on 12 December 2003
One of Argento's most dizzying works but also one of his most enjoyable. This being Argento's ninth giallo, he knew all the conventions inside out, so he plays with them mercilessly, using flashbacks, jump cuts, juxtapositions in a captivating way. The opening when the temperamental diva walks of the opera, is typical of the high style of the piece. The ending is, admittedly, a bit of a disappointment, but it's sweetened somewhat by the sly reference to Phenomena. Brutal, beautiful and daring, this is Argento at his best.
on 24 December 2007
Dario Argento movies aren't noted for their plausibility or realism, and this entry is no exception. Critics and fans have complained endlessly about Argento's earlier work (Suspiria and Deep Red) being classic examples of the horror genre, whilst his latter efforts (Trauma, The Card Player and Phantom of the Opera) sadly lacking in any department. This 1987 production has the unfortunate position of being sandwiched in between the 'old' Dario and the 'new'. The story has a young opera singer taking over the leading role in a 1980s 'style over content' rendition of MACBETH. Unknown to her, she has attracted the attention of a crazed fan who first kidnaps her, then forces her to stand and watch as he butchers and murders her friends, lover, etc. in front of her very eyes (in a clever trick - the killer cellotapes needles under her eyelids to keep her watching the graphic carnage). The film goes on like this for about an hour, (a) the killer shows up (b) he kidnaps the singer and (c) a murder scene (accompanied by a terrible heavy rock soundtrack which destroys any tension the film had built up). Argento uses Point of View camerawork, which at first is diverting, but at around the 20 minute mark you become lost and wish he would have held back on this device.
Argento's 'inventive murder' sequences which have trademarked the directors work are evident in OPERA. The show-stopper has to be the bullet through the key hole scene, which is truly stunning. Infact, all of the film is technically excellent and inventive, it's just a shame the screenplay isn't very involving and the UK 'Cockney style' dubbing never helps the viewer connect to the characters in the movie. The film isn't disturbing or particularly that gory, and one wishes that the cast would act a little more naturally, ie: When the singer witnesses the graphic stabbing of her boyfriend, she hardly seems to be bothered about the whole event! (I don't know, perhaps the translation was wasted on me after all!)
The DVD however, is a triumph (referring to the US Blue Underground release). The transfer is superb and the movie looks like it was just made, and not 20 years old. The trailers are interesting to see how the marketing differs in the Orion released US version to the original italian ad and an informative documentary holds things together. All in all, a great disc for Argento fans, but if you are a casual horror fan looking for cheap thrills - this movie ain't it.
on 15 November 2005
Opera (also known as Terror At The Opera) was a notoriously difficult shoot for Argento, with a number of personal tragedies and professional setbacks befalling the film before it had even reached the production stage. It would also be something of a monument in his career; a return to form in the sense of it being the follow up to his much-criticised supernatural horror/thriller Phenomena, and his return to the giallo-style of filmmaking that he had earlier perfected with masterworks like Deep Red and Tenebrae. It was the third Argento film that I saw after later films, The Stendhal Syndrome and Trauma, neither of which left too much of an impression on me. Opera, on the other hand, was much more impressive, as it is the film of his later career that seems more indebted to the style and freedom of his earlier, more-groundbreaking works.
Though I've yet to see Sleepless and The Card Player, Opera remains, perhaps, the last truly definitive Argento thriller... with the usual giallo trademarks employed to a dizzying effect in a number of vicious, though no less elaborate, dramatic set-pieces. Admittedly, like much of Argento's work, Opera can occasionally seem like something of a throwaway... a lurid thriller, populated by lightweight, clichéd characters, over-the-top performances, and too much style-over-substance. However, one scratch beneath the surface reveals something deeper, with Argento once again playing with the self-reflexive notion of films about filmmaking; the idea of seeing and the audience's relationship to the perspective of his characters. Like Tenebrae, his boldest experiment in self-reference, Opera frames it's scenes of orchestrated gore around the production of Verdi's Mac Beth, allowing Argento to comment on his own persona and attitude to his film through the character of Marco, Mac Beth's strained director, trying to do his best whilst murder and chaos is breaking out all around him.
There's also the reliance on Argento trademarks... the gloved hands; the drifting point of view shots; the close-ups on the eye; and the lead protagonist who ends up knowing more about the killer than they initially suspected. However, unlike previous Argento giallos, Opera doesn't focus on a male outsider turned amateur sleuth (Bird With The Crystal Plumage, TheCat O' Nine Tails, Deep Red, Tenebrae), but instead, takes it's cue from Suspiria and Inferno, with a female lead setting something of a template for his later films, the abovementioned Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome. In terms of enjoyment, Opera certainly rivals Argento's debut picture, Bird With The Crystal Plumage, with that continuing combination of "who-dunnit" detective work (with clues for the audience and the characters), and brutal stalk-and-slash set-pieces, the best of which involves Argento's former muse Daria Nicolodi, a peephole, a shadowy figure, and a gun.
