She Will (2022)

2022 has gradually shaped into Dario Argento’s comeback year, something I never dared to expect from the 82-year-old Italo horror legend.  The low-key giallo revival Dark Glasses is Argento’s first directorial credit in a decade and easily his best in twice as long.  He was also shockingly great as the lead performer in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, his first acting credit outside cameo roles & narration tracks.  Of all the various ways Argento’s comeback year has taken shape, though, the least surprising has got to be his in-name-only producer credit on She Will, cosigning a younger artist’s work.  Not only is Argento making movies again; apparently, he’s also entering his “Wes Craven Presents” era.

That stamp of approval goes a long way in Charlotte Colbert’s debut feature, especially since it’s an indictment of the macho, abusive brutes who occupied every director’s seat when Argento first started making artsy horror pictures in the 1970s.  Is Malcolm McDowell’s pretentious, villainous abuser-auteur supposed to be a stand-in for Jodorowsky, for Polanski, for one of Dario’s fellow giallo greats?  It doesn’t matter much, since the film is less about his behind-the-scenes crimes than it is about his victim’s delayed revenge.  Alice Krige headlines as an ice-queen film actress whose star has faded; she channels her lingering resentments from that child-actor abuse on McDowell’s sets into a witchy, supernatural revenge.  The mechanism of public #MeToo callouts simply isn’t enough; only black magic evisceration will do.

I very much vibe with She Will‘s burn-it-all-down political anger, so it’s a shame I couldn’t also vibe with its filmmaking aesthetics.  Between its ominous shots of the woods and Krige’s mutually destructive relationship with her young nurse (helping her recover from a double mastectomy), it just ends up playing like a watered-down, VVitch-ed up version of Saint Maud.  It’s well considered thematically, like in how the soil at Krige’s Scottish health retreat is enriched by the ashes of locally burned witches, strengthening both her skin and her witchy powers.  Its most exciting ideas are just presented in the limpest nightmare-sequences around, with time-elapse nature footage edited together in the Elevated Horror equivalent of an Ed Wood montage.  I almost want to say the film is worth it for Krige’s performance as the icy lead, but truth is she had a lot more to do in this same register as the mentorial witch in Gretel & Hansel.  There just isn’t much to see here that hasn’t been covered by its sharper, more vivid contemporaries.

Regardless, I still think a “Dario Argento Presents” project is, by default, a more exciting turn for the actor-director-producer’s late career phase than an actual Dario Argento film.  Dark Glasses is only interesting within the context of his larger catalog and can only feel like a faint echo of former glories.  By contrast, throwing his name by newcomers like Colbert helps them get platformed at film festivals like Overlook and streaming services like Shudder, where She Will has earned a lot more sincere praise than I’m giving it here.  It’s an investment in the future of horror filmmaking instead of a victory lap for its faded past, which according to this film was a lot more spiritually & morally bankrupt than we’ve ever fully reckoned with.

-Brandon Ledet

StageFright: Aquarius (1987)

Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright, StageFright: Aquarius is a 1987 giallo film directed by Michele Soavi, who got his start assisting Dario Argento and shooting second unit work on Tenebrae, Phenomena, and Opera. His second film was the previously reviewed La chiesa in 1989, but this freshman feature has a lot of style, which spackles over the occasional slip-ups that are common in debut films. 

Our film opens on a grimy street, as a woman in a platinum wig seeks an honest night’s work, only to be attacked and pulled into a shadowed entryway. This causes a commotion as a dozen people gather and stare at her murdered body, only for the killer to suddenly and energetically burst forth from the door and begin to dance as we pan out to see that the street is just a set on a stage in a modestly sized theater, and our characters are but actors on it. Well, most of them are actors; some are dancers, and there’s also an inexplicable saxophone player in a billowing Marilyn Monroe dress perched on one of the faux rooftops. The killer happens to be wearing a giant owl head, and it’s one of the strangest but most fascinating openings I’ve seen in a film in this genre. The choice to open with offscreen traffic noise and slowly pan up a city street makes for a clever misdirect that is also ultimately a metaphor about the film’s own method of doing more with less

After wounding her ankle on-stage in the opening scene, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) acquiesces to the prompting of Betty (Ulrike Schwerk) to sneak out of the side door and get her ankle treated, without the permission of egomaniacal director Peter (David Brandon). They charm affable theater owner/property manager Willy (James Sampson) into letting them out through the side door. It turns out that the hospital that Betty knew about that was nearby is actually a psychiatric hospital, but as Betty points out, psychiatrists do attend medical school, so after an encounter with an unfriendly nurse, Alicia sees a doctor. On the way out, she asks about the room that has bars over the door, and the women learn that the prisoner is serial killer Irving Wallace (Clain Parker), who’s awaiting trial. Wallace escapes from his room due to an orderly’s carelessness, and, hiding in Betty’s trunk, returns with them to the theater. Alicia is immediately fired upon return, and while Peter is dressing her down, Betty is killed outside with a pickaxe. 

Surprisingly, Alicia discovers this almost immediately and the police are called and arrive at once. Her body is taken away, there are reporters, it’s a whole deal. Two patrolman (Soavi in a cameo, with Mickey Knox as his older partner) are stationed outside of the theater and Willy clocks out for the night, entrusting Peter to lock the place up. Instead, he has “ingenue” Corinne (Loredana Parrella) hide the key so that everyone is locked in and forced to participate in an all-night rehearsal so that they can open the play early and capitalize on the tragedy. Of course, that means that Irving is now locked in with the cast as well as their producer, Ferrari (Piero Vida). The first to be subdued is Brett (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, credited as John Morghen), who portrays the killer within the play; Irving takes his owl head mask and uses it as his disguise to get close to Corinne in the scene in which she dies, only for onlookers to respond too slowly to the dawning realization that she is actually being murdered. And, as she’s the only one who knows where the key is, they’re in for a long night. 

The play within the movie is about a fictional killer named The Night Owl who preys on vulnerable women and murders them. The characters within the film also recognize that the play is a stylish but trashy cheap thrill masquerading as something more; one character describes it as a “thoughtful musical” when asked, but this “artistic endeavor” is fully funded by a sleazy businessman who doles cash out of a briefcase like a gangster. The director of the play, a possible jab at Argento, is fully invested in his artistic vision … but that vision proves to be completely malleable if it sells a few extra tickets. There’s also a moment in which the director is confronted by the killer wielding a chainsaw and just throws a woman directly into the path of the blades, which, as someone whose knowledge of Argento is … extensive, seems like a pretty good jab at the older filmmaker’s less-than-modern take on gender dynamics. 

