lucas’s All The Colors of the Dark, the definitive biography on Mario Bava.  Bava was certainly an influence and it’s certainly true that Argento appears to have had a better relationship with him than he did with Lucio Fulci.  But the idea that a lot of Italian horror fans have — that Mario Bava was hanging out around the set of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and offering Argento fatherly advice — does not appear to be at all true.  (It’s a nice image, though.)  With all that in mind, it’s still feels somewhat appropriate that Bava’s final work was done on one of the best (if most underappreciated) Italian horror films of all time.

streamscreaminferno2

“I do not know what price I shall have to pay for breaking what we alchemists call Silentium, the life experiences of our colleagues should warn us not to upset laymen by imposing our knowledge upon them.”

— The Three Mothers by E. Varelli, as quoted in Dario Argento’s Inferno

The Films of Dario Argento: Suspiria


I’m using this October’s horrorthon as an excuse to take rewatch and review all of Dario Argento’s films!  Today, we take a look at one of Argento’s best known and most popular films, 1977’s Suspiria!

suspiriaitaly

I’m going to start things out by admitting that this is an intimidating review to write.  I once had a discussion with fellow TSL contributor Leonard Wilson about why it’s always so much easier to write about films that we hate than it is to write about films that we love.  That’s certainly something that I’m thinking about right now, as I try to think of where to begin with Suspiria.

It’s not just that I like Suspiria.  Anyone who has ever visited this site before knows how much I appreciate Italian horror in general and Argento in specific.

No, it’s that I absolutely love this film.  I was sixteen the first time that I saw it and I’ve loved it ever since.  To me, Suspiria is not just one of the best horror films ever made.  It is truly one of the best films period.  And I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that.  Suspiria is a classic in every sense of the word.

Compared to almost every other film that Argento has made, the plot of Suspiria is remarkably straight forward.  Suzy Banyon, an American ballet student, enrolls at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Frieburg, Germany.  From the minute she arrives, she gets the feeling that there is something strange happening behind the garish walls of the school and she’s right.  While the film may be best known for Argento’s directorial flourishes and Goblin’s classic score, the story itself unfolds with the simplicity of a fairy tale.

The film even opens with a narrator who informs us, “Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.”  It’s the film’s equivalent of starting things off with, “Once upon a time…”  Having let us know that we’re about to watch a fairy tale and therefore having served his purpose, the narrator isn’t heard for the rest of the film.

Instead, we watch as Suzy first arrives in Germany:

As played by Jessica Harper, Suzy Banyon is yet another neurotic but brave Argento protagonist who has found herself in a strange land.  One of the things that I love about Suspiria is that Suzy is such an ordinary and relatable character.  She’s not “the chosen one.”  She’s not a witch or an aspiring witch or the daughter of a witch or the reincarnation of a witch.  She’s not desperately looking for a husband or dealing with a family tragedy or any of that other BS that we have to deal with in today’s cinema..  She doesn’t have any dark secrets or untapped magical powers.  She’s not seeking vengeance.  She has no trendy agenda.  She’s not the protagonist of the latest YA novel.  Instead, she’s a dancer.  She is someone who is attempting to pursue something that she is good at and that she loves.  In short, she is the viewer.  Suzy Banyon is us and we are Suzy Banyon.  Like us, she’s sometimes scared.  Like us, she’s sometimes brave.  And, like us, it’s just not in her nature to leave a mystery unsolved.

suspiria-008

It’s obvious, from the moment that Suzy arrives, that there’s something strange happening at the school.  We, of course, already know that it involves witchcraft.  This is largely because we’ve been listening to the film’s score and we’ve heard Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti chanting “WITCH!  WITCH!” as Suzy’s taxi drives through the woods and arrives at the school.  (The journey through the woods adds to Suspiria‘s fairy tale atmosphere.)

However, for Suzy, her initial concern is that everyone at the school appears to be trying to cheat her out of her money.  Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) has arranged for Suzy to stay in an apartment on which she’ll have to pay rent.  When Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, a force of pure nature in this film) finds out that Suzy’s bags have yet to arrive and Suzy doesn’t have any ballet shoes, she tells her to borrow a pair from another student.  The student immediately offers to sell them to Suzy and is visibly deflated when Suzy says that she’s just needs to borrow them for a day.