The cinematography is excellent, as ever; falling somewhere between the lurid stylisation of Suspiria's Technicolor abstraction, and the more low-key recreation of reality in Tenebrae, with the camera always moving, establishing a mood of paranoia and unease, or adapting to various character's points-of-view to swoop or linger around the grand, majestic opera house. The colours are vivid, with the interplay between the dark-shadows at the edges of the frame and the deep reds of the opera curtains (or the buckets of blood) that surprisingly pre-figure the use of colour-coding in Kieslowski's final masterpiece, Three Colours Red. Like all of Argento's best work, Opera is violence at it's most shamefully beautiful... with the director composing his scenes of murder and abuse with a painterly eye and an exquisite attention to cinematic detail.
As usual, the acting isn't Oscar worthy, but, at the same time, it's hardly as abysmal as it has been in some of the recent crop of U.S. horror films clogging up our cinemas. The best version, for me, is the original Italian language release, since the dubbing is less obvious and most of the actors seem to calibrate better with their voices. There's some nice turns from lead actress Cristina Marsillach and supporting players Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, and the aforementioned Daria Nicolodi (in what I believe to be her last Argento role), which lend an air of prestige and performance believability to the film... though as ever, there's no doubt that it's Argento and his technicians who are really the stars of the film. Although it doesn't quite top the levels of violence seen in the earlier Tenebrae (which is still, perhaps, his most controversial work), Opera manages to stake it's claim as another vicious and violent symphony of blood, with the killer here, at one point, taking the time to stab a victim in the neck... with Argento cutting to a lovely close-up showing the knife sawing away at the jaw-bone.
Another repeated method of torture involves having the heroin tied to a chair, with a strip of needles taped under her eyes, so that every time she tries to blink away from the terror, the needles dig into her eyeballs (unbelievably, Argento actually toyed with using this as an "in-cinema" marketing tool!!!), which is one of his absolute, most vicious concoctions. Unsurprisingly, Opera was heavily censored (like much of Argento's work) at the time of it's release... particularly in the UK. However, now with censorship becoming more relaxed, we can see a film like this (and Tenebrae, and Suspiria... but sadly not Deep Red and Bird With the Crystal Plumage, both of which are still cut) as the director originally intended. Opera looks great here in a re-mastered, uncut, widescreen print, with the format really making the most of Argento's bold use of cinematography.
The ending has often garnered mixed reviews from most Argento fans, perhaps because it's a bit drawn out... However, while I'll admit it's nowhere near as intelligent or satisfying as the endings of his earlier films, it's still no reason to down-grade Opera, which is, regardless of the slight flaws in the finale-act, an entertaining, thrilling and mostly gripping giallo... whilst it's also, perhaps, the best place to start for those new to Argento's work.
Not to be confused with Argento's lacklustre Phantom of the Opera, this movie is a feast for the Dario Argento fan, with some of his most elaborate set pieces.
Argento is not for all; he's much too sadistically violent for many viewers, and too "arty" for many fans of mainstream horror. Indeed, many dismiss his films as badly dubbed, badly acted, pretentious and excessive. They have a point, but Terror at the Opera (or, to give it its less lurid title, simply "Opera") is also visually stunning, with some moments (not all of them overtly horrific) that bury themselves in the viewer's imagination.
People will always compare other Argento films with Suspiria and Profundo Rosso (Deep Red). Argento has made some desperately disappointing films which will not bear that comparison, but Opera is actually very close to that standard, and its central idea - a woman being forced to watch others die - is classic Argento.
No other director does quite what Argento does at his best, and this is amongst his best.
on 11 January 2009
REVIEWED VERSION: 2011 Blue Underground US DVD
Aka "Terror at the Opera" is one of my favorite Dario Argento movies and certainly the one that is most viscerally stunning. I'm not a fan of his works in general, so many die-hard Argento fans will probably disagree with me.
The story centers on Betty (Cristina Marsillach), a newcomer opera singer and most of the movie takes place inside the opera house during a production of Verdi's Macbeth. Excerpts of the opera can be heard throughout the movie. It was shot inside a real opera house in Parma, Italy.
Written and directed by Dario Argento, his unique style is present in every minute of OPERA, for instance the view from a raven's eye perspective or the movie's most memorable killing, the peephole shot. The only real problem I have (not just with OPERA), it doesn't know when to end (the final scene in the Alps I mean).
The acting is overall good. Argento said he'd had trouble with lead actress Cristina Marsillach, fortunately this is not noticable when you watch the movie. Actors Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini as well as Daria Nicolodi and Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni give very good performances also.
The gore effects are, despite the low budget, incredibly well done and look realistic, even today. The violence is shockingly intense and has a very heavy impact: The main character is bound and has needles placed under her eyes to force her to watch the killer execute his victims in the most bloody way.
Feature running time: 107 mins. (uncut international version)
Rating: Not rated (MPAA) / 18 (BBFC)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Audio: English 6.1 DTS, English 5.1, English 2.0
Extras: Trailers, Featurette, Music video, Argento bio