Speaking of the play, in order to enjoy the movie, it’s important not to worry about what the production’s narrative is or how it could possibly work, and I think this might be an intentional comment on Italian horror as a genre as well. We see several disparate scenes, included but not limited to: 

  • The aforementioned scene in which a sex worker played by Alicia is pulled into a dark alcove/building and murdered, then the owl-headed killer bursts out and dances while a woman plays a saxophone on a rooftop above. This appears as the film’s opening but is presumably not the beginning of the play, as Alicia’s role is repeatedly referred to as the “lead role,” despite her being killed in this scene. 
  • A scene in which Laurel (Mary Sellers) is dancing on a bed while wearing a red wig and dressed as Raggedy Ann–not just a dress like Raggedy Ann’s, but literally dressed as the doll, apparently. We later see that she’s even wearing pads that simulate a body shape that’s essentially identical to the patented Ann doll. This part is apparently non-essential to the plot, as Laurel is tapped to replace Alicia in the aforementioned lead role when Alicia is briefly fired for getting her ankle checked out, and there’s no mention of someone else taking on Laurel’s old role. 
  • The love/killing scene in which Corinne does an interpretive dance around her bedroom while mooning after but also fearing The Night Owl. Although Corinne is intentionally styled to appear more prudish/innocent than the other female characters, there’s no doll on the bed in this scene or any indication that she has a Raggedy Ann. 

I leave it to the giallo fanfiction writers of the world, which I assume exist (if only because I can’t be the only one, right?) to put together a feasible narrative in which these scenes might appear, but I like to think that this is supposed to reflect how most giallo films are often composed of striking individual scenes that ultimately add up to a whole that is greater—but less comprehensible—than the sum of its parts. This film is no exception, although it’s much more fun and compelling than many of its peers, despite occasional wonkiness. For one thing, I fully support the decision to get up in the catwalk above the stage more than once; in a theater, that’s a natural place to stage a scene, but the film puts both of its catwalk scenes in Act III, which makes it feel narratively unbalanced. The dubbing in this one is particularly funny, as there’s the characteristic slight syncing/emphasis issues that are pretty common in Italian cinema, but while most characters are clearly speaking (possibly phonetically memorized) English that’s been dubbed over, there’s no attempt to do so with Ferrari. Either he’s just straight up speaking Italian or every one of his lines was rewritten between filming and voiceover. There’s also an inconsistency of verbiage, as the events of the night are given the nickname “The Sound Stage Killings,” but this isn’t a sound stage; it’s a live theatrical performance space. Those quibbles are fun and easily ignored, but I did have some qualms with the finale. The movie reaches a natural conclusion (our final girl defeats the real Night Owl and escapes to notify the police), but it keeps going for some reason, following her return to the theatre, where she reunites with Willy. In shoddy ADR, he endlessly repeats a line about how the apparent prop gun that was found in one of his desk drawers and which turned out to be useless against Irving is, in fact, a real gun as the play crew had initially guessed, but that none of the actors had figured out how to turn the safety off, only for there to be one final altercation with Irving. The pacing of it is all off, and it feels like it was added to pad the runtime (even with this scene, it’s a lean 86 minutes); forgivable, but not very fun. 

StageFright: Aquarius is currently streaming on Shudder, although the title is styled much less interestingly as Stage Fright.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Further into the Inferno: The Follies of Deepening Suspiria’s Mythology

I love Dario Argento’s Suspira. It’s very high among my favorite titles from the Italian genre film legend, matched only by the likes of Opera & Tenebre. At the same time, I could not care less about the story Suspiria tells if I tried. Like the murder mystery gialli Argento cut his teeth directing, this is explicitly a style-over-substance endeavor, one that pays much more careful attention to the lighting of a kill & the menace of the soundtrack than the logic or structure of its mythology. Suspiria is a gorgeous, gore-coated object that overwhelms in its sensual pleasures, but does little to develop its central story beyond the elevator-pitch premise of “A ballet school run by witches.” Argento doesn’t even save the revelation of that premise for a mysterious reveal; one of the earliest scenes features a track from prog band Goblin where whispers of “Witch, witch-witch-witch” overwhelm the soundtrack. It’s such a weird impulse, then, for each of Suspiria’s later follow-ups to lean so heavily into the witchy dance school’s background mythology as if that was something the original film was missing. No Suspriria descendent follows this trivial pursuit as thoroughly as Luca Gaudagnino’s 2018 eponymous remake. Guadagningo’s Suspriria sprawls into almost a full extra hour of runtime to make room for exploring the political struggles of the coven who run the dammed dance academy, the childhood background of their latest victim Susie Banion, the cultural climate of the country outside the academy’s walls, and any number of other lore concerns that were not on Argento’s mind as much as staging witchy, ballet-themed kills. The truth is, though, that Argento himself was just as guilty of needlessly fleshing out Suspiria’s mythology; he just saved that indulgence for his own sequels to the original film. It’s also true that no mythology-minded Suspiria follow-up—whether from Guadagningo or Argento—has been especially bad, even though every single one is remarkably goofy.

Argento himself wasted zero time diving into Suspiria’s unexplored mythology in his own sequels to the film. The second title in what would eventually be know as The Three Mothers Trilogy, 1980’s Inferno, opens with characters reading large blocks of text out of a fictional book titled The Three Mothers that details lore only casually referenced in the previous film. While Suspiria briefly mentions that its German setting is just one of three connected, international covens – the others located in Rome & NYC – it doesn’t waste much time wondering what’s going on with the witches who run those other houses. Inferno, by contrast, explains in plain academic dialogue how the Mother of Sighs, the Mother of Tears, and the Mother of Darkness divvy up their geographically disparate power structure—connecting its tale of NYC witchcraft to the German events of the previous film. Still, the actual narrative of Inferno has little to do with this suddenly complex lore until the final showdown staged with the Mother of Darkness witch who resides in New York. Mostly, Argento slips back into the sensory indulgences of complexly constructed kills that guided the overall trajectory of the first film, even joking with the supposed seriousness of its mythology when a character mistakes “The Three Sisters” for an R&B vocal group. It wasn’t until the much-delayed conclusion to the trilogy, 2007’s Mother of Tears: The Third Mother, that he really committed to pretending Suspiria’s lore actually meant something, now having spent decades fleshing out its legacy. In the film, his real-life daughter Asia Argento reopens the same The Three Mothers book to kickstart her fated path to confront the titular third Mother in Rome; only this time the pursuit of that mystery & confrontation are made to be the main thrust of the text, so that the brutal gore (and shoddy CGI scares) that interrupt the mythology are more a distraction than they are the entire point. It’s no coincidence that the most mythology-obsessed entry in the Three Mothers Trilogy is also the weakest picture, artistically. Its Roman Catholic mysticism & ancient texts mysteries approximate a mid-00s horror version of The Da Vinci Code, except its guidance under the Dimension Extreme label makes it way cheaper & meaner than that may sound.

As Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake is a shameless indulgence in pure excess, it can’t help but eat up all of the lore stretched out across the entire Three Mothers Trilogy in a single sitting. Gaudagnino goes beyond the establishment of there being a coven of witches in three major cities to ask who these witches are, what political climates they have to deal with, how they delegate power, and how they select their victims. He also picks up the idea of their being a book explaining the mechanics of these covens and their respective houses by filling entire notebooks with handwritten, geometrically diagrammed explanations of how witchcraft works in this universe on a practical, if not mathematical level. This elaboration of core mythology may seem philosophically opposed to the barebones, imagery-distracted lore of the original Suspiria, but it does touch on the most core aspect of Dario Argento’s work: excess. The giallo legend may have poured more of his excessive, obsessive detail into the lighting & staging of a kill than establishing a sense of logic in the witchcraft behind it, but Guadagnino’s overly-detailed attention to the lore is still in the same sprit of unbridled, maybe even ill-advised excess. Oddly, that over-commitment to mythology ultimately has the same effect on the audience that the disregard for it achieved in Argento’s original version. There’s so much going on in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria that it’s difficult to pay attention to or emotionally invest in any one narrative thread, so that what mostly remains is the film’s sense of style. Suspiria (’77) & Inferno recognize this effect outright and fully commit to Argento’s witchcraft giallo aesthetic once they establish the basic tenants of the lore that drives their conflict. Mother of Tears & Suspiria (’18) are much more frantic in their relationship with mythology, chasing a sense of meaning so desperately in their embellishment of witchcraft lore that an overindulgence in backstory & narrative itself becomes part of the filmmaking style.

Whether keeping the mythology as thinly sketched out as it was in the original film or over-explaining superfluous new wrinkles to the lore, the overall strength of a Suspiria follow-up still lies in the pleasures of its sense of style. Inferno may be the most underrated in this regard– mixing the neon witchcraft aesthetic from its predecessor with the gloved-hand giallo kills of other Argento works & Fulci-level shameless gags singular to its own vision (there are a couple cat & rat-themed eco-horror kills I find especially pleasurable) to achieve something truly special. Suspiria (2018) is similarly pleasurable in its stylistic deviations (ultimately landing somewhere between Possession & Society, but nowhere near Argento), even if its attention to lore often feels like wasted energy. Mother of Tears is the clear weak link in the chain, but even the cheap & cheesy violence of its large-scale horror mystery has a kind of charm to it, like an especially gory episode of Masters of Horror or an expired box of Easy Mac. There are no bad Suspiria movies, but there are certainly ones that try way too hard to pretend the series’ core mythology means something; it very much doesn’t.

-Brandon Ledet

Suspiria (2018)

On an aesthetic level, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspriria bears very little resemblance to Dario Argento’s Supsiria. If anything, this 40 years-later reimagining of that cult-favorite resembles an entirely different flavor of intensely stylized, European arthouse horror: Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession. Guadagnino’s picture may have maintained the witchy dance academy setting & central character names from the Argento original, but it ditches all of that film’s intense giallo cross-lighting & prog rock sensibilities for the cold, greyed-out concrete & infectious madness of Possession. Where Suspriria (2018) deviates in tone & imagery from its source material, however, it did zero in on the most vital aspect of Argento’s work: excess. Everything about Guadagnino’s Suspiria is indulgently excessive: at 142 minutes, it’s structured as six acts & an epilogue; Tilda Swinton appears in multiple roles among an already sprawling cast of witchy women (including actors from the original film); unsatisfied with merely being a stylish tale of witchcraft, it also attempts to engage with the politics of post-war Germany; it features an original soundtrack from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. The most Suspiria (1977) thing about Suspiria (2018) is that it’s wholly confident that every self-indulgent impulse it has is worth exploring; the only difference in that respect is that the Argento version was more frequently correct in that shared delusion.

One of my favorite tactics that carries over from Original Flavor Suspiria to Nu Suspiria is that neither waste any effort hiding that they are about dance schools “secretly” run by a coven of witches. In the original, this mystery is “spoiled” by an early sequence of a frightened dance academy student fleeing into the woods while the prog band Goblin whispers, “Witch, witch-witch-witch” over the soundtrack. In the new version, that same freaked-out runaway character (Chloë Grace Moretz) blurts, “They are witches” in blatant terms to her old-man psychiatrist (a gender-blind cast Tilda Swinton) before continuing, “They’ll hollow me out and eat my cunt on a plate.” The psychiatrist, of course, believes this paranoia to be delusional and a large part of the narrative likens his dismissal of her cries of witchcraft to the ways he failed his long-gone wife during The Holocaust. That post-war grief & guilt swirls outside the dance academy, while inside the flesh-eating witches in question are undergoing a more insular political crisis of their own. Unbeknownst to the young dancers in their care, the women who run the academy as an incognito coven are experiencing a kind of civil war on two key issues: choosing new leadership & selecting an unwitting student for a mysterious ritual that will secure the school’s future (at the student’s own peril, of course). That freshly-arrived American student’s name is Susie Banion (Dakota Johnson in a role originated by Jessica Harper), who is afforded her own lengthy backstory in a distant Mennonite community, just in case the narrative wasn’t already overstuffed without it.

It’s probably safe to say that no one loves the original Suspiria for the strengths of its story. Like most giallo-related media, it’s a film best appreciated for its overbearing sense of style more so than the cohesion of its narrative. This only became increasingly apparent as Argento attempted to retroactively make sense of his witchcraft lore in the Suspiria sequels Inferno & Mother of Tears, expanding the original film’s elevator pitch of “A ballet school run by witches” into an unwieldy (but still charming) mess now known as the Three Mothers Trilogy. Guadagnino greedily eats up this now-sprawling mythology and attempts to reinforce each element with even more over-explained backstory: how the dance school relates to its German setting; why Susie Banion is targeted and what her life was like before the ritual was initiated; how the coven negotiates & organizes its collective will across hundreds of women in three separate locales. Beyond skewing its overall aesthetic closer to Żuławski than any gialli, Guadagno’s Suspiria avoids becoming a pointless retread of its Argento source material by pulling its narrative to the opposite extreme – from vaguely stretched-out elevator pitch to overly complex, unnecessarily dense mythology. Paradoxically, the effect of that overcorrection is oddly similar to how plot & lore work in the original film; its narrative is such an overdose of information that very little of it sticks to the walls and what’s mostly left for the audience to digest is the overbearing sense of style it’s delivered through.

As much as I admire Guadagningo’s dedication to excess here, this is the exact kind of messy ambition that invites viewers to pick and choose individual elements at play to praise or critique—as opposed to the more unified vision of the Argento original, which is more of an all-or-nothing proposition. Personally, my favorite aspect of the new Suspiria is the purposeful ways that the act of dance (modern here instead of ballet) is linked to the practice of witchcraft, establishing a cause & effect relationship between dancers’ beautifully contorted bodies and their grotesquely contorted victims’, left to stew in their own piss & mucus. I was also in love with the complexly detailed imagery of Susie Banion’s nightmare montages, each individual flash of a tableau carefully staged like fine art photography. At the same time, there were two glaring stylistic choices that harshed my buzz throughout: a camcorder-level choppy frame rate effect worthy of a Milli Vanilli music video & the jarring inclusion of Thom Yorke’s crooning vocals in an otherwise phenomenal soundtrack. My aversion to those choices are likely personal biases, given that they’ve also bothered me in previous works (specifically, the choppy frame rate in Daughters of the Dust, and Sufjan Stevens’s voice in Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name), but I can’t help but find them cheapening & distracting all the same for crashing me down from the film’s otherworldly spell to a much more pedestrian tone.

