Starring: Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, Elsa Pataky
Writers: Jim Agnew, Sean Keller, Dario Argento
Director: Dario Argento
My first question when encountering this film was why Adrien Brody chose to be involved. I suppose, given his presence in Predators, there’s a side to him that wants to make unpretentious genre films rather than heavy Oscar fare. Maybe he’s just a big Dario Argento fan, and why not?
Working with a script from others is rare for Argento, but this was a script prepared with him in mind by two American fans and then given another draft by the director himself. Giallo is an Italian literary and film genre, deriving its name from the yellow covers of a famous series of paperback crime novels, initially famous American works and later original Italian novels. The giallo films of the ’60s and beyond, of which Argento was a prime architect, along with Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and others, are gory, hyper-stylized blends of whodunit and slasher film.
In this case, calling the film Giallo is not just a nod to its origins but also a plot point, if a rather weak one. A crazed cab driver is abducting pretty women and then torturning and mutilating them for sexual release, before eventually killing them and dumping their bodies where they will be easily found. He’s yellow from jaundice, a side effect of Hepatitis C given to him in the womb, so he’s always been an outcast. When he kidnaps model Celine (Pataky, also Brody’s girlfriend in real life), Celine’s flight attendant sister, Linda (Seigner), is so intent on finding her sister before it’s too late that she becomes a virtual sidekick to Inspector Avolfi (Brody), a fairly unpleasant, antisocial expert on serial killers who is such an outcast himself that he works alone, on a completely different floor from the rest of the police department.
We don’t see Giallo’s face for about half the movie, and when we do, it’s either laughable or just disappointing, because it’s also Brody in heavy makeup. He mumbles and capers so much it seems Giallo must be developmentally disabled, but he’s clever enough when he needs to be. In the end, one has to conclude Brody just wasn’t quite sure how to play the role and decided to go over the top, the better to differentiate the character from Avolfi.
Seigner isn’t much better. The longtime wife of Roman Polanski looks her age with harsh blonde hair and bright red lipstick. Yes, a worried sister would look this haggard in real life, but in a thriller it’s a problem. Oddly, she actually does the detective work that leads to Avolfi looking for patients with pronounced jaundice that leads them to finding where the killer lives. Pataky, prettier and convincingly terrified most of the time, would have been more fun in the Linda role. Avolfi isn’t a very impressive detective, which is a fault in the script and not intentional. Brody isn’t all that good, either. He mumbles and chain-smokes (and reportedly made several revisions to the script), but can’t come up with a very compelling or believable character.
For his part, Argento is in good if not top form. His self-referential side comes out with an early, nonessential scene at an opera, and the music is in line with some of his past work (Brody, an exec producer, nixed his first choice of composer). While the blood and puncture wounds are very much in keeping with his past giallo classics, some have said the prolonged torture scenes in here are different, perhaps a response to the success of “torture porn” films like the Saw and Hostel series at the time. There is nothing novel to these scenes here, but aside from an obvious dummy used for a hammer to the head, they’re all shot well.
Argento and/or his writers (maybe even Brody) lean quite heavily on a Jungian take on Avolfi and Giallo being two sides of the same coin, both subterranean outcasts tied to violent crime. A series of flashbacks show that not only did Avolfi see his mother murdered, he later gets his revenge as a teenager on the killer. He’s actually caught, but the policeman who catches him understands, and becomes a father figure and eventually commanding officer to him, a plot point a lot of viewers will probably find ludicrous. As with a lot of movies I’ve seen recently, I appreciate the effort at achieving greater depth, even if it doesn’t really work. The final shot is so ambiguous—did they find Celine in time or not?—that it really stays with you. Argento could have gone for a more obviously satisfying conclusion, but then, that’s one of the things that makes him interesting.
Note #1 - Brody was not initially paid what he was promised for the role, prompting a lawsuit and his attempts to block the film’s DVD release (it eventually settled to his satisfaction).
Note #2 - Argeno reportedly distanced himself from the film as he did not like the producers’ cut of it.
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Starring: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli
Writer/Director: Dario Argento
I went into this one not knowing it was the second of a trilogy (Suspiria came in 1977, the long-awaited The Mother of Tears in 2007), but I didn’t feel I really missed much by not seeing Suspiria. In this film, Miracle plays Rose, a young New York poet obsessed with a book called The Three Mothers, supposedly the story of an architect who designed buildings in Manhattan, Rome and Freiburg for three powerful, immortal witches, The Mother of Sighs, The Mother of Tears and The Mother of Darkness. Rose believes that she’s living in one of the buildings, and indeed, there are some weird occurrences and eccentric characters in and around the building. Rose investigates the basement, dropping a piece of jewelry into an open drain. She dives in in a beautifully filmed, spooky, erotic underwater sequence I would love to credit Argento for if the credits didn’t cite a Lorenzo Bataglia. Too bad, as it’s one of the best parts of the movie.