And, of course, there’s Olga (Barbara Magnolfi), a student who thinks that names that start with S are the names of snakes.

(I have to admit that, as a former dance student, that scene brought back a lot of memories.)

But it’s not just money that Suzy has to worry about.  There are also maggots that fall from the ceiling, the result of a shipment of spoiled meat.  There’s the strange and labored breathing that Suzy occasionally hears behind the walls.  There’s the fact that her new roommate, Sarah (Stefania Casini), is convinced that the teachers are hiding a secret.  Sarah’s therapist, Dr. Frank Mandel (Udo Kier, playing an oddly respectable role) thinks that Sarah is suffering from delusions but is she?

And, of course, there’s all the mysterious deaths.

For instance, Daniel, a blind piano player, has his throat ripped by his seeing eye dog.  Interestingly enough, Daniel is played by Flavio Bucci who, in The Night Train Murders, played a murderer.  One of his Night Train victims was played by Irene Miracle, who would later have an important role in Suspiria‘s semi-sequel, Inferno.

Another former student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axen) is brutally stabbed to death and, after her body falls through a skylight, the shattered glass kills her best friend as well.  Of course, the killer wears gloves.  It wouldn’t be an Argento film otherwise.  (Pat’s murder is one of Suspiria‘s best known set pieces, one that is so brutal and violent that it retains its power to shock even after you’ve seen it a few times.  For the most part, if someone is going to stop watching or walk out on Suspiria, it’s going to happen during Pat’s murder.)

suspiria-2

And through it all, you have Goblin playing on the soundtrack.  The film’s score is so important and so relentless that, in its way, it becomes just as important a character as Suzy, Sarah, Madame Blanc, Miss Tanner, or even Udo Kier!  The score is relentless and, depending on how loudly you play the film, almost deafening.  I saw an interview with Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti where he said that he wanted the score to be “almost annoying” in its relentlessness.  The score overpowers you, in much the same way that the witches of Suspiria overpower their victims.

Suspiria was co-written by Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento’s girlfriend and the mother of Asia Argento.  Nicolodi has long claimed that Suspiria is based on something that happened to her grandmother.  Argento, meanwhile, has said that nothing in the film was based on fact.  Reportedly, Nicolodi wanted to play the role of Suzy and was so offended with Argento instead offered her the role of Sarah that she went off and made Mario Bava’s Shock instead.

(Suspiria is often cited as the start of the long and acrimonious process that would eventually end with Argento and Nicolodi ending their relationship 8 years later.)

suspiria

Personally, I think that Nicolodi would have been wasted in the role of Sarah but, at the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jessica Harper as Suzy Banyon.  For that matter, it’s also impossible to imagine anyone other than Dario Argento directing Suspiria.  Suspiria is Argento’s masterpiece, taking all of his frequent and familiar motifs (bloody murders, artistic protagonists, the constantly roaming camera, the use of primary colors) and pushing them to their natural extreme.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Argento telling Suspiria’s story.

Dario Argento on the set of Suspiria

Dario Argento on the set of Suspiria

And yet, that is exactly what is about to happen.  For years, of course, I’ve heard rumors of a remake and, perhaps naively, I’ve dismissed them.  I took some comfort in the fact that even Dario Argento himself came out and forcefully denounced the idea of anyone remaking his masterpiece.  Remake Suspiria? I would think to myself, Surely no one is that stupid.

Well, it’s happening and if that doesn’t outrage you, perhaps you should leave right now.  Reportedly, the remake is set to be released in 2017.  It’ll be directed by Luca Guadagnino and it’ll star Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton.  Guadagnino says that his remake will be all about the “power of motherhood.”

Whatever, Luca.  Suspiria doesn’t need you and it doesn’t need to be remade.

Suspiria is perfect just the way it is.

suspiria-330

The Films of Dario Argento: Deep Red


I’ve been using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all (well, almost all) of Dario Argento’s films!  Today, I take a look at one of Argento’s best — 1975’s Deep Red!

profondo_rosso_poster

After the successful release of Four Flies on Grey Velvet in 1971, Dario Argento announced his retirement from the giallo genre.  His next film was 1973’s The Five Days of Milan, a historical comedy-drama with a political subtext.  The Five Days of Milan was a huge box office flop in Italy and, to the best of my knowledge, it was never even released in the United States.  To date, it is Argento’s most obscure film and one that is almost impossible to see.  In fact, it’s so obscure that, in two of my previous posts, I accidentally called the film The Four Days of Milan and apparently, no one noticed.