There’s so much on the screen in Suspiria that most audiences will find something to nitpick in their personal experience with its relentless over-indulgences in gore-soaked, lore-obsessed witchcraft horror. I envy those who weren’t distracted by stray choices like Yorke’s mewing, appreciating this love letter to excess in its overwhelming entirety. I also pity those who can’t find anything to enjoy here; Guadagnino offers so much to choose from that if you can’t latch onto something the problem is you. I’m personally falling somewhere in the vast middle between those extremes—in impressed, but frustrated appreciation of the film’s dedication to the extremes.

-Brandon Ledet

La chiesa (The Church, 1989)



Following the completion of my Dario Argento project, I felt myself suffering from a distinct lack of Argento in my life. As such, I had to try and fill this lack with some of his other work. Upon beginning the retrospective, I decided not to include films that Argento had written but not directed, as this would have included a large body of films that were never released in the U.S. and would thus have been nearly impossible to track down. Most of the films to which he contributed a story or script idea in the heyday of his career did cross over, however, and I was able to track down a DVD copy of La chiesa (The Church). La chiesa was intended to be the third film in the series and is considered to be an official sequel according to some sources, but it’s unclear how it fits into that series.

Lamberto Bava (son of director Mario Bava) had previously served as the assistant director on Argento’s 1982 film Tenebrae, and the two collaborated again on Demoni and Demoni 2, the latter of which was the film debut of a very young Asia Argento, with Bava directing and Argento contributing to the script. However, a film originally titled The Ogre (directed by Bava and written by Dardano Sacchetti, who contributed to the scripts for Demoni and Demoni 2) was released as Demoni 3: The Ogre in 1988, with La chiesa following in 1989. 1991 saw the release of yet another film titled Demoni 3, directed by Umberto Lenzi, who had previously directed 1969’s Legion of the Damned from a script by—you guessed it—Dario Argento. Adding to the confusion, Bava did not direct La chiesa; it was instead directed by Michele Soavi, another member of that generation of Italian horror directors. All of this also fails to note that there were at least three other films that had the name “Demoni” applied to them as a marketing strategy; simply put, it’s ultimately unclear whether or not this film should be considered as a text which is part of an official ongoing narrative or simply as a text to be discussed in relation to the other texts made by its creators.

Regardless, the film works well as a standalone horror movie, and has Argento’s fingerprints all over it even if it was directed by someone else. Long ago, Teutonic Knights came upon a village that was supposedly inhabited by witches. An inquisitor damned the village when he saw one of the inhabitants with crucifix-shaped scars on her feet, and the knights slaughtered the entire population and buried all of the bodies in a mass grave; the location was then consecrated with a giant cross, and a church was built atop this grave to seal the great evil inside. One child (Asia Argento) almost escapes, but is simply the last victim—or so it seems. In present day (1989) Italy, Evan Altereus (Tomas Arana) arrives at the titular church, where he is taking over as the librarian. He meets art restorer Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), who is working to revitalize a mural that shows the image of souls being tormented by a giant demon and his smaller attendants. Evan also meets the Bishop (Feodor Chaliapin, Jr.), who is obsessed with the maintenance of the church, and Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), who spends a great deal of his time practicing archery and imagining that he is either a Teutonic Knight or shooting at one. Lotte (Asia Argento), the preteen daughter of the church groundskeeper, lives in the church as well.

Evan becomes fascinated by the gothic cathedral’s history, talking incessantly to Lisa about the designs of gothic churches and the oddness of the fact that no royal or high clergyman had ever been buried there. Renovations in the basement lead to the discovery of a scroll that becomes the focal point of Evan’s obsession, ultimately leading him to find the cross/seal; he breaks this seal and becomes the first person possessed by demonic spirits. Ultimately, as the groundskeeper and others fall under the influence of evil, the church’s built-in failsafes, designed by the alchemist architect, seal the church’s doors, trapping the aforementioned characters inside along with a field trip group of about twenty nine-year-olds, an argumentative young biker couple, an elderly couple, and a small bridal party. As the hand of evil closes around them, Father Gus races to save himself and Lotte.

First things first: this movie, like a lot of Argento’s directorial work, doesn’t hold up narratively or logically. The opening scene, featuring the slaughter of an entire village, raises a lot of questions from the first moments. Are the inhabitants of this village actually witches? Is Asia Argento’s character immortal, or is she reborn in the present day? I want to say that the backstory would have a stronger impact if it was made clear that the villagers were innocent and that the possessing entity was created out of the evil of slaughtering so many innocents, but there’s not enough evidence against that reading to definitively state that is not already the case. Even if we accept that (a) the villagers were witches, and that (b) the witches were in league with demons, and thus (c) the demons are entombed evil who escape and begin to possess the church inhabitants, there are still so many things left unexplained. Why does the demon-capturing failsafe only take effect after possessed Evan returns from ripping out his own insides and stalking Lisa at home? He could have never come back, in which case a demon made it into the real word beyond the church without consequence. Why does Father Gus have flashbacks about Teutonic Knights, and is he the knight in that sequence or the knight’s killer?

So much is left unexplained that the film fails under minimal scrutiny. That having been said, this is still a very effective and scary film. The gore here is shocking because so much of the terror comes from slowly-building tension of watching possessed people act in eerie and creepy ways toward the unsuspecting innocents they have infiltrated. Evan’s full on demonic appearance is deeply unsettling in all of its practical effects glory, and it’s only one of the haunting images on display throughout. There are visuals here that I don’t think Argento would have been able to realize with his own skill sets, and there’s a writhing mass of dead bodies at the end that’s truly glorious in all its grotesque hideousness. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the film ever got a DVD release in the original Italian, and the dubbing work here is notably bad; Lotte and an adult woman even have the exact same voice in the dub, which is really distracting. Overall, however, if you’re suffering from a lack of Argento in your life, like I was, it’ll help to fill that void, and is an interesting experiment in collaboration for Argento fans.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Dracula 3D (2012)




I have to admit, I was a little worried that by the time I finished watching and writing about all of Dario Argento’s movies, I would cause his death through some terrible accidental sympathetic magic problem. Luckily it looks like that is not going to be the case. Or, maybe fate’s planning to keep him going until I’ve finished my determination of which Argento is the most Argento is the most Argento. We’ll see.

Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is not the director’s worst film. It isn’t his worst adaptation, or his worst period piece (Phantom of the Opera holds the record in all three of those categories). It’s no surprise that people dislike this movie; what is a surprise is that, while Opera holds an abysmal 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, Dracula holds a barely­-better 14% approval rating, which is strange considering that it is merely a bad movie, not one that is an affront to good taste and the basic tenets of human decency. There are even some fresh and original ideas here that work in the film’s favor, unlike Phantom, where the new ideas were detrimental to the overall film in virtually every instance (steampunk rat killing cart, anyone?). I’m not arguing that this is enough to save the movie—it definitely isn’t—but it does make the viewing a much less painful experience. There were times when I found myself enjoying the film and its eccentricities in spite of its multitude of flaws.

