'THE FRACTURED (ON-SCREEN) MIND OF ASIA ARGENTO' FOUR-WAY!Dario Argento's TRAUMA (1993, IMDB TV) for the first time.Most diehard horror fans know the director of "Suspiria" and "Deep Red" peaked in the 70's and 80's. But many aren't aware that his downward trend in the 90's and 2000's was a slow fade into irrelevance and not a cliff dive. Despite the many strikes against it (Dario relocating to America in the early 90's, a years-long gap since he last directed "Opera," battles with the MPAA and US producers, etc.) "Trauma" still packs enough over-the-top stylistic touches (the black gloves) and gruesome stuff (decapitations galore, especially if you're a loving lesbian couple... BOOOO! HISSS!) to be a standard bearer of Italian horror excess. You just have to grade it on a curve because the director and his young daughter (co-star Asia Argento) spoke/understood English as a second language, didn't get the music they wanted (Pino Donaggio instead of Goblin) and were underwhelmed by America circa the early 90's. You've never seen Minneapolis, MN look so plain, unappealing and dull as how Dario and cinematographer Raffaele Mertes show it in "Trauma." :-PEven as we get familiar elements from Italian horror (Christopher Rydell as a civilian who can't help but involve himself in the hunt for a murderer he has no business pursuing) and recognizable actors portraying them (Piper Laurie for a hot minute, Frederic Forrest as a pushy-as-fuck psychoanalyst, Brad Dourif as a junkie doctor, etc.) it's young Asia Argento that steals the movie. Okay, the little kid next door that breaks into the killer's secret lair chasing after a butterfly-eating gecko is also pretty cool. :-P But seriously, Asia projects a vulnerability and sense of abandonment when she becomes an orphan overnight that gave me early 80's young Jennifer Connolly vibes. If you can get past Dario's tone-deaf (as in 'European') attitude toward sex (David making love to girlfriend Grace knowing Aura was sleeping next door) and embrace the crazy, "Trauma" eventually delivers the bloody goods. It repeats a few of the greatest hits from his previous work, but this time with Tom Savini supplying the latex. 4 DECAPITATED HEADS WHISPERING NOT-SO-IMPORTANT CLUES (out of 5).
Dario Argento's THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996, Blue Underground DVD).My first rewatch in years, which is fine because the material isn't that fun to revisit. But every time I see "Stendhal Syndrome" again my appreciation for it grows, even when the last third turns into a crazy episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" on steroids. Knowing that Dario tried and failed to get Bridget Fonda or Jennifer Jason Leigh to play the lead role of a female police detective pursued by a serial rapist is the only thing that makes me think the director loves his daughter. If you can get past 21-year-old Asia looking way too young for her police rank she delivers a mesmerizing performance that punches viewers in the gut, even when it de-evolves into fetishistic femme fatale visuals. Young and lean Thomas Kretschmann is, dare I say, Roy Batty-esque as the rapist that Det. Manni is chasing after before she succumbs to the titular anomaly. The narrative relegates the Stendhal Syndrome subplot to the background as the story progresses to an ending that feels more gut-wrenching in the current #MeToo era than it did in '96. All those Italian men with their hands all over Anna... EEEUUUU!!!! :'(The score by Ennio Morricone might one of his greatest and most underrated, even if it relies too much on repeating the same theme endlessly. Whenever Anna transfixes herself to a work of art that overwhelms her senses (particularly the opening at a Florence museum) it's Morricone's music more than the primitive-looking CG effects that sell the madness she's going through. Too bad the English dub is flat and almost cartoony (especially if you've heard Asia's real English voice), but the overall quality makes the silly English voices tolerable. "Stendhal Syndrome" misfires a couple of times (CG pills and bullet-through-the-mouth gags, really Dario?), but the strong leads and uncomfortable subject matter handled by a still-had-it legendary director combine to make this a rare Italian horror picture that's scary because what it suggests feels more plausible than zombies coming to New York or witches living in a German dance school. It's truly Argento's last great movie, which automatically makes it his best collaboration with daughter Asia since they started working together. 4.25 DEEP-TONGUE UNDERWATER FISH KISSES (out of 5).
Beyond the casting of Asia Argento (like you said, too young), there are not many missteps in The Stendhal Syndrome. I was surprised by how well the film works when I saw it a few years ago. I have not watched any of the films Dario Argento made after this, and I do not feel the need to.
