Tenebrae


Viewed – 14 April 2015  Blu-ray

When writer Peter Neal arrives in Rome on a routine promotion trip for his latest novel, he becomes the target of a deranged killer who starts murdering beautiful women in the name of his book Tenebrae.   Soon the lines between reality and fiction blur as Neal and the local detectives set out to catch the culprit and prevent more bloodshed.

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Now going into a film by acclaimed, controversial Italian director Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria), I will give a word of warning.  He’s not one for casting great actors in his movies and is much more focused on the technical aspects and the twisting narrative.  This 1982 entry is no exception as actor Anthony Franciosa and much of his supporting cast, including John Saxon and Argento’s then-wife Dario Nicolodi are amateurish at best, delivering lines in a particularly wooden and unconvincing manor.  Thankfully then, Argento distracts us with a series of gloriously staged murder set-pieces, arguably some of the best in his career (the stalk and slash of the lesbians especially) and aided by a hypnotic, creepy score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, this remains very much an Argento movie.  The look may be simplistic and the acting poor, but for style and a keep-you-guessing plot that throws in a few surprises, including an unforgettable ending … fans of early eighties slasher movies and of the Italian maestro’s work should definitely check this out.

The Blu-ray is packed with extras in this Arrow Video re-release, boasting two commentaries, several interviews and featurettes, a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned art and an in-depth booklet.  Add to this a decent treatment for the film itself.  The picture whilst nicely detailed, is a tad over-saturated (although the garish reds suit the tone of the story) and the sound although only in 2.0 Stereo, is uncompressed so the score sounds particularly good.  Overall, a decent effort for one of Argento’s most notorious movies.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Mother of Tears


Viewed – 25 April 2008  DVD

Not many films are as long awaited as this.  In the late seventies and early eighties, Italian shock maestro Dario Argento proposed a trilogy of grizzly supernatural horror films, collaborating with his then-wife Daria Nicolodi to grand effect with the first two parts: the legendary ‘Suspiria’ and then to a lesser extent ‘Inferno’.  Yet until now that trilogy was never concluded, and many fans and horror aficionados thought the final film may never be made.

Yet now we have the final film before us, and the simplest thing I can say about it is that it delivers as a gory, stylish horror film; betters to some extent the slow-burning wierdness of Inferno, but fails to touch the brilliance of Suspiria.  Although that much was to be expected after such a hiatus, and the fact that the master himself Argento has not exactly been on form for some years.  In some respect I think he’s made this just to deliver on a promise.

Frequent collaborator Asia Argento plays a museum historian who stumbles upon an ancient urn and unknowingly releases the spirit of the Mother Of Tears, a beautiful but sadistic witch who brings on the second age of witches in modern day Rome, and violence fills the streets as people turn on each other and women congregate in the catacombs for the impending uprising.

Although the budget fails to realise the chaos this film tries to portray, the atmosphere and style create a foreboding and chilling experience choc-full of gore & nudity.  The murder set-pieces the director has become famous for are unflinching but lack some of the ‘beauty’ of his earlier work, and the film throughout doesn’t quite have the magical look of the others in the trilogy.  Saying that Argento’s eye for camera work is on great form, and Claudio Simonetti’s score is very effective.  On the acting front, as ever with a Dario Argento film, the dialogue is limp and the performances wooden (even Asia, who always seems amateurish in her Father’s films despite proving a credible actress in anything else).  Yet in the end this proves very entertaining, eerie and effective, even if it’s illustrious heritage singles it out as a bit of a disappointment.

Taken on its own merit though, this is a decent horror movie with plenty of personality.

Verdict:  3 /5

Further reading:

Michael Mackenzie’s much more detailed opinion over at DVD Times

Dario Argento – a reflection


With moderate hype surrounding his latest opus, The Mother of Tears…I thought it would be a good idea to post my thoughts on his back catalogue of films, especially the ones I have collected on DVD.  The other year you see, I went about collecting the best versions of his films on DVD, and have built up an admirable (in my opinion) set of DVD releases, and here are my thoughts on them… 

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Dario Argento with daughter Asia

OPERA

My favourite Argento film (aka Terror at the Opera in the UK), that I own in the limited edition Anchor Bay version comprising the the film, completely uncut and in a brilliant widescreen transfer and THX optimized 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS sound.  We also get a 36 minute documentary, trailers and music video.  Add to this the soundtrack on a seperate CD – and I am proud to have this in my collection.  I think the only thing missing from it is a commentary.  This film itself is an explicitly-violent, masochistic take on the Phantom of the Opera story, and has some of Argento’s best set-pieces, of which I won’t spoil for you here.  With a great soundtrack by Goblin (an Argento regular) and a great lead performance by Cristina Marsillach, the only downside to this great film is a rather wierd ending that seems tacked-on and a little out of flavour to the rest of the film.