You know this story, for the most part. The film opens to find a young woman named Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli) sneaking out on Walpurgis Night to tryst in some hay. After she and her lover part ways, she is pursued by a dark force and flees through the woods, coming upon the home of Zoran (Giuseppe Lo Console, who portrayed the nameless butcher in Giallo and Federica’s nameless boss in Do You Like Hitchcock?, so good for him getting a name this time around). For a moment, it seems Zoran will help her, but he instead just watches when she is attacked by Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, who previously appeared in La sindrome de Stendhal as rapist/killer Alfredo Grossi). Later, Tanja rises from the dead as a new vampire so that she can fill the role of “vampire bride” in this narrative. The story proper gets going when Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde, which I’m pretty sure is the also the name of an artifact that Captain Picard is set to unearth on his next furlough) arrives in Transylvania aboard a CGI train and makes his way into the town. He spends the night at a local inn so that he can head to the count’s castle the next morning, but he spends enough time there to take note of all the garlic heaped around and be accosted by an imprisoned Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni). He also visits Lucy (Asia Argento), who is a dear friend of his wife, Mina. She warns him about the count in a very vague way, and she and her father fear for his safety when he finally departs. At the count’s home, he witnesses some strangeness and Tanja attempts to seduce him, but Dracula screams that Harker is his; he feasts on the younger man, who also becomes a vampire and then is dispatched in short order. Mina (Marta Gastini) arrives and begins to investigate, and she is aided by the sudden appearance of famed vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing (Rutger Hauer). Dracula recognizes Mina as the rebirth of his long dead love and tries to put her under his thrall. Can she resist his charms long enough for van Helsing to end Dracula’s reign of terror? (Yes.)

I love Rutger Hauer. His face alone is iconic; his line readings are the stuff of legend. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, and even though I don’t understand his interest in appearing in mixed-­quality vampire media, I will never turn down the opportunity to watch; they’re two great tastes that taste great together! Whether he’s camping it up as Lothos in the 1992 film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portraying Dracula himself in Dracula III: The Legacy, bringing un-life to Kurt Barlow in the remade Salem’s Lot, or slumming it as Sookie’s fairy godfather on True Blood, I am there. I’m tempted to give this film an extra star just because he’s in it, but I’ll refrain, if only because I’m saving all my stars for Ladyhawke (come at me talking shit about Ladyhawke, and we will throw down). Unfortunately, even Hauer can’t make this film work, although his presence lends the film more credibility than it really deserves, but all his gravitas can’t make large swathes of his dialogue sound like something a real person would say.

As for the new and interesting things that Argento brings to the table, there are a few. In this retelling, the villagers are all complicit in Dracula’s killings, having made a pact with him in exchange for various favors (this Dracula paid for several townspeople to go to college, which is both awesome and ridiculous). The scene in which the Count repays their attempt to back out of the deal by slaughtering all of them is probably the best in the film: first, Phenomena­-esque swarms of flies appear in the inn dining hall as different people voice their objections; the swarm then coalesces into Dracula as the last few flies are absorbed into his person. It’s a really cool effect in a sea of bad CGI and incomprehensible lighting choices that lend the film an overall Asylum Studios feeling (the composited train is the most offensive; could Argento really not get a real train car?). I also enjoy the character of Zoran, whose blind devotion to Dracula in the face of his fellows’ wishy-washiness makes him a strangely compelling figure, whether he’s doing something as small as not giving Jonathan a letter that Mina has sent or something as eventful as taking it upon himself to murder Tanja’s mother to prevent her from reporting the appearance of Dracula to the authorities in the city. There’s also some nice use of legacy dialogue from previous Dracula adaptations, most notably the “children of the night/what music they make” line.

But, as I said before, this is not a good movie. The subplot involving Tanja is completely pointless and serves only as an excuse to bare some breasts (Asia also has yet another scene in this film in which she showers/bathes, which only gets more weird and uncomfortable every time). Renfield is likewise wasted, as he is devoted to Tanja, not the Count himself, in this retelling. The dubbing is some of the worst I’ve ever seen and heard; inexplicably, Lucy’s surname in the film is changed from Westenra to Kisslinger, and the dubbing wreaks havoc here as some pronounce her name as Kissinger (no “l”) a la Henry, while other characters enunciate the name as kiss-­linger. Aside from the swarm of flies, all of Dracula’s alternate forms are rendered very poorly; history will never forget the scene in which he transforms into a giant praying mantis in order to kill Lucy’s father, but the Drac-­wolf that tears out Jonathan Harker’s throat is actually much, much worse. Perhaps the worst thing of all, however, is that this is the only film from the entire Argento canon that is available on Netflix. I had to actually leave my apartment to track down every other film in this retrospective, but Dracula 3D came to me. It’s a shame that this weak entry in the director’s oeuvre is the one that is most accessible. This is a movie that, frankly, doesn’t really need to exist, but it does, and we all have to live with it. I recommend the film for Argento fans and hardcore Hauer devotees; the rest of you should just skip it.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Giallo (2009)


three star

I don’t know if it’s fair to detract from this movie’s score based on what I learned about it after viewing it. I’m not talking about Adrien Brody’s high-profile lawsuit against the production company to block distribution of Giallo in the U.S. until he received the remainder of his paycheck; that sort of thing shouldn’t (and doesn’t) really affect an interpretation of the film’s quality. What I am talking about is the fact that I honestly thought Dario Argento had gone out and hired someone with an unusual, potentially deformed facial structure to portray the killer, much like he had hired an elderly prostitute to portray the briefly corporeal Helena Markos in the final moments of Suspiria, and it turns out I was very, very wrong. The prosthetics applied to the killer are hideous if you accept that this is the face of a real person, but, once their falsity is pointed out, they are embarrassingly obvious—in the sense that I’m embarrassed by the fact that I made it through the whole film without realizing that it was actually Brody under all that bulbous latex. So, completely outside the world of the film itself, I have to admit that this has the overall effect of making the film goofier in retrospect.

Following the kidnapping of a beautiful tourist, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives in Turin to visit her sister, fashion model Celine (Elsa Pataky). When Celine doesn’t come home when expected, Linda goes to the police, who direct her to Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody), an antisocial detective who is on the trail of a serial kidnapper and murderer (also Brody) who uses his unlicensed taxi as a cover in his abductions. Linda forces her way into his investigation, and they learn from a not-quite-dead victim that her assailant is literally yellow, a fact which they use to determine that the killer, now nicknamed “Giallo,” has jaundice as a result of kidney problems and track him to a clinic. Meanwhile, Enzo reveals that his dedication to the job arose from the fact that he saw his mother murdered by a serial killer when he was a child, a butcher whom he later encountered and killed in revenge as a teenager. Giallo realizes that Linda and Enzo are closing in and takes Linda hostage, promising to tell her where Celine is hidden once he gets away.

