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Reviews

The Post
(2017)

I wanted to like it.
One of Spielbergs history films. A fascinating true story which should have been gripping instead, seemed very slow indeed.

Ready Player One
(2018)

...
... I can't remember the last time I stopped a film before it ended! I did not care the least where this film was going and bailed after 40 minutes...

Wara no tate
(2013)

Comment not a review
Enjoyed it! Straight forward (for a Miike film). It would be a great double bill with Clint Eastwood's 1977 flick The Gauntlet. It is very close in plot and theme with The Gauntlet, which I've found to be an overlooked title that, although a then contemporary cop drama it could have been a spaghetti western (not surprising considering Eastwood's origins with the spaghetti and it's links to samurai films). Becomes much darker as it becomes more personal than political in comparison to The Gauntlet; however I think that paints an adequate picture of Shield Of Straw. Check it out!

Rosewood Lane
(2011)

What the?
This is a comment not a review. Knowing Victor Salva's history, how on earth did Rose McGowan end up cast in it?!?

Saw
(2004)

A garage sale of ideas
'Saw' (2004), begins with the high concept of 'imagine finding yourself with your ankle chained to a wall. Someone else on the opposite side of the room is in the same predicament. Items scattered around the room include a pistol with one bullet, a tape recorder, and two hacksaws that won't cut through the stainless steel chains, but would do a reasonable job on your ankle.'

Adam and Lawrence are the two men who are chained, both opposites in temperament (but that will change), and each are given instructions via a cassette recorder on how to escape. Adam, a photographer, gets the message "...what do voyeurs see when they look in the mirror?" And that he must escape the room, while Lawrence is told to kill Adam before a certain time, or his family will die.

A flashback reveals Detectives Tapp and Sing unwisely go and investigate a warehouse without a warrant… and without telling anyone. Sing is fatally killed in a trip wire trap; a very 'Giallo' sequence. Tapp, now disgraced, obsessively wallpapers his apartment with news clippings in the style of Se7en (1995), whilst independently (a Dario Argento/Giallo concept) attempting to stop the mastermind behind the 'game.' Saw is padded with flashbacks to prop up the films running time to feature length.

A 'garage sale' of ideas from possibly every film the writers and director have ever seen; the grime and toilet of 'Trainspotting' (1996), 'Evil Dead Trap's' camera flash sequence, a man finds himself in a 'Suspiria' like room of barbed wire, the 'reverse bear trap' business fans often compare to Edgar Allan Poe who is 'Suspiria' director Dario Argento's favourite author, and this is where we first see the puppet 'Jigsaw' who is reminiscent of those in Argento's 'Four Flies On Grey Velvet' and 'Deep Red'. There is an autopsy on a drugged man, reminiscent of both Argento's 'Opera' and Takashi Miike's 'Audition', and 'Audition' obviously influences the climax. The multiple twist endings require a suspension of disbelief as it goes into 'look how clever am I' The Usual Suspects (1995) twists for their own sake, that you don't want to think about too much less the thread fall apart.

The Saw creators do give credit where credit is due; "A lot of people have said that Saw is similar in tone to Se7en… but the biggest influence wasn't a recent Hollywood thriller at all, it was the work of Dario Argento from the seventies," stated the director Wan.

With dreadful performances (and I feel the need to give special mention to Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, who if they didn't should have received 'Razzie' awards), Saw surpassed all expectations, becoming one of the most profitable horror films since 1996's Scream by Wes Craven.

I was never a fan of the jokey, not serious, just laughs and scares of the Scream school; but I am even less of a fan of 'torture porn,' of which this is hardly the worst, but it's the germ of the idea that started with Evil Dead Trap and lead to such dross as Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), and Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film (2010). Films that are not clever or original, not frightening, they assaulting the senses rather than seducing them.

Telmisseomding
(1999)

Trauma
In the second tier waterlogged Argento film Trauma (1993), a character stares at a print of John Everett Millais's 'Ophelia' (1852), and he seemingly stumbles over a clue. His vision is blurred from crying, and in a reflection in the glass he spies a stranger in black with a snake bracelet whom he mistakes for someone else. Young-hyun Chang uses this Argento sequence as his stepping off point to explore the blurred relationship between art and reality in 'Tell Me Something' (1999) aka Telmisseomding.

A cloud hangs over the head of Lieutenant Cho, and how he paid for his mothers' medical expenses. "Why would Park pay an 85 million won bill for a detective trying to arrest him?" is the question an internal affairs investigator asks Cho. Although the question of being guilty of taking a bribe is not resolved, he does say to a colleague (Detective Oh) in one scene "I still don't know if I did the right thing." To which Oh replies "I'm sure you didn't want to go like that, but a decision had to be made."

A key scene with seeing, watching, and different ways of being seen involves the questioning of Suyeon Chae. Through various devices such as telemonitors, and shots through internal windows, we see him looking at her, his partner looking at her, and her looking at a video, looking at pictures, and we know that she knows. She knows things.

In a nod to 'Giallo' pulp fiction origins, Miss Chae after being installed in the Lieutenants house, finds a note; 'Call me if you need anything. There's a gun in the drawer.' In a neat piece of montage, we are lulled by a waltz as the Lieutenant shows Miss Chae how to use the gun, which is quickly followed by a sequence of mayhem on a freeway as a truck runs over one of the seemingly ubiquitous black garbage bags of body parts that are being dumped around the city.

Miss Chae's friend Seungmin is a medical intern who seems like the most likely candidate from the get go; you know her cheery countenance is guilty. She wears white all the time, knows how to use a scalpel. Seungmin has long hair Chae short, Chae is artistic Seungmin scientific. And let's not forget this is influenced by Dario Argento who likes to have an alternate killer in the background.

An okay waterlogged thriller whose opening credits features a painting reminiscent of Rembrandt's 'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp' (1632), which sets up Argento's fresco concern. In the first visit to Miss Chae's house we see a postcard sized reproduction to John Everett Millais' 'Ophelia' (1852), used similarly in Argento's 'Trauma' and 'The Stendahl Syndrome'. Later, in Miss Chae's country family house, there is a painting depicting her as 'Ophelia' from the Millais, painted by her father.

Argento like mise-en-scene can be found in an economically executed sequence in a crowded elevator, and another garbage bag full of body parts. The exterior of Miss Chae's fathers house is reminiscent of the empty house in Deep Red. Instead of the children's scrawl on the wall, we get a montage of photos of Miss Chae and a reproduction of the Rembrandt picture. Ultimately though, the idea of scopophilia, being sexual pleasure from looking… gazing, is how Argento seeps through this work. Worth a look.

Black Swan
(2010)

Suspiria
Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' (2010) is a psychological thriller that recalls the finest of Italian 'Giallo.' It's rare for a film these days to actually be frightening, with most contemporary horror flicks aiming to be merely repulsive; assaulting the viewer instead of seducing them.

Like Dario Argento's 'Suspiria', 'Black Swan' is essentially a fairy-tale for adults. Argento's stylistic flourishes, both psychological and visual, permeate 'Black Swan'. The lethal eroticism of sharp-edged objects, a virginal heroine in the thrall of suppressed sexuality, story largely set in a theater, windows and mirrors as portals into the subconscious, lesbianism, secret societies, occultism.