Forgotten Argento

Forgotten Argento

After the failure of Five Days, Argento returned to the giallo genre.  And while he was undoubtedly stunned by the failure of his previous film, Argento ended up directing one of the greatest Italian films of all time.  If The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet were both great giallo films, Deep Red is a great film period.  It is Argento at his over the top best.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that there are many different versions of Deep Red floating around.  For instance, it was released in the United States under the title The Hatchet Murders and with 26 minutes of footage cut from the film.  For this review, I watched the original 126-minute Italian version.  I’ve always preferred the original to the shorter version that was released in America.  Oddly enough, Argento has said that he prefers the shorter version.

hatchetmurders

Deep Red opens with a blast of music that both announces Argento’s return to the giallo genre and also provides some hints to his future as a filmmaker.  Whereas his previous films had all featured an excellent but rather serious score by Ennio Morricone, Deep Red was the first Argento film to be scored by Goblin.  There’s a gothic, almost operatic playfulness to Goblin’s work on the film.  (If the Phantom of the Opera had ended up working in Hollywood and writing film scores, the end result would have sounded a lot like Goblin.)  Goblin’s deafening score works as the perfect sonic companion to Argento’s constantly roving camera and vibrantly colorful images.  (The blood spilled in Deep Red is the reddest blood imaginable.)

deepred6511

Deep Red‘s protagonist is Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) and, like so many Argento protagonists, he’s both an artist and a man without a definite home.  At one point, he explains that he was born in England, grew up in America, and now lives in Italy.  He’s a jazz pianist but he supports himself by giving music lessons.  In a scene excised from the American cut, Marcus tells his students that, while classical music should be respected and appreciated, it’s also necessary to be willing to embrace art that some critics would dismiss as being “trashy.”  Marcus, of course, is talking about jazz but he could just as easily be Dario Argento, defending his decision to return to the giallo genre.

deepred4k3

While Marcus plays piano and tries to help his alcoholic friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a German psychic named Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril) is giving a lecture when she suddenly announces that someone in the audience is a murderer.  Later, Helga is brutally murdered by a gloved, hatchet-wielding attacker.

deep-red-hatchet

(Helga’s murder scene is always difficult for me to watch, even if Argento doesn’t — as Kim Newman pointed out in a review written for Monthly Film Bulletin — linger over the carnage in the way that certain other horror directors would have.  I have to admit that I also always find it interesting that Helga is played by the same actress who, that same year, would play the evil Lady On The Train in Aldo Lado’s The Night Train Murders.  Playing one of the Lady’s victims was Irene Miracle, who later co-starred in Argento’s Inferno.)

deepredscream1655_copy0_original

The only witness to Helga’s murder?  Marcus Daly, of course.  He’s standing out in the street, having just talked to Carlos, when he looks up and sees Helga being murdered in her apartment.  Marcus runs up to the apartment to help, arriving just too late.  And yet, Marcus is convinced that he saw something in the apartment that he can’t quite remember.  Deep Red is yet another Argento film that deals with not only the power of memory but the difficulties of perception.  Marcus knows that he saw something but what?

deep-red-12

Well, I’m not going to spoil it for you!  In this case, the mystery and its solution makes a bit more sense than the mysteries in Argento’s first three films.  Argento isn’t forced to resort to debunked science, like he did in both Cat o’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.  One reason why Deep Red is so compulsively watchable is because, for perhaps the first time, Argento plays fair with the mystery.  After you watch the film the first time, go back and rewatch and you’ll discover that all the clues were there.  You just had to know where to look.

dr

That said, the way that Argento tells the story is still far more important than the story itself.  Argento’s first three films may have been stylish but Deep Red finds Argento fully unleashed.   The camera never stops moving, the visuals are never less than stunning with the screen often bathed in red, and Goblin’s propulsive score ties it all together.  This is one of those films from which you can’t look away.  It captures you from first scene and continues to hold you through the gory conclusion.  Deep Red is an undeniably fun thrill ride and, even today, you can easily see why Argento frequently refers to it as being his personal favorite of his many films.  In fact, Argento even owns a store in Rome that is called Profondo Rosso.