When I hit the midpoint of this Dario Argento project, I decided to start keeping track of which of his recurring motifs were used most often and then, when we got to the end, I planned to use this info to determine which Argento was the most Argento of all the Argentos. Strangely, within the first few minutes of this film, it seemed like Giallo was aiming to be the most motif-heavy, as there was a brief scene where a character attended an opera, then a scene of running in the rain, the killer’s eyes being reflected in a mirror, and other elements that had already appeared in four or more films. And then it occurred to me: if The Black Cat was Argento doing Poe and Do You Like Hitchcock? was Argento doing Hitchcock, then Giallo is Argento doing Argento, and it works in some ways but fails in too many others.

The all-too-brief sequences of Enzo’s youth, which are shot to be stylistically similar to Argento’s movies of the late seventies and early eighties, are the most interesting part of the film. These shots are beautiful, and they really make me want to see the aging director craft a giallo period piece set during the era of his greatest successes, perhaps as the last project of his career before retirement. There’s also a return to form with regards to his cinematic eye here; the use of color throughout is particularly well done, especially as this element has been absent from his work for over a decade at this point (a chase sequence that makes its way down a giant yellow spiral staircase is notably both fun and visually appealing). I also appreciated that Enzo and Linda learned the name of the killer fairly early in the film’s run time and tracked down his location, prompting Giallo to be more proactive in a way that none of Argento’s previous antagonists had been. There’s even a fake-out downer ending with an ambiguous epilogue, which is another departure from some of Argento’s more tired ending tropes. Brody seems to be phoning in his performance as Enzo, perhaps to counterbalance his performance as the more striking Giallo, but Seigner is likable and sympathetic as a woman who refuses to give up on her sister, and she makes the character’s decision to acquiesce to the killer’s hostage taking believable.

On the other hand, the original ideas here serve to highlight just how much of this movie isn’t fresh or clever. While Seigner plays her role with understated franticness, Brody poorly acts each of his roles in a different way. The inspector is an interpretation of a hard-boiled NYC cop (it is explained that Enzo spent some time in the states growing up after the death of his mother) with a chip on his shoulder that prevents him from forming emotional relationships; Giallo is a grotesque Quasimodo who shrieks back at his victims and gets off on stealing women’s beauty by mutilating them. Both characters are too broad to leave much of an impression, and the revelation of Enzo’s backstory is more interesting in its execution than in the material revealed. Alternatively, the backstory of Giallo–that his junkie mother abandoned her jaundiced, hepatitis-infected baby to be raised by the church, where he was isolated by his yellow skin–is too maudlin to be taken completely seriously. That the film takes an unusual turn in its final third is interesting, but not interesting enough to save it.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Pelts (2006)


three star


When I wrote my review of Jenifer, I noted that it was unique among Dario Argento’s body of work in a few ways, for better or worse. Jenifer herself was imagined by Argento as an alien life form, even if that wasn’t explicit in the text itself, making her the only extraterrestrial in his canon (unless I’m in for the shock of a lifetime when I get to Dracula 3D); further, the effects work on Jenifer was grotesque and monstrous, with the only similar prosthetic work in his films that I can recall being the monstrous child in Phenomena. Argento’s second Masters of Horror episode, Pelts, is also quite unlike his previous work, although not in the way that is frequently referenced. Nearly every review of Pelts mentions the short film’s “political message,” especially given the generally apolitical nature of all of Argento’s work, but I don’t really think that there is one, at least not in the way the uninitiated interpret the word. As a composition scholar, I am obliged to perceive and interpret all forms of composition and creation as inherently political, as all creation is an act of expressing individuality and thus is a political act in and of itself; by choosing what to include and what to exclude in the created thing, be it a poem, speech, or painting, the author/composer makes a de facto “political” statement. And, yes, the fact that Argento focused this film on the fur trade does lend itself to the assumption that the director is making a capital-P “Political” statement, but I don’t think that was Argento’s goal, nor do I think that decrying fur played a larger role in the inception of this plot than wanting to show a man skinning himself of his own flesh and then working backwards to create parallelism did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jake Feldman (the one and only Meat Loaf Aday) is a fur trader who lusts after Shanna (Ellen Ewusie), a stripper who is disgusted by Feldman’s possessiveness and the fact that, as a furrier, he constantly reeks of dead flesh. She has made it clear that she will dance for—but never sleep with—him, no matter how pathetic he is. One of his suppliers, Jeb Jameson (John Saxon, who previously worked with Argento in Tenebrae), is an old drunk who takes his son Larry (Michal Suchánek) into the woods to check the raccoon traps he set earlier. Larry expresses some concern when he realizes that his father is taking him beyond a warning fence, onto the land of Mother Mater (Brenda McDonald), but the elder Jameson scolds his son for his superstition. The two come upon stone ruins, which Larry notices are carved with the faces of raccoons, while his father instructs him to crush the windpipes of the animals they have trapped, apparently in abundance, and to take a baseball bat and crush the skulls of any raccoon that does not die instantly. Jeb calls Feldman to tell him that he has secured a large number of pelts, the most beautiful he has ever seen. Later, after the two have skinned the animals and their pelts are drying, Jeb heads to bed while Larry ecstatically examines the animal hides with a spiritual reverence. Moved by their beauty, he goes upstairs to his father’s room and crushes his skull with the baseball bat before gleefully setting up a trap and then killing himself with it.

Feldman and his lackey find the two in this position and, thinking quickly, take off with the raccoon skins. Various workers in Feldman’s shop begin to self-harm in ways that are reminiscent of their interactions with the furs in the coat-making process, until the coat is finally completed. In the meantime, Feldman visits Mother Mater, who warns him that the nearby fenced-off woods are protected by the “pine lights,” which he laughs off when he realizes she means raccoons. Feldman presents the coat to Shanna, who sleeps with him in exchange for it. He excuses himself to the restroom, where he proceeds to skin himself, cutting off his own flesh in roughly the shape of a tank top and then attempts to gift this flesh to Shanna, who flees from him. Feldman pursues her to the elevator, where her hand is trapped and then torn off (symbolic of the animal that gnawed its own foot off to escape the trap), and then they both die. The end.

I remember watching Tenebrae and being shocked by how unusually violent it was in comparison to the (comparatively) understated violence of the films that preceded it; Pelts gives that film a run for its money. Argento brought back Howard Berger, who had done the make-up and visual effects on Jenifer, and he was again interviewed on this DVD. Berger, who has worked with director Quentin Tarantino numerous times, recalled in his interview for this project that Tarantino’s directions on the set of Kill Bill largely consisted of “make it bloodier than Tenebrae.” He felt he had come full circle by contributing to this project, citing that it was the goriest thing he had ever worked on, and I can’t argue with that. There’s not a lot to engage an audience here on a philosophical level (and certainly nothing on a political level), but there’s more than enough to satisfy even the sickest fans of gore. I consider myself to have a fairly strong constitution, steeled by many a midnight horror flick, but some scenes were almost too much for even my stomach. The scene in which Feldman flays himself is horrifying in all the best ways, and the scene in which the younger Jameson serenely plunges his face into a bear trap carefully combined tension and the grotesque in perfect measure. That’s a real feather in the cap of the people who worked on the short’s practical effects, but it also highlights the poor quality of much of the CGI work. The worst offender in this arena has to be the scene in which one of Feldman’s employees sews her eyes, mouth, and nose shut; there’s no real reason why this couldn’t have been done practically using a dummy head, especially given Berger’s talents, and it looks terrible and rushed in the final product.