Aronofsky has acknowledged there are similarities between the anime 'Perfect Blue' and his film 'Black Swan. However I think 'Black Swan' would make a great triple bill with 'Suspiria' and Argento's 'Opera'. Aronofsky was also attached the remake of 'Suspiria' for a few years.

Pâfekuto burû
(1997)

... first comes walking, then comes stalking…
First a manga comics illustrator, Satoshi Kon graduated to filmed anime with "Perfect Blue" (1997) about a pop singer stalked by a fan. 'Perfect Blue' takes its cues from the 'Giallo' of Dario Argento, whilst exploring 'otaku' (obsessive fan culture) and the condition of celebrity itself.

Mima is a squeaky-clean, desexualised innocent, inhabiting a world that is ready to swallow her up. A singer in the marginally popular bubblegum pop teen trio 'CHAM!,' as the film opens Mima and her partners are performing a free concert in a Tokyo park. During the course of the set, Mima announces that she's leaving the group to pursue an acting career. Some fans are displeased with her sudden career change, particularly a stalker named Me Mania. Mima's life quickly begins to spiral when someone starts trying to drive her out of her mind; or is she just cracking up all on her own?

Me-Mania, who has a mask like face reminiscent of Reggie Nalder from Argento's 'Bird With The Crystal Plumage,' is revealed to have been impersonating her on a web site / blog he created, called 'Mima's Room.' When Mima's friend and manager hooks her up to the Internet, she discovers the fanatical 'Mima's Room' site, and learns that someone knows her every waking move, leaving her paranoid and unsure of how to proceed. Things go from bad to worse when Mima's associates start dying in brutal ways.

The plot of 'Double Blind' (the TV soap she gets a small role in), begins to parallel Mima's troubles and her tenuous grip on reality, as the soap has her playing a girl who believes she is a pop idol. 'Perfect Blue' like 'Double Blind' has a narrative that cuts between reality and nightmares, as Mima becomes haunted by a figmentary alter-ego who starts to elbow into her identity. The delusional states of fan and idol are shown to be complementary as well as interdependent. A notorious acted out rape scene for the TV show 'Double Bind,' results in the narrative becoming particularly fragmented just like Mima. She is disorientated and on the edge of madness.

As an aside, Darren Aronofsky purchased the American rights to 'Perfect Blue' for $59,000, so he could film the brief "bath scene" with Jennifer Connelly in his own film 'Requiem for a Dream' (2000). The staged rape scene in 'Perfect Blue' also inspired a scene toward the end of Aronofsky's film in which a group of men circle around and cheer on two women using a double ended dildo.

Ôdishon
(1999)

only through your pain and suffering can you understand who you are
'Audition' opens with Ryoko Aoyama dying before they can take her to Intensive Care. Her son is too late in bringing fruit and flowers; he is but a boy.

Seven years later over dinner this son, Shigehiko, tells his dad Shigeharu Aoyama, he should remarry. At work his assistant reminds him she is considering getting married; there is a liaison hinted at in the past. Aoyama mentions to a TV producer friend Yoshikawa that he is thinking of getting remarried;

"…to a woman that will turn a man's head, bright, from a good family and obedient with old-fashioned discipline..."

Yoshikawa sets up a fake audition to find Aoyama a wife, and looking over applicants resumes one night Aoyama accidentally spills tea on one, Asami Yamasaki. She studied piano (he feels the applicant needs a skill) and classical ballet, she seems submissive in the resume as she states, "I don't know if I can be an actress. I probably won't be selected. But I was so moved by the story I had to apply…"

It is obvious he had decided on Asami even before the 'audition.' When he asks Yoshikawa what he thinks, he replies "She has an air of tension. She made me want to smoke." A very Japanese response, maybe. Yoshikawa ever thorough checks her references; the music producer she lists has gone missing.

When Aoyoma phones Asami, he plays the Hitchcock card by showing a bag about the size of a man in her room; therefore creating suspense by letting us in on a detail that Aoyama doesn't know. A shot of the couple after dinner is pure Hitchcock with its use of rear projection as they sit in a taxi.

Audition seems almost like a routine melodrama up until about the one and a quarter hour mark, where it bails on its narrative and begins to intertwine dream sequences with reality. The music becomes discordant, as Miike introduces an ex ballet instructor with no feet, the wife of the missing record producer is revealed to have been disemboweled, and they found three extra fingers, an extra ear and a tongue when they recovered the body… guess what the living body in the bag is missing? We are moving towards the part of the film dealing with, "only through your pain and suffering can you understand who you are."

Audition is quite separate in ambiance and pace to Miike's other work. He has a Fassbinder like work ethic in that you can never make too many films a year (the year of Audition Miike directed six films and one TV series!). Known mainly for the violence of its closing sequences, when Asami armed with steel wire seeks retribution for the men in her life who have systematically abused and oppressed her, Audition bears comparison both aesthetically and thematically to Dario Argento's The Stendahl Syndrome. With their long hair Asami and Anna are almost mirror images, connected both iconographically and thematically in their violent resistance to oppression.

The feet sequence inspired walkouts at the Rotterdam Film Festival; however the scenes of violence are very brief, with the longest shots being the glee on Asami's face whilst performing the act. Ultimately, there are many points of view on the film; it has been praised, attacked, labeled a feminist revenge movie, or a 'screed' against Japanese societies objectification of women, neo gore film… it's probably all of these things and more.

Office Killer
(1997)

There was a lady Doreen...
Conceptual portraitist Cindy Sherman made her directorial debut (and only narrative film to date) with 'Office Killer' (1997). Sherman in her work has continually sought to challenge and raise important questions about the role and representation of women in society and media. It is interesting that she has stated a major influence in her film is Dario Argento, who has a negative reputation so far as his portrayal of women is concerned.

Sherman tells the tale of 'Doreen Douglas,' a plain and unassuming office worker. During a period of economic rationalization she is forced to work from home, in more ways than one. Doreen cares for her mother at home (she was accidentally responsible for her father's death), and is at work is the kind of longtime employee who often ends up being relegated to menial tasks (by virtue of her being the only one able to do them). A tsunami of office infighting is happening resulting in nobody liking each other very much; and they're all coming down with the flu. When Doreen accidentally kills a male co-worker while putting in overtime at the office, she stumbles headlong into murder as empowerment tool. Before long, the magazine is understaffed and Doreen has a basement full of corpses with their rotting fingers taped to their keyboards.

While a failure as the satire it was meant to be, 'Office Killer' demonstrates the impact of Argento's work on horror cinema generally, and interestingly here on feminist cinema. In addition to traumatic childhood flashbacks we have a roll call of Argento stylistic influences with the primary colours, tracking shots, asymmetrical framing, dark shadows, foregrounding of objects, empty buildings after dark… and of course the pussycats.

Kolobos
(1999)

1 hour and 24 but a tad too long at that.
The opening music is very reminiscent of 'Suspiria' in Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk's 'Kolobos' (1999), but unfortunately this film suffers from the common ailment of low budget horror films; the problem of weak dialogue and variable performances.

The filmmakers obviously appreciate the slasher genre and at the same time acknowledge its weaknesses. One of the characters is an actress who appears in the fictional movie franchise 'The Slaughterhouse Factor,' which when the characters in Kolobos sit down to watch the series in its entirety, either mercilessly mock it or simply fall asleep as they tick off the rudimentary clichés of the genre.