Rose gets worried that someone or something is after her, so she writes to her brother Mark (McCloskey), a musicologist studying in Rome. Unfortunately, although Argento doesn’t bother to explain it, one of the other sisters/mothers is already after him, appearing in one of his classes and blowing things around, making him so sick he forgets the unread letter. A pretty student, Sara (Giorgi), who was sitting next to him reads the letter and starts her own investigation, asking questions of unfriendly Roman countrymen, and gets killed for it, eventually. Mark finds two fragments of Rose’s letter and heads to New York, looking for Rose. Rose is killed before he gets there, and Mark struggles for answers, getting none from the eccentric but friendly building staff. Mark eventually gets to meet Mater Tenebrarum, who then explains that she and her sisters are Death personified, seemingly proving it by turning into a laughing skeleton, before the building burns up and Mark escapes.
I’ve only seen a few Argento films, and while I don’t consider him a great filmmaker as far as ideas, writing, or innovation, he’s a very entertaining, stylish filmmaker. I like the contrasting red and blue lit sections of many of the shots, the music is usually good, and he’s an expert at suspense. It’s an engaging and often frightening film, when so many horror movies are just about body counts and analyzing the effects. Yes, to some extent this film is concerned with a body count in that it introduces some characters just to kill them, often with thin plot material to bring them in. Although it doesn’t always make sense, it never fails to entertain.
Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Paola Cozzo, Bobby Rhodes, Fiore Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sachetti
Director: Lamberto Bava
Demons is a mid-‘80s gorefest that took me back to that era when I used to rent VHS movies like this with my parents’ video store card based on how much gore and/or T&A I thought I might see based on the cover or an article in Fangoria Magazine. The story, which features a slumming Dario Argento among several writers, involves a young woman stalked on the subway by a man in a creepy mask. However, he doesn’t hurt her, he just gives her tickets to a movie premiering that night at a local theater. She brings along a girlfriend to the strange old theater, the lobby of which contains a motorcycle with a masked, sword-wielding mannequin astride it.
Despite the largely Italianate makeup of the credits, this one is shot in Berlin, and 1985 Berlin doesn’t need a lot of work to look inhuman and horrible. The movie-within-the-movie starts, and it’s a silly slasher film, but as it plays we get glimpses of some of the audience members who will play a part in the story, including a middle-aged man really mean to his poor wife, and a stereotypical black ‘70s style pimp flanked by two girlfriends. The African-American one finds the mask from the lobby has scratched her, causing her cheek to bleed at the same time the same thing is happening onscreen. She goes to the ladies room, where the scratch swells and bubbles with green pus, and then she changes into a hideous demon, clawing through the screen to let the audience know that shit just got real.
The rest of the film is just a series of cruel sequences where the characters who have been introduced either go off on their own and are killed or turned into demons, or try to barricade themselves in the mezzanine and fight off the increasing number of demons (everyone killed turns into one, like zombies). I say cruel because most of the characters who are positive (ie not mean, selfish, slutty or exhibiting other attributes that usually lead to death in body count horror movies) and resourceful usually meet their end without much of a chance. You want to like the take-charge black pimp guy, but he gets taken down in about five minutes.
The demons are generally just the actors with fangs, green pus, claws and simple makeup, but occasionally we see the real demon (which somehow spreads like an infection) emerge from a character’s body. There is never a confrontation with the real demons or some main demon. In fact, it all comes down to the final surviving couple in one improbable battle against the demon horde, as they use the motorcycle and sword from the lobby to drive around the theater (frequently jumping right over the seats) to slash lots of demons, before figuring out a way to escape to the roof when a helicopter crashes through it. There, they meet the masked mastermind from the beginning, a regular guy who somehow engineered not only the demon infection but also found a way to not just lock everyone in the theater but make the exits just mockups, fake doorframes fronting concrete walls. They manage to kill the villain by forcing his face onto exposed rebar, and then they make their way down to the street, where we see there’s a full-scale demon invasion going on. They’re rescued by a father and his two demon-busting kids, but our hero’s girlfriend soon succumbs and has to be killed, leaving just the one theater survivor and plenty of opportunity for a sequel.
I enjoyed the movie for its relatively low budget verve and the ‘80s soundtrack, which features a moody synth score and features some rock and pop hits and non-hits from the likes of Billy Idol, Go West and some bands best forgotten or never known. It’s a shame a little more attention wasn’t made to trying to make the thing make sense, or at least giving us a character or two to like. The ones who make it to the end have no personality and are lousy actors. But I guess most people who see this will be looking for imaginative death scenes and lots of gore, so I guess this delivers on those fronts.