Although Meat Loaf is most well known as a musician and his most memorable role since The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a supporting one in Spice World as the Girls’ driver, he has a willingness to completely immerse himself in a part the way that many actors who are more “legitimate” or noteworthy do not. Feldman is an utterly vile person, and any humanization that he has is as a result of Meat Loaf’s surprisingly nuanced and careful performance. Saxon is the only other actor of note in the production, and he does the opposite, playing up the campiness of the Jameson character; it’s a bit of a relief to see him killed off so early, as that frees Saxon from sullying himself too much. The rest of the cast is largely comprised of nobodies; each of them has an IMDb page full of “Man #3,” “Bouncer,” “Tough Guy,” and “Stripper #4” credits, and there’s not much to say about any of them. Ellen Ewusie really gets the worst of this, however, as her interview (like Moran Atias’s in the supplemental materials for Mother of Tears) illuminates her as a woman saddled with attempting to discuss building the background and motivations of a character who exists solely for titillation, and I wish I could see her in a role that requires more than that.

Overall, this was an experience that I neither loved nor hated. The message is less “fur is murder” and more “selfishness is self-destructive,” which is all well and good but not very groundbreaking. The acting is a mixed bag, and there’s so much gore packed into this short run time that it is worth a watch if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s by far the better of Argento’s two Masters episodes, and while it’s not very good, it is an unusual part of the director’s canon that gives some insight into his mind that is lacking in his other works.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Jenifer (2005)



Steven Weber is not a movie star. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Every time I see him, all I can ever think about is his character from Wings, a sitcom that ran for the better part of a decade and then was syndicated for the entirety of my formative years. I can only see Brian Hackett. Even when Weber is supposed to be Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s poorly overproduced miniseries remake of The Shining, or whatever his character’s name was in that Larry David movie that Larry David hates, he’ll always be slacker Brian Hackett to me. The inverse is also true; Argento is not a director who should be bound by the limits of the small screen, as was seen in Do You Like Hitchcock? and here. Apparently Weber has a talent for screenplay writing, which he exercised here in this first season Masters of Horror episode, adapting a horror story from a 1974 issue of Creepy: “Jenifer.” This is also Dario Argento’s return to America after Trauma, which he chose to shoot in what he described as “featureless Minnesota” for presumably thematic reasons that I still don’t understand. All discussion about his crumbling auteurship aside, it can never be said that Argento does not put all of his energy into his work. The Masters of Horror DVDs are some of the best you can ask for, featuring hours of special features for each episode, including interviews with actors who worked with the director of that episode earlier in his career as well as featurettes and other behind-the-scenes footage; here, it’s really evident that Argento, despite being in his sixties at the time, is working just as hard on this one hour film as he did on the exalted films from earlier in his career. It’s just too bad that the end product isn’t really all that worthwhile.

Frank Spivey (Weber) is a police officer who shoots and kills a derelict when the man refuses to drop the giant blade he is holding to the neck of a woman whose face is unseen. With his dying breaths, the man warns Spivey that he can’t comprehend what he has done, before Spivey sees the face of the woman he rescued and recoils in horror. Jenifer (Carrie Anne Fleming), as we will learn she is named, has an attractive body but a terrifyingly hideous face, featuring enlarged and asymmetrical black eyes and a malformed mouth full of jagged teeth; she also drools profusely and her tongue appears to be covered in food bits at all times. Spivey becomes obsessed with her despite her appearance, inviting her to stay in his home while they look for her family. Things start to go awry almost immediately, as Jenifer gorily eats the family cat, prompting Mrs. Spivey and the couple’s son to leave the home, but Jenifer and Spivey begin to have sex and Spivey seems addicted. When he cannot curb Jenifer’s cannibalistic outbursts (which culminate in the killing and eating of the little girl who lives next door), Spivey moves Jenifer to a cabin in the woods and takes a job as a shelf stocker at a grocery store operated by a single mother (Cynthia Garris). Jenifer can’t help but kill yet again, eviscerating and feeding upon the entrails of the shop owner’s teenage son (Jeffrey Ballard). Realizing that he can never stop her, Spivey takes Jenifer into the woods to kill her, but is shot by a hunter before he can complete the deed; Jenifer goes with the hunter, to begin the cycle anew.

Jenifer succeeds in one way that Argento’s previous films didn’t: Jenifer herself is positively grotesque and disgusting. As in the original comic story, there’s never an explanation given as to where she came from or why she does what she does, although Argento imagined that she was an alien life form of some kind and instructed the makeup department accordingly, making this the first and only appearance of an alien life form in his body of work to date. I mention this not only because it is noteworthy, but because much of the short itself is not. Everything interesting about Jenifer is revealed and discussed in the supplementary materials, not in the text proper, which is a problem. The plot is paper thin, and the fact that this is apparently a recursive narrative is the only thing that makes it notable at all. Of the two television projects that Argento worked on in 2005, this one manages to be stronger than Do You Like Hitchcock? in its sense of style and its lush Oregon landscape, but this is still a paper-thin plot about a man whose sex drive is stronger than his will to live or his oath to protect people, which makes him difficult to care about. Although it is apparent that Jenifer is warping his mind somehow from the moment the two meet, we spend no time with Spivey before this event, so we have no way of knowing if he was ever a decent cop and good father who is turned by his weakness to his lusts, or if he was always as pathetic as he is presented to be at the conclusion.

Masters of Horror was always better in concept than in action. In practice, it seems that most of directors invited to be part of the series were past the point where they or their points of view could be said to have any cultural relevancy. The BTS materials demonstrate that Argento was somewhat hamstrung by the sensibilities of the network, even though you’d expect Showtime to have a loose hand. A monstrous woman with a hideously deformed face but great breasts eviscerating and feasting upon a cat and a seven year old girl? Fine. But show her chowing down on a victim’s penis? Too far! According to Howard Berger, who designed and applied the prosthetics and makeup for Jenifer, Argento also asked him to design a horribly alien murder vagina, which he then crafted out of chicken parts and prosthetic teeth; Showtime nixed this idea as well. And frankly, I don’t know how to feel about that. At the time of filming, Argento was still physically directing his actors, acting out how he wanted them to move and react to things like a person truly passionate about their craft; he was also trying to push the boundaries of horror and good taste, taking no prisoners and holding back nothing in the pursuit of an artistic endeavor. But not being able to realize his perversely horrifying or horrifyingly perverse ideas isn’t really the problem with the final product. Passion isn’t imagination, or talent, or relevance. It’s vital but insufficient, and the problems with Jenifer are that it’s just too blasé, too 1990s The Outer Limits, too television. Jenifer herself will give you nightmares, but that’s the discomfort of the uncanny valley, not tension. The story is repetitive despite its short run time (“Will Jenifer kill again? Yes.”), and it has no staying power.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005)



Way back when I first started working my way through the films directed by Dario Argento, I opened my review of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage with a reference to  the early U.S. promotional materials for that film, which banked on the connection between the young Italian director and Alfred Hitchcock. The quotation from Hitchcock cited therein, that he found Argento’s work to be troubling, fascinates me, especially as Argento himself was known at the height of his career as the Italian Hitchcock. As I reach the end of Argento’s C.V., I have to note that this comparison is reductive and does a disservice to both men. Even at their worst, Hitchcock’s stories always made sense, and his reprehensible antihero protagonists were viewed from a distance that was sufficient to allow the audience to have ambivalent feelings about them. For instance, famously, the intent of the scene in which Norman Bates pushes a
car into a bog was designed to elicit an anxious reaction when the vehicle failed to sink, because part of you wants him to succeed. After three and a half decades directing films, Argento was finally able to go full Hitchcock in this tepid made-for-tv picture.