Kolobos goes into the potentially interesting area of reality TV, with Big Brother (which only started in 1999) type territory being delved into. The set up has the characters answering advertisements to appear in a project where they will come together in a house with hidden cameras and be filmed for five days, having no access to the outside world.

Dario Argento 'Giallo' black gloves are given a guernsey, as are anatomy drawings, POV stumble cam, a Deep Red style tooth smashing, and the colour scheme is straight out of Suspiria and Inferno. For the U.S audience who maybe isn't familiar with 'Giallo,' Kyra is from the get-go set up as the final girl… but is she?

After an interesting start, Kolobos becomes plodding, and with a meager running time of 1 hour and 24 minutes, I still found myself checking my watch.

La sindrome di Stendhal
(1996)

A last blast from a master
After the disappointments in America that were 'The Black Cat' episode of the omnibus film 'Two Evil Eyes' (1990) and 'Trauma' (1993), Dario Argento made 'The Stendahl Syndrome' back on familiar Italian soil. He was rewarded with what became his highest grossing film in his homeland.

As Anna walks through the streets of Florence, the film is reminiscent of Roberto Rossellini's 'Voyage to Italy' (1954). Statues like those that overwhelmed Ingrid Bergman smother Anna with the cultural past. Entering the 'Galleria degli Uffizi' she is immediately entranced by the power of the fresco; Bruegel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus' causes Anna to faint and split her lip (an image recalled from 'Trauma,' which on some levels is a less sophisticated 'Stendahl…'). We know nothing about her, or why she has gone there, other than she seems to be looking for somebody, and someone is watching her.

Outside the museum Alfredo introduces himself by returning her bag. Anna is still stunned and Alfredo, trying to make talk states, "Great works of art have great power." Anna escapes into a taxi, and rolling up of the taxi's window a reflection superimposes his face onto hers indicating that the two will become intricately bound.

Finding her way back to her Hotel (the name is on the key), she discovers her name is Anna Manni a Police Detective from Rome. Finding sleeping pills with a prescription stating 'to help relax and go to sleep,' she takes the tablets and rests. Does she fall asleep? A copy of Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' (1642), hangs on the wall and seemingly comes alive with Anna stepping into it; she has entered a crime scene. Inspector Moretti tells her that there is another victim of a serial rapist who operates in Rome and Florence, and has stepped up to murder. Inspector Moretti wants Anna to go to Florence and liaise with the authorities there. She steps back into her room, and Alfredo is there. He rapes Anna, cutting her lip with a razor blade making it bleed as it did in the 'Galleria.' She blacks out and awakens in a car; Alfredo is raping a woman on the seat next to her. Anna escapes the car, and the 'Bystander Effect' materialises as she runs bleeding down the street and ghostly faces passively gaze out on her from the surrounding windows.

This extraordinary opening with dream like logic tells us who Anna is, why she was in Florence, as well as introducing the crimes to be investigated and the hurdles Anna will have to overcome. On waking in hospital, Anna cuts her hair and on the train back to Rome develops a taste for self-harm, deliberately cutting her hand. Psychologist Dr. Cavanna diagnosis her with Stendhal Syndrome; conveniently situated on his desk is Stendhal's 'The Red and the Black'.

Without giving too much away, Argento's favourite alternate killer theory enters the story. And yet shortly after the 'fresco chaos' overwhelms Anna, and the narrative takes a discordant shift. The film takes a turn for the Brian DePalma, with Anna donning a blonde wig, and nothing is quite as it seems. The film ends on a chilling note with disturbing image that suggest Anna's conflicted relationship with the hostile frescos that have repeatedly challenged her concept of reality.

Stendhal Syndrome is a real syndrome, which was first diagnosed in 1982. Graziella Magherini's book, 'La Sindrome di Stendhal' (1993) forms the basis of the film, which is an Argento film that has none of his characteristic long takes or tracking shots; the film also lacks his tell tale set pieces. One of the things that work best in the film is the reuniting of Argento with Morricone, who delivers a score reminiscent of 'Vertigo', whilst still being highly original in its own right. The score which follows the same tune played either forward or backward, is beautifully hypnotic yet strangely disturbing.

The Quick and the Dead
(1995)

High Plains Django
'The Quick and the Dead' was directed by Sam Raimi ('The Evil Dead'), and tells the tale of Ellen (The Lady), who in 1878 rides into the town of 'Redemption,' controlled by the 'ruthless' John Herod. Ellen joins a dueling competition in an attempt to exact revenge for her father's death.

The names of the lead villain 'Ellen,''Herod' and the town 'Redemption,' were intentional allusions to the Bible. Herod Antipas (20BC – AD40), Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, ordered the death of John The Baptist, and the mocking of Jesus. 'Ellen' in Hebrew literally means 'God has answered me.''Redemption' of the first-born son, is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is redeemed from God by use of silver coins.

The 'Quick and the Dead' is an English phrase originating in the Christian Bible and popularized by the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest statements of faith in the Christian Religion. Modern writers use the phrase in the secular context, because of the modern English meaning of the word 'quick,' as in fast or smart rather than 'alive.'

'Once Upon A Time In The West' was co-storied by Dario Argento, who is a stylistic influence on Raimi, and is referred to in 'The Quick and the Dead' with John Herod facing Ellen in the final gunfight. Her identity is a mystery until the end, when we see a flashback… As with 'Frank' in 'Once Upon A Time…' Herod yells, "Who are you?" with the only response being the Sheriffs badge that Ellen throws at him. A trivial link that connects the films is Woody Strode, who appears in both films.

Stylistically it could be argued that the film has the look of a western had Argento had the chance to make one; thematically the film has more in common with such classic westerns as 'Django' (1966) or 'High Plains Drifter' (1973).

Shiryô no wana
(1988)

Japanese Dario Argento kind of sort of...
Toshiharu Ikeda's 'Evil Dead Trap,' which was written by Takashi Ishii, who would go on to direct the great Yakuza flick 'Gonin' (1995) and the arty rape revenge 'Freeze Me' (2000), has the set-up of Nami being the presenter of the TV show 'Late Night With Nami.' She requests viewers send in video's to play, and receives one hell of a submission; David Cronenberg's 'Videodrome' (1983) comes to mind as a woman is seen being tortured and ultimately murdered, edited in such a way that it is meant to be Nami. The power of montage. When discussing whether they should use the video on their program, a producer says "if we give attention to it, we'd only be encouraging sick behaviour." Indeed…

Regardless, Nami is given 'unofficial' approval to go and investigate. The video leaves clues as to how to find the scene of the murder, and the girls and their chaperon too easily discover a deserted military base that doesn't appear on any maps. The killer is clearly waiting for them. Black and white style Sam Raimi 'Evil Dead' style tracking shots indicate an evil presence, and the obvious source of the film's title.

As is the logic with these exercises, they break up into small groups; Rei goes with the male in the group, Kondou. Rei observes the buildings have the appearance that "everyone suddenly left without warning." Masako takes pictures and goes with Rya, who is the most likely 'final girl' as she wears pink. 'Sensibly' Nami goes off exploring by herself.

The film starts off visually with the daylight horrors of Dario Argento's 'Tenebre,' and Nami makes a point of saying it's 1pm when they arrive. Rei finds maggots falling from the ceiling straight out of Argento's 'Suspiria,' and being the first to have sex, is also the first to die. Rya, being a sensible 'final girl,' suggests they should leave after Nami lets on that she thinks the video was an 'invitation' to them.