03_42

But you know why I really love Deep Red?

It’s all because of the relationship between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi.  Daria Nicolodi plays Gianna Brezzi, a reporter who helps Marcus with his investigation.  After three films that featured women as either victims or killers, Gianna is the first truly strong and independent woman to show up in an Argento film.  I know that some people have criticized the scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi, feeling that they drag down the pace of the movie.  I could not disagree more.  Both Hemmings and Nicolodi give wonderful performances and their likable chemistry feels very real.

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

To me, that’s what sets Deep Red apart.  You care about Marcus and you care about Gianna.  Yes, the mystery is intriguing and the murder set pieces are brilliantly choreographed, and Deep Red is definitely Argento at his best.  But for me, the heart and soul of the film will always belong to the characters of Marcus and Gianna and the performers who brought them to life.

deep-red

deep-red-2

Deep Red was the start of Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s long and often contentious relationship.  (Dario and Daria’s daughter, Asia Argento, was born around the same time that Deep Red was released and has directed two films, Scarlet Diva and Misunderstood, that deal with her often chaotic childhood.)  This relationship would play out over the course of six films and, as much as I love those six films, it’s always a little sad to consider that, when watched in order, the provide a portrait of a doomed and dying romance, one that did not particularly end well.  (It is possibly not a coincidence that, with the exception of Deep Red and Tenebrae, Daria Nicolodi suffered some type of terrible death in every film she made with Argento.)

But, regardless of what may or may not have been going on behind the scenes, Deep Red remains a triumph for both its director and its stars.

david-daria-dario

Horror Film Review: Delirium (dir by Lamberto Bava)


Delirium1987

“I warn you, the hate of a woman can be very bad!” 

— Dialogue from Delirium (1987

The 1987 Italian film Delirium is an odd combination of soapy melodrama and giallo horror.  Someone is murdering models and taking pictures of their corpses.  Some other people are plotting to take over a magazine.  Obscene phone calls are received.  Recorded taunts are heard.  Oh, and one unlucky model is attacked by a swarm of bees.

That’s right — Delirium is the first and probably the only giallo to feature bees used as a deadly weapon.

Gioia (Serena Grande) is a former prostitute-turned-model-turned-men’s-magazine-publisher.  When we first meet Gioia, she’s sitting out at her pool and watching a photo shoot.  Her neighbor — a teenage boy who is confined to a wheel chair — calls her.

“You make my member hard with desire!” he tells her, “It wants to penetrate your flower and explode!”

Gioia calmly tells him to stop bothering her and then hangs up on him.  And really, this scene pretty much establishes everything that we need to know about Gioia.  She is a successful businesswoman who is just as comfortable dealing with the pervert next door as she is making high power deals.  You think Donald Trump’s ruthless?  Well, he’s got nothing on Gioia!

The other thing that you notice about Gioia is that she has an extremely voluptuous figure.  There’s not a single scene that isn’t shot to emphasize that fact and yet, the unapologetic pride that Gioia (and actress Serena Grande) took in her body was actually very empowering and one of the better aspects of the film.  Far too often, movies associate being busty with either being stupid or slutty and women are told that they have to hide their figure to be taken seriously.  (Traditionally, in horror films, it seems like the bigger an actress’s cup size, the less likely she is to survive until the end of the film.)  Speaking as someone who shares Gioia’s struggle, I was happy to see a woman with big boobs being portrayed as both an intelligent businesswoman and a tough, strong survivor.

Gioia has more than just the pervert next door to deal with.  There’s also the fact that her models are being murdered and she’s receiving photos of their dead bodies in the mail.  Who is killing Gioia’s employees?  Could it be a rival publisher (played by Capucine)?  Could it be Gioia’s neurotic assistant (played by Daria Nicolodi)?  Could it be George Eastman, who plays Gioia’s former lover?  Actually, it’s made pretty clear that it’s not George Eastman, which is odd when you consider how many movies have featured Eastman as a killer.  (Eastman and Grandi also co-starred in the infamous cannibal epic Anthropophagus, in which Eastman was the killer and Grandi was the center of one of the most infamous scenes in the history of Italian horror.)  Or could the killer by the pervert next door?