SLEEPLESS

One of Argento’s more recent efforts seems to me like a best-of, throwing together some of his greatest trademarks such as the black-gloved killer, eerie soundtrack by Goblin and grand, bloody murder set pieces.  For me the opening train sequence is the best the film has to offer, but its classic who dunnit plot is gripping and has a great performance from Max Von Sydow as a retired Cop investigating a series of murders seemingly linked to a past, unsolved case.  This is classic Argento, and so far the last really good film he has made.

The DVD release I own is the UK M.I.A. release that boasts a second DVD with the really rather excellent An Eye For Horror doumentary hosted by UK film critic Mark Kermode.  The film itself is presented in a quality widescreen transfer and is in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, that is all the better for Goblin’s superb theme playing thoughout.

SUSPIRIA

This is probably his most famous film, and an essential part of any horror-fans collection.  Unlike most of his other films, this is more fantastical and mysterious and isn’t really a murder-mystery.  Set in a high-class ballet academy, this spooky film follows the story of a young student who gets mixed up in a series of murders and disappearances and uncovers a witches coven as a result.  This very distinctive film in Argento’s career forms the first part of his Three Mothers Trilogy, which also encompasses Inferno and soon The Mother Of Tears, and is a stunning assault on the senses that may not be to everyone’s taste.

The U.S. Anchor Bay release is the best you can find, and the one I own is a 3 disk set with a stunning wide-screen transfer in 5.1 Dolby Digital EX, 6.1 DTS aswell as an option for Italian and French soundtracks.  We also have poster galleries, a 25th Anniversary documentary and the original soundtrack on a seperate CD.  If u can find this still online anywhere – u have to own it.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

Argento’s 1970 debut, inspired by the novel The Screaming Mimi, is a classic who-dunnit with many trademarks that shaped the rest of his career.  With a stand-out lead performance from Tony Musante this stylish thriller is still one of Argento’s finest films.  With a great soundtrack from seasoned master Ennio Morricone, this formed the first part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which also includes Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, and was heavilly influenced by many similar films of the era, especially those of his mentor Mario Bava.  Not as grizzly as much of his later releases, this still has some shocking moments and probably his finest script.

The DVD I own from U.S. label Blue Underground is probably the best to go for, presented on 2 disks with a commentary by Argento biographer Alan Jones and UK film critic Kim Newman that is well worth listening to.  The film is presented in a very-good (if slightly grainy) widescreen transfer and has 5.1 Dolby Digital and 6.1 DTS sound.  Add to this interviews with Argento, cinematographer Vittorio Sotraro,  composer Ennio Morricone and actress Eva Renzi  – and this is the kind of treatment a classic film such as this deserves.

 

Other films from Dario Argento I heartilly recommend, but thus far don’t all have the deserved DVD treatment as those mentioned, include:

Tenebrae – still boasting some of his best camera-work and set-piece murders, and a great performance from Anthony Franciosa. We also get a rare audio commentary by Argento alongside composers Claudio Simonetti of Goblin.  I own the UK Anchor Bay release, that unlike the U.S. equivalent boasts a quality anamorphic widescreen transfer (which if u know anything about wide screen TVs, is the one to go for).

Deep Red – the only versions we have are the censored UK release from Platinum Pictures or an uncut Anchor Bay / Blue Underground release (that I own) which jumps from dubbed English to Italian at an alarmingly frequent rate, although does have a full Italian soundtrack to compensate.  The film itself is another who-dunnit but has some fantstic murders and a great soundtrack, again from Goblin – and is also one of Argento’s most acclaimed films after Suspiria.

I am also looking forward to the Blue Underground release of The Stendhal Syndrome, one of Argento’s most misunderstood films, with daughter Asia Argento as a rookie cop investigating a serial rapist.  This is not pleasant viewing but does have some great moments and stylish direction throughout.

Update:  See my review of the recent Blue Undergrund release HERE

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