Masako, being a photographer, cleverly dies by camera flash (and knife), dispatched by a suitably hooded 'Giallo' figure as the film quickly goes about disposing of the cast. However, Rya isn't a 'final girl' after all, on the verge of escape a killer (not faceless at all), states he prefers his victims to die slowly and makes her endure a prolonged rape where he goes on at length about his girlfriend who had her eyes cut out by these 'evil two who are one.' Rya doesn't die, she fights back, is about to die, then the rapist is killed and bleeds all over her… then she walks into a noose, and still THAT isn't what kills her, she struggles, falls over and breaks her neck. It is a noteworthy sequence as is doesn't drive the narrative but exists for its own nastiness. The film then veers off the slasher film trajectory and moves into a stranger land indeed; one that shows the influence of such disparate films as Frank Henenlotter's 'Basket Case' (1982), as well as Ridley Scott's 'Alien' (1979).

"Hideki, it's time for you to go to sleep. You have school tomorrow. Not again! You went out. You're like a kite with a broken string."

The killer removes his mask, in a very 'un-Giallo' move, however then enters a 'Giallo' yellow room. He has cat like whiskers painted on his cheeks, reflecting Argento's cat obsession. In the final act, the basic elements of fire and water take over as all bets are off regarding narrative logic, as celebrity obsession meets with umbilicus cords and floating fetus'!

The long takes, tricky camera angles and less is more editing are influenced by Argento's stylized baroque cinema, and the music is clearly influenced by 'Deep Red.' Composer Tomohiko Kira is lead guitarist in the group 'Zabadak,' who took their name from the song by 'Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich,' whose song 'Hold Tight' features in Quentin Tarantino's episode of 'Grindhouse' (2007), which has a few Argento references of its own. An Asian film with no Asian reference points, but clearly familiar with the work of Argento. It somewhat joylessly riffs on the Argento style, and opened the door for the J-Horror tsunami to come that use atmosphere, more than the shock tactics of 'Evil Dead Trap.'

Manhunter
(1986)

In The Garden Of Evil
The novel 'Red Dragon' (1981) refers to 'The Great Red Dragon' paintings by William Blake, which depict scenes from the Book of Revelation. These allegorically describe an ongoing struggle between good and evil. The novel spawned the Michael Mann film 'Manhunter' (1986).

Simpson in his book 'Psycho Paths: Tracking the Serial Killer through Contemporary American Film,' refers to 'Manhunter' as a 'profoundly ambiguous and destabilizing film' with 'uncomfortable affinities between protagonist and antagonist.' Conard in 'The Philosophy of Film Noir' is more to the point; "what it takes to catch a serial killer is tantamount to being one."

Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti (who funnily enough also shot the 2002 remake 'Red Dragon'), make strong use of colour tints using cool blues in the scenes featuring Will Graham and his wife Molly, green for searching and discovery, and purple or magenta in the unsettling scenes involving Dollarhyde (the 'Tooth Fairy') and Doctor Hannibal Lecter. The foregrounding of glass, steel and concrete walls illustrates Mann's concern with estrangement and 'mirror images.' Graham is capable of apprehending Dollarhyde because he can get into his mindset and share similar psychological instincts, resulting in him struggling to regain his values. Dr Lector whom Graham visits in prison in order to gather a profile of Dollarhyde, recognises this.

Both visually, and in regards to the feeling of alienation Mann is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni. Mann borrows from Antonioni the concern for capturing the space that people inhabit. An early perfectly composed symmetrical shot illustrates the relationship between Graham and Agent Crawford, with the clear positioning of the characters on opposite ends of the frame as Crawford attempts to coerce Graham back to the FBI. The final shot of this sequence is of Crawford and Molly, and the physical distance between them is far greater than in the shot that opens the sequence.

Towards the end of the chase, Graham (talking about Dollarhyde) could be discussing the key themes of Dario Argento's work, a director also influenced by Antonioni's visual asthetic "… because everything with you is seeing isn't it. Your primary sensory intake, the thing that makes your dream live is seeing. Reflections. Mirrors. Images…"

The song by Iron Butterfly 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' (a mondegreen for 'In The Garden Of Evil'), is memorably used in the climax, and reminds one of the thumping 'Goblin' scores employed by Argento, particularly in 'Deep Red' and 'Tenebre'.

Argento has said he didn't like the film, disliking how the novel's ending was changed for the film. Argento's 'Opera' would incorporate the end of the novel 'Red Dragon.'

Hannibal
(2001)

Tasty
In 'The Silence Of The Lambs' (1991), Jame Gumb aka Buffalo Bill skins women to make a 'woman suit' for himself. He believes he is transgender; gender dysphoria is the formal diagnosis used by psychologists to describe people who experience significant discontent with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gumb is literally not at ease in his own skin. Director Jonathan Demme goes more for Hitchcock than Dario Argento (Demme proved himself an able student of Hitchcock with 1979's 'Last Embrace'), but the gender confusion is worth mentioning as an Argento concern, and the film needs to be considered as it leads to 'Hannibal'.

Set seven years after 'The Silence of the Lambs', 'Hannibal' revolves around F.B.I Agent Clarice Starling's attempts to apprehend Lecter before his only surviving victim, Mason Verger, captures and kills him. The theme of the film (as opposed to the plot), is established in a scene where Lecter attends an opera of a Dante sonnet. He meets with Detective Pazzi and his wife, Allegra who asks "Do you believe a man could become so obsessed by a woman after a single encounter?" Lecter replies "Yes, I believe he could... but would she see through the bars of his plight and ache for him?"

Set partly in Florence (as was Dario Argento's 'Stendhal Syndrome,' 1996 and they share a feel), the look of the Florence sequences leaches out into the rest of the film, giving it a very Italian flavor. No Argento's eye popping primary colours, instead the look of 'The Silence Of The Lambs' has been adhered to in order to give the series a feeling of continuity. Regardless, an Argento flavour is tasted through Ridley Scott's use of shadows, and occasional tricky camera angles, and occasional blasts of the colour red. The presence of Giancarlo Giannini as Detective Pazzi, also adds to the 'Giallo' goings on, as he had played Inspector Tellini in 'The Black Belly Of The Tarantula' (1971). The scene where Pazzi (the 'patsy') is dispatched is pure 'Giallo' in its operatic choreography, and brings back memories of Argento's 'Suspiria'. Other Argento touches are Mason Verger's mask like deformed face, and sequences such as death by man eating pigs. The scene where Lecter cooks for Krendler is one that divides critics and was likely why director Demme and Jodie Foster (who played Starling in '…Lambs'), passed on the sequel. However, rewatching the film I was struck by how little violence there is; but when deployed the violence is high impact.

Vortice mortale
(1993)

Sublime to Ridiculous
Ruggero Deodato was a late comer to the 'Giallo' genre with the half cooked 'Off Balance' (1988), deciding to make a move away from the shock tactic films he had made a name for himself with; namely 'Cannibal Holocaust' (1979) 'The House On The Edge Of The Park' (1980), and 'Cut And Run' (1985).

'The Washing Machine,' set in Budapest, begins with Vida and her businessman boyfriend Yuri arguing about an engagement ring he has given her (it has the wrong name on it), Vida is displaying an awesome amount of cleavage which forms a large part of the character she plays. That night, Ludmilla claims to have found Vida's boyfriend chopped up and stuffed inside her washing machine, and thus Police Inspector Stacev is called to the house of the three Kolba sisters; Vida, Ludmilla, and Maria.