The film opens with an utterly inconsequential sequence in which young Giulio (Elio Germano) is riding his bike in the woods before stumbling upon two women, who make their way to an abandoned shack. He spies on the two through the window as they excitedly slaughter a rooster and dance about in its blood. They discover him peeping and chase him away, screaming after him that they will catch him eventually (they don’t). We then see Giulio in the present day; he’s now a film student working on a thesis about German expressionism, whenever he can tear himself away from peeping on his neighbor, Sasha (Elisabetta Rocchetti), in various states of undress. He also bears witness to Sasha’s frequent altercations with her mother. One day, while visiting his local video rental outlet, he notices Sasha and a blonde woman, Federica (Chiara Conti), both attempting to rent Strangers on a Train. Sasha ultimately rents the movie, but promises to bring it back the very next day so that Federica can have her turn. Giulio befriends the slacker shop owner, Andrea (Ivan Morales). A few nights later, an intruder enters Sasha’s home and kills her mother. Because Giulio had previously seen Federica and Sasha laughing together in the park, he becomes obsessed with the idea that they’ve entered into a murder pact, Strangers on a Train style.

Giulio’s girlfriend Arianna (Cristina Brondo) thinks he’s being absurd, and her mood doesn’t improve when she realizes his evidence gathering technique involves spying on nude women. Giulio begins snooping around Sasha’s apartment while cleaners are there and goes so far as to steal a piece of her mail, which shows how much she stands to inherit from her mother’s death; Sasha realizes Giulio is spying on her. Later, while he is in the shower, an intruder breaks in but is scared off, prompting Giulio to have his locks changed. The next day, he meets up with Andrea, who asks him to mind the shop for a moment; Giulio uses this opportunity to get Federica’s address from the customer database, and to flirt with Sasha when she stops in. Giulio then follows Federica from her home to work one day, where he sees her supervisor behaving inappropriately. He follows the two back to the boss’s apartment, where it is revealed that she stole money from the company and that he is blackmailing her for sexual favors. Before he can force himself upon her, however, he notices Giulio doing what he does best, peeping, and pursues the kid into the street, where he sustains an injury to his foot before absconding on his comical scooter. He’s in full-on Rear Window mode now, with his binoculars and his foot cast, and when evidence starts to mount that he might not be as crazy as was initially suspected, including an attempt on his own life, Arianna joins him in his investigation.

Do You Like Hitchcock? is an unimaginative movie, full of twists that ultimately render the mystery moot and featuring a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. Giulio is a creeping peeping tom, and there’s no way around it; his Harriet the Spy hijinx are not adorable when applied to an adult who only becomes aware of a murder because it interrupts his voyeurism. This is, apparently, the message of the film, given that the final frames are dedicated to reminding the viewer of all the times he spied on people without their knowledge. There’s no denunciation of his activities on the part of the film, and the only person who calls him out on the inappropriateness of this behavior is Arianna, who is presented as an unlikable shrew who lashes out and fails to believe Giulio when he needs her to.

As an Argento product, this is most clearly similar to The Black Cat, except that here the object of emulation is Hitchcock, not Edgar Allan Poe. There are a few reasons why that film worked and this one doesn’t; first and foremost is in the different lengths of the two films. It’s not as if giving Argento a shorter running time will guarantee a great picture (as we’ll see next time), but a lot of Black Cat‘s tautness can be attributed to its abbreviated running time, which ensured the director’s digressions were largely kept to a minimum. Secondly, the characters in the 1990 film were pastiches of ideas and character traits from several different Poe characters, so they felt both familiar and novel, grounded and immortal at the same time; here, it’s impossible not to compare Giulio to both James Stewart’s L. B. Jeffries and Harvey Keitel’s Usher, and where the latter two are consequential, the former is blandly nonpresent, existing only as a cipher through which the plot can happen. And that’s not even getting into the vast difference in acting ability.

There’s also the fact that, in Black Cat, characters couldn’t just walk around saying, “Oh, this killer’s M.O. reminds me of ‘Berenice’,” or “oh, this crime scene is just like ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’.” Hitchcock could have gone all the way with this metatextual reframing of the narrative, making this movie like Scream with Hitchcock films in place of slasher flicks. Instead it falls flat, as Giulio says things like “I thought they were doing Strangers on a Train, but they’re doing Dial M for Murder!” Subtlety has never been Argento’s forte, but this movie has virtually no subtext whatsoever, save for one recurring visual that is probably unintentional. There’s a rather large poster for Il cartaio on the video store door, right next to a poster for Hitchcock’s latter day thriller Marnie, which is largely forgotten or reviled these days, with good reason (if you ever wondered what it would look like if James Bond raped Tippi Hedren, Marnie is the movie for you, you sick bastard). Cartaio and Marnie are very dissimilar films, but they both represent a period in each of their respective directors’ careers where the bloom was off the rose, so to speak; their best works already having been completed and canonized as classics, but neither director was ready to go quietly into obscurity.

The connection to Marnie is further underscored by Federica’s similarity to the title character of that film, as both are blackmailed and assaulted by their employers for having stolen funds. Aside from the obvious references to Strangers and Dial M, there are also a few other appearances of elements from Rear Window, some of which are updated for modernism in a way that I actually enjoyed. If you ever wondered how the finale of Rear Window would have been different if Stewart could have just called Grace Kelly on her cell phone, this is the movie that will answer that question for you, for better or worse. The rooftop pursuit has elements of Vertigo in it while also harkening back to a similar chase sequence in Cat o’ Nine Tails, which is a nice touch. Maybe it’s the inherently small nature of television that held this film back, but all in all, it’s one that’s not really worth bothering with. If you want to see Argento try his hand at Hitchcock and succeed, go back and rewatch the opening of Sleepless again; the train-bound chase sequence that centers around the retrieval of mysterious files and papers is very much a spiritual descendant of similar scenes in North by Northwest and The 39 Steps, and packs more of a punch (and more respect for Hitch and his legacy) into 13 minutes than this film does in its entire runtime.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond