Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present. The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders. Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat. He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.
Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery. Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny. Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary. Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.
This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras. We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve. Add to this 6 art cards. The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in). The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score. An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.
I went through a phase of collecting the movies of revered Italian horror director Dario Argento in the early-to-mid 2000s, and had nearly every movie he’d made on DVD, whilst always trying to seek out the most complete, uncut versions of his art. With the advent of Blu-ray I sort of began collecting again, to a less obsessive extent but have been happy to see some of his movies get deluxe releases in recent times. Therefore we come to one of his more bizarre and most mistreated works.
Just prior to finding world-wide fame in children’s fantasy ‘Labyrinth’ this stars a young Jennifer Connelly as a student who comes to stay at an elite school for girls in Switzerland and quickly befriends her rebellious roommate. However at the same time there have been reports of a series of brutal murders involving female students and with the help of a paraplegic insect expert played by genre legend Donald Pleasence and Jennifer’s own ability to communicate with insects, an investigation ensues to unmask a killer.
This blends two of Argento’s favourite styles; dark-fantasy and murder mystery and is very similar in tone to his acclaimed classic ‘Suspiria’, sort of a spiritual successor you might say. However unlike that movie this lacks the excessive style and garish colour pallet (despite a few visual flourishes here and there). We also get some woefully amateurish performances, even from Pleasance who sports a dodgy accent throughout (is he attempting Scottish?) and dialogue is delivered for the most part personality-free. The plot is also a bit messy and not very well written with some faintly ridiculous moments (Jennifer declaring to a bunch of bullying schoolgirls “I love you all” and Pleasence happily sending Jennifer to track down a killer). However if you can look past such shortcomings you still get an entertaining and suitably-violent ride with several great set-pieces and excellent use of a pulse pounding score by not only Argento regulars ‘Goblin’ but also ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Motorhead’. Far from Argento’s best, but with a b-movie schlocky vibe to it all, there’s still fun to be had and remains streets ahead of the director’s more recent work. There’s also a chimp brandishing a straight razor – so what’s not to love?
The Blu-ray, another impressive job from Arrow Video comes with three cuts of the movie, the International Version at 110mins, the slightly longer Italian Version at 116mins and the heavily cut Creepers U.S. release at 83mins. My preference is the International Version even if it has some long drawn out moments of throwaway dialogue that could easily have been trimmed. The Italian Version is pretty similar but has inserts of Italian-only scenes complete with subtitles but is great for completionists. I haven’t watched the Creepers cut but hear it’s not good at all. The new 4k restoration of the image is very good however. Clean and mostly pretty detailed. The soundtrack (in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo) is also very pleasing even if dialogue sounded a bit low (especially noticeable when the music kicks in) and surrounds are given some love with the various music inserts. Extras are plentiful with a feature length documentary consisting of new interviews with Dario Argento, actors Daria Nicolodi and Fiore Argento (no sign of Connelly sadly) and with production crew and effects artists. We also get a brilliant commentary on the Italian Version by author Troy Howarth. Rounding out the release is a detailed 60 page booklet.
With the advent of this blog’s ten year anniversary, I thought it’d be fun to compile a Top Ten based on the end-of-year Top Tens for all ten years of this blog (2007-2016). So below you’ll find what I consider to be the best movies I’ve seen that were released in the last ten years or thereabouts. I’ve taken into consideration that certain movies I originally loved have aged better than others and that I’ve also grown to appreciate certain movies more since I originally saw them.
Has it really been that long? Today marks this blog’s 10th anniversary since my very first post. I may not be all that popular compared to other blogs and I suppose my blog’s subjects are not that unique to grab a big audience, and well I don’t pay for advertisers to help boost my views either. Yet I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy writing this bog, sharing my opinions and what’s going on in my life. I hope whomever takes the time to read anything I post, takes something away from it, either interest for a movie they had been wanting to see, discovering a movie they may not have previously been aware of, or just enjoy my writing style and what I have to say.
A big thank you goes out to regular readers and subscribers for your continued support. I may be a small-time blogger but I’m dedicated and I appreciate every comment and view and like that I receive. Keep coming back and I’ll keep posting. Don’t forget you can also find me on Twitter and Facebook(<<< click)which you can also find on the panel to your right >>>
Although I enjoyed the original 1991 anime of the same name by Mamoru Oshii, I always felt like something was missing from it, that it wasn’t the complete package. So the prospect of a live action remake was for once, intriguing. Scarlett Johansson plays a cybernetic agent who’s only human part is her brain and fragmented memories of who she used to be. Other than that she’s a highly skilled killing machine, who’s agency ‘Section 9’ is killed in when a cyber terrorist begins killing various members of a robotics organization by using innocent people and hacking into their minds.
This took a little getting into. Translating a cyber-punk future Tokyo-like aesthetic to live action takes no end of CGI and visual flair, and initially it’s overwhelming, all weird holograms in the streets and bizarre costumes and gadgets. Yet once the story kicks in I really began to get absorbed in this world. Johansson is aided well by several recognisable faces, especially Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) as a scientist and veteran Japanese actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royal). Johansson herself is decent as a character trying to figure out what it’s like to be human and adjust to her robotic body, and she conveys the not-quite-human personality eerily well. The movie is also filled with several action sequences, although these are a little hit and miss – full of cool looking imagery for the trailer or poster, but fail to flow as well as say, The Matrix – there’s a little too much style and choppy editing to fully make them ‘zing’. Also the suit that Johansson’s character wears to go invisible … I’m still undecided if it looked sexy or silly (the original movie’s was much more skin-like and could easily be seen as naked). Such a look was probably avoided however to maintain that 12A/PG-13 rating (another issue that impacts the action).
Thankfully where it all leads is much more fleshed out and satisfying than the original movie and has more closure for the lead character. So for the always difficult task of translating anime to a mainstream audience, director Rupert Sanders has done a commendable if somewhat rough around the edges job, that’s still worth your time if you like your sci-fi with style cranked up to 11.