Upon his arrival the body is gone without a trace and Ludmilla is accused by her siblings of being a drunkard with a far too lively an imagination. However it is obvious something happened, as individually they approach the inspector with strange tales of what happened that night. Resistant at first, he can't help himself from being drawn in as they one by one seduce him;

"Why do you think she spied on us, half naked, every time we came home… we could see her watching us, which only made it more exciting. We'd do things for her alone… That night we gave her quite a show… Does this excite you Inspector?"

Dialogue such as this lends the film a strange sort of eroticism (not Eros, not Mania, but I would say Ludus).

Of course the Inspector is caught in the 'eye of the storm' of the sisters' erotic games. This is too much for his partner Irina, who commits suicide after he opens a closet (literally) revealing his secret passion for sado-machosism. This suicide does not seem to trouble him though, actually the viewer becomes unsure if it actually happened, or if Irina just disappeared from the film.

The youngest sister Maria is in a favourite scene as a volunteer with the blind, she takes them on an outing to a museum. The scene becomes very 'black' as silently Maria and the Inspector 'make out' in full view, and the blind whose care she is charged with panic thinking she has left them stranded. A darkly humorous and erotically charged 'Giallo' sequence, that would be at home in the seventies heyday. This voyeurism is well served by Deodato's use of high angled shots looking either up or down on the action throughout the film. Deodato came late to the 'Giallo,' indeed waiting until the genre was passed its prime. In order to make a Dario Argento style film, Deodato involved people with 'Giallo' credentials. Cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi shot Lucio Fulci's 'Giallo' Don't Torture A Duckling (1972), and Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti of 'Goblin' fame composed the score.

Short on strong 'Giallo' themes, like seeing and not seeing, the 'gaze,' (although strong on voyeurism), and not containing gender confusion (although strong on Ludus), the film is essentially an exercise in Argento style.

Basic Instinct
(1992)

The Fourth Man
Paul Verhoeven's 'Basic Instinct' (1992) is Euro Trash schlock in many ways, but because it has an enormous budget, and an at the time big star in Michael Douglas, it was able to be mass marketed to the hordes and became a very big hit indeed. In order to sell this lurid tale to the U.S some obvious changes were made from Verhoeven's earlier 'The Fourth Man', such as losing the cocks and adding more breasts, and removing the homosexual men and adding lesbians.

The film centers on police detective Nick Curran, who is investigating the brutal murder of an ex- rock star. During the investigation Curran becomes involved in an intense relationship with the prime suspect; the beautiful and mysterious Catherine Tramell.

Ex-smoker, ex-alcoholic (and ex-coked up) Curran is nicknamed 'Shooter' as he accidentally killed two tourists, an act that achieved him notoriety as well as headlines. Forced to undergo psychological evaluation, he sleeps with his therapist Dr Beth Garner. In regards Dr Beth, Curren's partner Gus states; "Boy when that girl mates, it's for life." Gus gets to voice other points of insight such as "She's got that magna cum laude pussy on her that done fried up your brain," although there he refers to Catherine, and not Beth.

As in 'The Fourth Man' (and Dario Argento's 'Tenebre'), Catherine is a pulp fiction writer whose work causes people to die under circumstances similar to her narratives. She knows all about Curran, keeping press clippings on his notorious shooting and subsequent investigation. Worryingly for Curran, all of her prototypes for previous novels have ended up dead. Also, she is planning on writing a novel titled 'Shooter,' a story about "a cop who falls for the wrong girl." As in 'The Fourth Man', this both excites and frightens Curran. Verhoeven altered his stylish 'Giallo' look of 'The Fourth Man' to the slicker, glassier, blue tinted more metallic look of a Hollywood thriller. Some shots, such as when Curran voyeuristic-ally watches Catherine undress, remind one of Brian DePalma's 'Body Double'.

The opening scene explicitly links sex and violence, as a woman, possibly in a blonde wig, ice picks her lover to death at the point of orgasm, a very 'Giallo' death indeed. Argento like tropes such as doppelgangers are employed, as when Curran's interrogation mirrors Catherine's. To add to the mix Curran also has an alibi that matches Catherine's; "Would I storm into a guy's office in front of everybody in the middle of the day and kill him that night?" However, Curran is put on enforced leave and in the Argento tradition becomes an outsider who has to perform his own investigation. As a result of Catherine, he is seeing and not seeing.

Argento colour schemes are employed, with the film having a predominately cold blue look, that changes to hues of red as danger starts to creep in. At the films first possible conclusion we get what adds up to a classic Argento set piece. Gus is in danger. We know he is in danger as he is entering the building alone, and the colour scheme has morphed to red hues. About to exit the elevator a black cloaked and hooded figure performs a frenzied ice pick attack on the unsuspecting victim. The elevator setting reminds one of Argento's 'Deep Red' and Brian DePalma's 'Dressed To Kill'. Like the best of Argento, anyone could be guilty, and in many ways everybody 'is' equally guilty. Argento 'alternate killer theory' may have been on the writers mind in the concluding scene Curran and Catherine 'fuck like minks,' and the camera lowers to under the bed revealing an ice pick. Was Betty framed? Or is looking for logic just silly? Probably.

De vierde man
(1983)

cheeky
Paul Verhoeven like Dario Argento and Brian DePalma, is a film-maker who likes to answer his critics via his work. After having worked in films that were approached in a more realistic and naturalistic milieu (1973's 'Turkish Delight', 1980's 'Spetters'), Verhoeven found in a novel by Gerard Reve a perfect collective of ideas that suited what would become his cinema; dark eroticism, religious imagery, the Catholic tension of woman worship and misogyny, death, and the grip ideas of the fantastique can have on the mind. He completely embraced the 'Giallo' approach and blends sex and death in a delicious cocktail of suspense and imagery in 'The Fourth Man'.

A tale of seduction and paranoia is told via a writer of lurid pulp fiction, Gerard Reve (yes the novelist names the lead character after himself!). Appearing as a keynote speaker at a book seminar, he responds to a questioner who asks how he can still be a Catholic with all science has taught us; "Being Catholic means having imagination!" Catholic, homosexual and alcoholic, he is bursting with emotional tension, ripe for hysteria; "I lie the truth, until I no longer know whether something did or didn't happen."

Over the opening credits a spider traps flies in its web, religious iconography is introduced as the web is spun over a crucifix. Verhoeven quickly establishes the fact that Reve has a dark psyche and darker fantasies, such as strangling his male lover with whom he shares a mutual loathing; he quickly and constantly slips into 'Walter Mitty' like daydream fantasy. When he takes a train to the seminar illustrates well Reve's mind-set; he reads a billboard 'Jesus Is Everywhere,' as a young mother boards the train. She offers her son an 'apple' and fashions a circle out of the peel, which as she manipulates it for a moment resembles a halo over the baby's head.

Linking sex and death and self-destructiveness is achieved when Reve asks a gentleman at the station if he has come to collect him. The man replies "I doubt it" as a coffin is wheeled towards him; the following discussion establishes the corpse had a beautiful death, as he was about Reve's age and died in bed "on top of some senorita in Spain."

As a homosexual it is curious as to why Reve becomes interested in Christine Halsslag. She does have short hair, but is also voluptuous; he covers her breasts with his hands when they first have sex; as he ejaculates he exclaims "through Mary to Jesus!" Coincidence comes into play when Reve discovers Christine is seeing Herman, a man that Reve bumped into before catching his train. He wants to meet Herman; "What a body… what a piece!"

Reve essentially ends up as the requisite 'Giallo' outsider, who finds himself in the position of trying to solve a mystery; 'did Christine kill her previous husbands?' His sight is certainly brought into question. Verhoeven has fashioned a world that at times borrows the lurid surrealism of Argento's 'Suspiria', and photography that frequently mimics the soft focus over saturated white flaring of a DePalma film of this era. There is a nice bit of eyeball gouging in a car accident that would be at home in an Umberto Lenzi 'Giallo.'

Loosely remade by Verhoeven in Hollywood as 'Basic Instinct'; he considers 'The 4th Man' to be a 'spiritual prequel.'

The Black Dahlia
(2006)

It's DePalma, so it's still worth a view
'The Black Dahlia' (2006) saw the sixty-six year old director needing a total of fifteen producers to get the film made. Eleven executive producers, one being the veteran James B. Harris, who had produced nine films ranging from Stanley Kubrick's 'The Killing' (1956) to 'Cop' (1988), which was also based on a James Ellroy novel. The four producers included Art Linson, who had produced 'The Untouchables' and 'Casualties of War' for DePalma, and 'Fight Club' (1999) for David Fincher; Fincher was originally slated to direct 'Black Dahlia'.

Set in L.A but filmed in Pernik Bulgaria (only a handful of exterior scenes were shot in Los Angeles), James Ellroy's novel 'The Black Dahlia' is a fictionalized take on the still-unsolved murder of aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short. This is a daylight nightmare City of Angels, and Dante Ferretti (he has worked with Pasolini, Fellini and Scorsese), built elaborate sets of L.A on Bulgarian soundstages, that knowing he's no fool, are intentionally artificial.

Good Cop Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert and the brunette Dahlia doppelgänger Madeleine Linscott stand before a portrait of 'Gwynplaine,' the deformed protagonist of Victor Hugo's novel 'The Man Who Laughs.' Bleichert says, "I don't get modern art," to which Madeleine responds, "I doubt modern art gets you either." The concerns of Hugo's Romanticism (incorporating his critique of aristocracy), Argento's fresco troubles, German Expressionism and film noir all link when the three leads go the cinema to see 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), based on Victor Hugo's 'L'Homme Qui Rit' (1869). It isn't explained why they are watching a film from 1928 during a film set in 1947, however the deformity in the story mirrors the wounds on the victim Elizabeth. The German expressionism takes full flight during a flamboyant lesbian bar sequences, featuring a performer in full Dietrich drag, singing 'Love For Sale' among slinky French-kissing chorines.

'Giallo' in its gender confusion (and marginally so in the revelation of the murderer), Madeleine's frequenting of lesbian bars, prior to seducing Bleichert, makes her more a 'Giallo' character than 'femme fatale.' However, her biggest problem seems to be one of genes. When Bleichert comes for a family dinner it's not too far removed from a David Lynch scene, complete with her little sister gifting him a sketch she draws of Bleichert doing Madeleine doggy style!

One of 'Black Dahlia's' weaknesses is that Madeleine and Elizabeth are supposed to be Doppelganger's; certainly Madeleine is a darker character than Elizabeth, but the link is merely Madeleine stating she heard Elizabeth looked like her (she doesn't), and thought it would be interesting to have a same sex experience with a lookalike. Narcissism in extremis.

'Black Dahlia' would be nothing without two classic DePalma set-pieces; the first is the shoot-out in South Central, where DePalma who loves coincidence as much as Kieslowski ('The Double Life Of Veronique,' 1991), has a wonderful overhead crane shot lifting and rising to reveal the 'Dahlia' crime scene behind. It harks back to the Louma crane shot in Argento's 'Tenbrae'. One of the least The least Argento films of of DePalma's thrillers since 'Dressed To Kill', because it's also the least DePalma of the recent DePalma thrillers. A 'Giallo' sequence is squeezed in where Lee Blanchard, all hopped up on Benzedrine is dispatched on a grand staircase at the hands of a man with a deformed face, a woman in black, a shiny switchblade, and in slow motion.

'Black Dahlia' is about the Cops and how they react to the murder rather than the murder itself, much the way David Fincher handled 'Zodiac' (2007), proving he may have been a better choice to direct. DePalma tries to put his stamp on it and in many ways he fully embraces the Dario Argento within; a contrived plot, flashy camera work, performances anywhere from sleepwalking to operatic; the operatic, or rather, histrionic performance is by Fiona Shaw. She is certifiable. She pops up about half an hour in, reappearing at the end as… well, I could be talking about Argento's 'Deep Red'. Shaw's performance is in the tradition of Piper Laurie in DePalma's 'Carrie', or Piper Laurie in Argento's 'Trauma'.

If DePalma didn't push the envelope of sex and violence and possess stylish camera work, he could come across as no more than a director of straight to video erotic thrillers of the eighties and nineties; the dialogue and performances don't reach much further. If he wasn't so talented he might have been asked to direct 'Night Eyes Three' (1993).

Femme Fatale
(2002)

DePalam's last personal statement
Scopophilia is Greek for 'love of looking;' Brian DePalma, like Dario Argento and Hitchcock is always looking. And so are his characters. In the opening of 'Femme Fatale' (2002), Laure is watching Billy Wilder's 'Double Indemnity' (1944). She and her 'gang' are about to steal a fortune in diamonds at the Cannes Film Festival, from the girlfriend of film director Regis Wargnier (playing himself, his film played Cannes that year). The plan is for Laure to successfully seduce her in the bathroom stall while Wargnier's 'East-West' plays on the big screen. Now, it strikes me that as 'meticulous' as the plan sounds, it is really fraught with potential failure! Will Laure's seduction happen on cue? Will security take a leak on cue? (The last five minutes of the film make you realise the seduction was a dead certainty… ). What saves it is the bravura filmmaking. The heist shows a technical wizardry that reminded me of the best bits of DePalma's 'Mission: Impossible' (1996).

He has made remarkable use of the split-screen technique before, but never has it been so self-reflexively and personally deployed as it is here. To slowly introduce the technique, during the heist he uses 'natural' screen dividers, such as toilet stall walls, to divide the screen. This results in later, when he actually does split the screen that the divide doesn't seem so gimmicky or jarring. Twenty minutes in and the blonde Laure has performed a double cross. We then cut to a rainy day as Nicolas watches from up high on his balcony; he is a photographer (Laure was impersonating a photographer at the heist), and he snaps Laure who has donned a dark wig, and will in more than one way become Lily. About half an hour into the film DePalma begins to caress, or is it 'lull' us with running water, ticking clocks, Pino Donnagio music (but by Ryuichi Sakamoto), and then a sudden crack of thunder sends us the message that 'something else' is going on here as Laure is in the bath at Lily's parents' house and in walks 'Lily,' upset and crying on the day of her funeral, the overflowing fish tank is a big clue… As Roger Ebert correctly assesses; "This is a movie about watching and being watched, about seeing and not knowing what you see."