Dario Argento's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998, YouTube) for the first time.Musophobia sufferers beware. 1998's "Phantom of the Opera" is a giant piece of shit, period. Even Ennio Morricone, fresh from a great soundtrack for "Stendhal Syndrome," can't compose a tune memorable enough to make anybody ignore this dumpster fire. And it says something about how bad this movie is that Asia Argento's Christine Daaé getting raped and still having a bond with Phantom (Julian Sands) doesn't even rank among the five worst things about it. From the opening scene suggesting that baby-who'll-grow-up-to-be-Phantom was saved from drowning death and raised by rats (is Dario really using the opening of 1992's "Batman Begins" as Phantom's origin story? :-O) you feel the desperation of a once-great filmmaker tossing any nonsensical gore gag (dismembered torso) or contrived scenario at the screen (a Phantom without a scar or even a mask) to see what sticks. Abominable CG effects of a giant chandelier crashing over spectators are bad enough, but "Phantom's" tone-deaf editing suggesting the chandelier (and the bodies of people it fell on top of) was removed and the performance continued? Madness, or more likely the people involved just did not care enough to fix a glaring tonal/editing shift."Phantom" is where both Argentos (Dario writing/directing and Asia looking perpetually lost and vacant) not only appear to be going through the motions, but the result is a pointless, boring re-telling of Gaston Leroux's source material with completely made-up characters/situations to allow for more pointless slashings, stabbings and impaling opportunities. Julian Sands is just "Warlock"-ing his way around the stage and underground caves (because stalagmites are sharp), and God bless him for not walking off the picture when Dario asked him to have the equivalent of a sexual orgy with rats on-camera. If you watch Argento's "Opera" followed by "Phantom '98" back-to-back the depths of the fall from grace are staggering. A-fucking-void. 1 SEVERED PARIS SEWER WORKER (out of 5).
Michele Civetta's AGONY (2020, Amazon Prime) for the first time.Middle-aged New York City artist Isadora (Asia, who's not ashamed to show off her tattooed body) inherits a sizable estate and villa in Tuscany after the sudden revelation of the passing of a mother she was told by her estranged father Arthur (Rade Serbedzija) had died when Isadora was little. With her American husband (Jonathan Caouette) and 10-year old daughter Jordan by their side, Isadora's nuclear family travels to the old country to attend her mother's funeral and contemplate selling the giant, empty house. But some of the old-school Italian people working at the villa (like Monica Guerritore's Angelica) might not be telling all their know about the parcel of land nearby where some heretics set-up a worshipping temple centuries ago.Like J.A. Bayona's 2007 supernatural slow-burn "The Orphanage,""Agony" plays a very deliberate and old-fashioned cinematic game of putting the audience through the same ringer that the protagonist's experiencing as she delves closer to the truth. No cellphones or modern conveniences in this contemporary Italian horror tale. Just Franco Nero as an old friend of the family trying to feed Isadora valuable backstory, plus a downbeat sense of dread that more often works (sad violin music) than doesn't (sudden cuts to alternate colors). YMMV. 3 DUSTY HIDDEN CHILDREN BEDROOMS (out of 5).
Viva l'Italia!Demons 2 (Dèmoni 2... l'incubo ritorna) (1986, dir. Lamberto Bava)In the first Demons, a movie playing in a mysterious theater caused demons to appear. In this one, the source is a movie playing on TV that seems to take place in the world of the first movie. That's kinda brilliant!After that setup, the plot is just something to hang the creature effects on, but those effects are pretty fantastic!The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba) (1971, dir. Emilio P. Miraglia)The widowed Alan still grieves for her redheaded wife Evelyn, so naturally he lures redheaded women to his mansion to be tortured. You know, like people in Italian exploitation movies do. He attends a séance where he sees an apparition of her wife, which seems to scare him straight and he proposes to the first pretty girl he sees. She says yes immediately. You know, like people in Italian exploitation movies do. But as they settle down as a married couple, bodies start piling up and Evelyn's ghost seems to be the prime subject. You know, like happens in Italian exploitation movies.More of a giallo than a horror, it's a little slower and more deliberate than you want your Junesploitation picks to be, but it's still enjoyably moody and there's a fun, stupid final twist. You know, like there is in Italian exploitation movies.