As is typical of films in the giallo genre, most of the murders are filmed from the killer’s point of view.  What’s interesting is that, when the killer looks at his victims, he literally sees them as twisted monsters.  It’s a neat little technique that leads to scenes like this:

Delirium-1

Delirium was directed by Lamberto Bava, who has never quite gotten the attention that he deserves.  Despite the fact that he directed such classics as the two Demons films and A Blade In the Dark, I’ve always felt that Lamberto is often overshadowed by the achievements of his father, Mario Bava.  However, Lamberto Bava’s films are almost always entertaining when taken on their own terms.  Delirium may not reach the heights of A Blade In The Dark or even Demons but it’s still an entertaining giallo.  It’s perhaps not the film to use to introduce a newcomer to the genre but, those of us who are familiar with giallo, Delirium is an enjoyably crazed offering.

fotodigioia7

Horror Film Review: Shock (Directed by Mario Bava)


shock

Though it seems that he’ll never get the credit that he truly deserves, Italian director Mario Bava was truly one of the most influential and important filmmakers of all time.  While he spent most of his long career making genre films, Bava was also an artist who put his own unique stamp on the horror film and whose influence continues to be felt in film today.  With Blood and Black Lace, Bava helped to launch the entire giallo genre and every slasher film that has ever been made owes a debt to Bava’s Bay of Blood.  While Bava’s final work as a director, 1977′s Shock, may not be as well-known as some of his other films, it’s one of his best works and it’s certainly worthy to be listed with the rest of Bava’s oeuvre.

SHOCK 195

Shock is a haunted house film.  Dora (played by the great Daria Nicolodi) is a mentally fragile woman who is still in the process of recovering emotionally from the suicide of her first husband.  When Dora marries Bruno, an apparently well-meaning airline pilot (but he’s played by John Steiner and anyone who loves Italian exploitation knows that it’s always dangerous when Steiner shows up as a sympathetic character), it briefly appears that Dora’s life might be getting back on the right track.

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

Except, of course, for the fact that, whenever Bruno leaves the house, Dora gets the feeling that she’s not alone.  Things fall off of shelves.  A razor blade suddenly shows up hidden between the keys of a piano.  Worst of all, her young son Marco (David Collin, Jr.) starts to act differently.  When he’s not sneaking into the master bedroom and using a kitchen knife to chop up Dora’s underwear, Marco is doing things like aggressively wrestling with his mother and cutting Bruno out of all the family pictures.

Shock 3

Dora quickly becomes convinced that the spirit of her first husband is both haunting the house and possessing young Marco.  Bruno, meanwhile, worries that Dora may be having another nervous breakdown.  As for Marco, he’s busy spying on Bruno and Dora while they’re sleeping and calling them dirty names under his breath…

shock-kidpissed

 

The plot of Shock will probably not shock anyone who has seen a haunted house film but one doesn’t really watch a Bava film for its plot.  With a Bava film, the story is never quite as important as the way that Bava tells it.  Working in the years before CGI, Bava was a master at creating special effects that were cheap, simple, and ultimately very effective and that’s what Bava does here.  In perhaps the film’s most effective (and famous) moment, Marco seems to transform into Carlo right before our eyes.  It’s pretty easy to figure out how Bava achieved the effect but that doesn’t make it any less of a frightening moment.

shock-hallway2

However, the main reason that this film works is because of Daria Nicolodi.  Bava was never known for being a great director of actors but, for this film, he managed to capture one of the best performances in the history of horror cinema.  In the role of Dora, Nicolodi is like an exposed nerve.  It’s impossible not to sympathize with her, even if you’re never quite sure just how sane or insane that she may actually be.  Watching Nicolodi’s performance in this film, it’s hard not to regret that, in the years to come, her talent would be so overshadowed by both her former boyfriend Dario Argento and their daughter, Asia.

Shock 2

By all accounts, Mario Bava was in failing health during the making of Shock (and perhaps that’s why he showed so much empathy for the similarly frail Dora) and he was aided, in the making of the film, by his son Lamberto Bava (who would later become a well-known horror director himself).  Sadly, Mario Bava died three years after completing Shock and the film has never quite gotten the amount of attention that it deserves.  Shock is a worthy end to a brilliant career.

Mario Bava