Seven years after the heist, (so therefore, based on when the film was released, we are now in the future!), Laure unwillingly returns to Paris; she is 'Lily' and married to the American ambassador. The "Déjà Vu 2008" poster that decorates a telephone booth outside Nicolas' apartment may seem like a simple wink to the audience, but the use of the painting "Ophelia" (1852), by John Everett Millais, in the poster points to Laure's trouble with water. In Argento's own 'Trauma' (1993), and Argento fan Chang Youn-hyun's film 'Tell Me Something' (1999), the Millais painting is used as similar visual shorthand. And mentioning Argento, DePalma again uses the surprise reveal from Argento's 'Tenebre.'

A classic 'femme fatale,' Laure packs a gun and uses her awareness of men to devour them and spit them out. She turns very nasty in the scene on the bridge, and Nicolas becomes acutely aware of her intentions. The film becomes very dark indeed, with them going to a bar not dissimilar to 'One Eyed Jacks' in David Lynch's 'Fire Walk With Me' (1992), where all the patrons are men wearing black; apparently not a gay bar, but more a nest of thieves. In the climax on the bridge, Laure is thrown in the river, having finally been tracked down by her double crossed cohorts; but look, once she is in the water she is nude, born again, she has a second chance.

Arguably the most personal film DePalma has made since 'Body Double', 'Femme Fatale' is nowhere near as dark a film (the Argento within is harder to find, but it is there with an outsider investigating, seeing and not seeing). It comes complete with a typically frustrating DePalma denouement… I suppose he is allowed to use dream sequences, Aeschylus' invented them in 'The Persians' in 472 BC.

Raising Cain
(1992)

Revenge!
In 'Raising Cain' Brian DePalma is throwing a tantrum, and has tailored a film that includes all the elements that most of his critics despise. However, he wastes no time in telegraphing his intentions by utilising the very same Saul Bass style titles that were used in 'Psycho'. Carter is a child psychologist whose father, also a psychologist, used him as a test subject to examine the factors by which a young personality can be formed (shades of Michael Powell's 'Peeping Tom').

DePalma uses his director's muscle well at times, regardless of all the films obvious flaws. A scene between Cain and Dr. Nix in a motel room uses an approach similar to the high doorknobs in Argento's 'Suspiria', with Dr. Nix being filmed in an obviously undersized set making him larger, and Cain being filmed from an extreme high angle to put him in his place, and it is acted with heightened emotion and overplayed to absurdity… much like the film as a whole.

The film is from the get go a web of dreams, and watching '…Cain' and trying to pin down where reality stops, and dream states begin makes Carter / Cain / Dr. Nix / Josh / Margo's schizophrenia uncomplicated in comparison. DePalma turns the film's second act into a maze of dream sequences within flashbacks within fantasies and Jenny spends the rest of the film either waking up in the wrong bed, or dying violently, over and over. Yet, to assure us it all makes perfect sense, DePalma presents one of his long bravura traveling shots (reminiscent of 'Bonfire of the Vanities'), where Dr. Waldheim delivers a long annotated case history. The shot has them walking down stairs and catching elevators without a cut.

Melodramatic, broadly acted, with flashbacks/dream sequences and shock edits, and yet it almost feels like a telemovie as DePalma's normal sex and violence is so restrained. '…Cain' references Hitchcock, ('Psycho's' opening credits through to the car submerging in the lake). The climactic sequence at the motel finds DePalma touching base with his 'The Untouchables' (and therefore Eisenstein's 'Battleship Potemkin'). His own 'Dressed To Kill' comes across with the elevator shenanigans, and the final surprise reveal shot is pure Argento 'Tenebre'. The park sequence is a nod to Argento's 'Four Flies On Grey Velvet', and the truck with the sundial suggests an event similar to Argento's 'The Bird With The Crystal Plumage' or 'Tenebre' is about to happen.

Dressed to Kill
(1980)

I need to discuss Dario Argento and Brian DePalma
Brian DePalma was born four days after Dario Argento on 11th September 1940, but they could have been separated at birth; and for those familiar with DePalma's work that would make you think of 'Sisters' (1973), a film that has a lot more to do with Hitchcock (an obvious influence on both their work), than with Argento in particular. The similarities come from an idiosyncratic assimilation of Hitchcock rather than from seeing and copying each other's work. Both directors like the 'Master' are relentless fetishists. I do find it hard to imagine DePalma's cinema without Argento's; 'Body Double' (1984), and 'Raising Cain' (1992) have grown out of 'Tenebre' (1982). Argento is a modernist rather than the more fashionable postmodern, and like Ingmar Bergman or John Ford he falls in and out of fashion with critics and the public. He has influenced his 'apprentices' Luigi Cozzi, Michele Soavi and Lamberto Bava; but he has also touched more celebrated filmmakers like John Carpenter (think 1978's 'Halloween'), Wes Craven, Takeshi Miike (Argento is 'big in Japan'), John Woo, David Fincher, and Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar. But with DePalma the influence runs a lot deeper… even the word Doppelganger could be considered, but I'm not sure who you would point the finger at as being the unfortunate one. For all their similarities though, you can compare DePalma to Godard (most obviously with 'Greetings' (1968), and 'Hi, Mom!' (1970), and Godard has written of his admiration for DePalma's 'The Fury' 1978), whereas you can't easily compare Argento to Godard.

It is helpful to think of DePalma as a jazz musician riffing on themes, his favourite pieces to riff on being 'Vertigo' and 'Psycho'. Familiar with 'Giallo,' he rarely cites them as influences (he claims to despise Argento's films). DePalma's dreamlike tangle of memory and desire owes less to Hitchcock than to the psychological 'Giallo' of Argento, and the baroque set pieces and sociopathic gender games of 'Dressed to Kill' and 'Body Double' scream Argento, but it's 'Raising Cain's' finale that completes the deal. A woman bends over to pick up her child, revealing the killer standing directly behind her, a scene straight out of 'Tenebrae'.

'Dressed to Kill' could easily be described as a 'Giallo,' as DePalma pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable and in good taste (with mainstream cinema). 'Dressed To Kill' was a film that was released at the right time; post- Stonewall, post-feminist, post-disco, post-Son of Sam, pre-AIDS. However as controversial as DePalma wanted to be, 'Dressed to Kill' only has the whiff of cheap perfume compared to the pungent odor of its contemporaries of the grindhouse; William Lustig's 'Maniac' (1980), and Abel Ferrara's 'Ms. 45' (1981). Even another film from the big end of town, William Friedkin's 'Cruising' (1980), which DePalma had for a time been attached to was more controversial and sleazy; yet 'Dressed To Kill' shocked because more people saw it. DePalma uses paperback pulp psychology (pure 'Giallo'), to demonstrate that filmmaking is an inherently 'visual' storytelling medium. It is clear he is always more at home with scenes free of dialogue; the characters speak in pure soap opera exposition.

The opening 'shower scene' establishes the theme; Kate is in the shower masturbating whilst watching probably her husband shaving; it's DePalma's 'thing', linking sexual stimulation to voyeurism. Hands clutch her from behind and she screams. Looking, pleasuring, violating. The sound design connects the next scene, where Kate is in bed moaning with 'ersatz' pleasure; talk radio dominates the soundtrack rather than a lush romantic musical score, and a high-angle shot fixes on the faceless husband and Kate's unfulfilled expression. Later, when she attempts to 'come on' to her shrink, the Doctor advises her to confront her husband about her anxieties. Before doing this, Kate visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art with nothing more on her mind than a shopping list (an inspired touch), and links up with a mysterious stranger. Following a hot and sweaty seduction in the back seat of a cab, she goes back to his apartment for a game of post-office. Immediately after, she is confronted by a mysterious blonde with a 'Giallo' like shiny straight razor. As Hitchcock had done audaciously in 'Psycho', DePalma does the unthinkable in the first act killing the woman we had assumed was the heroine. It's a dangerous trick, as the audience now has to reach out to new characters, Liz and Peter as the film starts again. Like Marcus in Argento's 'Deep Red', Liz (a prostitute, an outsider) must do the detective work.

As with Argento, DePalma likes set-pieces featuring long takes with a mobile camera, and for DePalma in 'Dressed To Kill' it's the Metropolitan Museum of Art sequence. DePalma's obsessively moody overwrought sequence is a slice of the purest melodramatic overkill. DePalma's timing of Kate's impulses with the unreal ambiance and heightened emotion is overplayed to absurdity. Technically DePalma is as accomplished as ever.

The Italian Argento, coming from a Catholic background, is at home with the torments of repression and guilt and the horrors they can produce. DePalma (from Newark with an Italian American Catholic background… but attended Protestant and Quaker schools), embraces the hang-ups triggered by the liberation of a 'permissive' society. 'Dressed To Kill' celebrates the allure of perversion and desire, and the guilt that can create.

The mistaken identity conceit is something DePalma had explored in 'Sisters' and 'Obsession' (1976), and would be revisited in 'Body Double' (1984), though all of this originates with Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' (1958). The cross- dressing and shower traumas are clearly from 'Psycho', as is the clinical explanation that ends proceedings. Always full of self-confidence, in the finale DePalma references 'Sisters' and the 'Carrie' (1976) dream and shock ending, it also hearkens back to the opening of 'Halloween' and prefigures its own parody, 'Blow Out' (1981).

Opera
(1987)

The end of an era
"Opera" known as 'Terror at the Opera' in the United States, was amongst Argento's most commercially successful films in his homeland of Italy. Verdi's opera 'Macbeth' is historically known for bringing bad luck to its casts, a fact that is not lost on Argento. Betty takes the lead only after the great 'Mara Czekova' fights with the film's director and breaks her leg (Czekova, who remains unseen throughout the film, was originally to be played by Vanessa Redgrave, who had been in Antonioni's 'Blow-Up' an influence on Argento).

Once Betty takes to the stage as Lady Macbeth, a monster from her mother's past is awakened and the killings begin. The crows in the film only screech in the presence of a familiar evil, however the identity of the film's killer is of little consequence; Argento's focus is on the way the Santini forces Betty's gaze.

'Opera's' memorable gimmick has Santini placing a row of needles below Betty's eyes, forcing her to watch the grueling deaths of her friends, the most absurdly over the top being when Giulia is killed and swallows a bracelet in the struggle, forcing Santini to perform an 'autopsy' on her with a pair of scissors. Reinforcing his obsession of sightlessness, Betty's vision is temporarily blurred after she applies some eye drops. Opera's infamous keyhole set piece reinforces Argento's fascination with seeing as a terror mechanism.

The finale whilst becoming too silly by half, does link it to its predecessor, with Betty's adventures in the countryside and her encounter with a lizard recalling Jennifer's psychic relationship to insects in 'Phenomena'. Made in 1987, 'Opera' is the end of Argento's influential period. He has made 12 films since of which 'The Stendahl Syndrome' in 1996 is worth a look.

Tenebre
(1982)

Visuals over dialogue
The Christian religious service of 'Tenebrae' involves the gradual extinguishing of candles, while a series of readings and psalms is recited; Matins and Lauds.

In 'Tenebre', there are two separate characters who suffer from impaired vision. Detective Giermani tells writer Peter Neal that he is a big fan of "Agatha Chrisite, Spillane and Ed McBain…" however he goes on to reveal that he has never been able to solve the identity of the killer in any of their stories. This continues into real life as the corpses pile up with Neal standing in plain sight. Neal with a traumatic event in his youth hinted at, responds to a series of murders by becoming a killer himself. He introduces the theme of impaired vision when he admits to Giermani:

"I've tried to figure it out, but I just have this hunch that something is missing, a tiny piece of the jigsaw. Somebody who should be dead is alive, or somebody who should be alive is already dead."

Of course Neal, who is promoting his latest book 'Tenebrae,' is the 'missing piece,' and in the end he will become the 'somebody who should be dead.' In flashback a sadistic temptress is stabbed to death; this acts as the catalyst for the murders in the film. In the present day, the first victim is a sexually promiscuous shoplifter, and the next two are the lesbian reporter and her bisexual lover. The flashbacks are introduced repeatedly throughout the course of the film, usually immediately following a murder. The first reveals a beautiful young woman's sexual bullying of a teenage boy (whom we later presume is Neal). The second is a revenge-murder of the same woman. There is a doubling between Neal and Giermani, as Giermani reflects Neal even as Neal takes on his role as investigator. The detective/writer and the writer/detective each belittle the other. In what is one of the best pieces of 'shock' ever put on celluloid, Neal and Giermani become one (momentarily) when Neal memorably dispatches the Detective; "in a shot that is as schematically logical as it is logically outrageous" (McDonagh). The reveal of the killer as the hero bends down was borrowed from Argento's own 'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage', as is the climactic murder by art in which Dalmas was trapped beneath a large pointed sculpture.

Although 'tenebrae'/'tenebre' means 'darkness' or 'shadows,' Argento tasked his cinematographer Luciano Tavoli with filling the screen with as much light as possible. Tavoli had worked on 'Suspiria', and had also worked with Antonioni on 'Chung Kuo-China' (1972), 'The Passenger' (1975), and the first feature shot on video 'The Mystery of Oberwald' (1981). The day scenes are brightly lit, and the interiors harshly over lit; the film is shot with clear 'cold' light, permeating the surroundings. He was deliberately breaking with the legacy of German Expressionism.

Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) comes to mind when considering Argento's influences; film-noir at its most paranoid often finds Lang not far away. '…doubt' finds a man convicted of murder on false evidence who in fact is guilty of the crime. Roy William Neill's legendary film- noir Black Angel (1946) is even more remarkable, where a man tries to clear a murder suspect, but doing so will be at the cost of learning that he himself is the killer. An argument could be made for 'Tenebre' being one of the most important 'non-Hitchcock' films De Palma has seen; the 'Louma' crane sequence is clearly a key influence right down to the music in 'The Untouchables' (1987). More obvious still is the 'Raising Cain' surprise reveal of the killer standing behind the victim. Robert Zemeckis' 'What Lies Beneath' (2000) contains a similar moment, although Zemeckis has denied having any familiarity at all with Italian 'Giallo'… more's the pity.

Successful and released without incident in Europe, 'Tenebre' was classified, prosecuted and banned as a 'video nasty' in the U.K, and the film had five minutes of 'sexualised violence' cut prior to its theatrical release. Its U.S distribution was delayed for two years, then only in a heavily censored version under the title 'Unsane.' Approximately ten minutes shorter, losing scenes that established the characters and their relationships that make it difficult to follow, it received a mostly negative critical reception.

Critic and Argento expert Maitland McDonagh has described 'Tenebre' (as opposed to 'Unsane'), as "the finest film that Argento has ever made."

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