Btw, to connect it to J.M.'s picks, Demons 2 was 10-year-old Asia Argento's first film role (his dad was a writer and producer on the film). Not that I would've recognized her without seeing her name on IMDb.
To my eyes, EVELYN seems more of an exploitation thriller with supernatural elements. I like the film enough to have purchased the Arrow release. Emilio Miraglia's other giallo, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, is by far the better film.
My initial plan was to break out the new Christopher Lee set from Severin. Since I am still waiting for that to arrive, I went with a couple of films I have already seen.LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972, dir. Mario Bava) If you have not seen much or any of Mario Bava’s work, Lisa And The Devil is probably not the best place to start. Black Sabbath (my favorite Bava film); Kill, Baby, Kill; or Black Sunday are better representations of his horror output. Bava’s attempt at arthouse horror has so much to offer while also being a potentially frustrating viewing experience. Rather than having a story, there are themes that are suggested through the phantasmagorical succession of images: the devil carrying away the souls of the dead, reincarnation, time standing still, and a family destroyed by adultery. To use a literary metaphor, LISA is more poetry than prose, relying on suggestion to gets it’s meaning across. I admire Bava’s ambition more than much of the execution, though. On a visual level, LISA is one of Mario Bava’s finest films; there are many images that will linger in the mind. My first watch of LISA was twelve years ago, and it is a film I would love to fully embrace. My reaction is different with every viewing. Regardless of how I feel about it, any Mario Bava fan should seek it out.A fascinating story around Lisa and the Devil is the reworking of the film when it did not find a distributor. An Exorcist rip-off, House of Exorcism, was created around the LISA footage with frequently hilarious and jarring results. House of Exorcism is terrible but, in my eyes, in a good way. TORSO (1973, dir. Sergio Martino) – Watched on TubiI do not regard the giallo genre in general as horror cinema, but there are certain giallo films that cross the line into horror territory. Torso is undoubtedly one of those. The killings and the final third of film are so reminiscent of slasher films that I sometimes had to remind myself that Torso is giallo. This is very grizzly film for the early 1970s. Unfortunately, knowing how the film unfolds denied me having the suspenseful experience of the first watch. Lucky are those who have the chance of seeing this for the first time today. What I appreciated most this watch is the quality of script. There is just the right amount of red herrings and the action moves along at a quick pace. Go and watch it.
Indeed. It's always a little tricky recommending giallo movies, because casual horror lovers might be put off by the lack of "scares" while lovers of mysteries might be put off by some of the stylized and often graphic murder scenes in them. They're really their own genre. One that I love!
THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971) A wealthy diplomat’s wife is caught up in a blackmail plot, while a black-gloved killer is slicing and dicing through the city. The plot is a basic giallo potboiler, but it’s filmed with a lot of groovy style. Best of all is lead actress Edwige Fenech, who is absolutely mesmerizing on screen. A bona fide movie star performance. 30 days of Chinese fantasy movies, day 9 BEAUTY TRIBE (2021) Do you like cannibalism jokes? If so, then this is your movie! A womanizing guy is transported to another world where he’s abducted by a tribe all-female barbarians intent on eating him, as they do with all men. Then a lot of silliness happens. I don’t even know. This one’s a real oddity. It is the most Junsploitation-est of any of these movies I’ve watched so far, so that’s something at least.
Last Stop on the Night Train aka Night Train Murders (1975, dir. Aldo Lado)The Italian Last House on the Left, taking place on a train. This one has some really rough stuff. The middle 3rd of the movie is an extended assault/torture scene that is some of the strongest stuff I've ever seen. Really nightmarish. I would only recommend this to the strongest stomachs out there, I kinda regret watching it because it is so upsetting...
The Whip and The Body (1963)Wonderful little moody gothic horror/thriller from Bava and Christopher Lee as a sadistic ghost. Great atmosphere and set pieces, plus having the lovely Daliah Lavi on screen does not hurt at all. Will definitely be revisiting this one.
Though not a top Bava film for me because of the thin plot, The Whip And The Body is one of his most atmospheric productions. I enjoy the film just for that. The lighting during the visits of Christopher Lee's ghost to Lavi's room is beautiful.
Specters AKA Spettri (1987, directed by Marcello Avallone)Marcello Avallone made three movies in Italy — the mondo The Queer…The Erotic, Un gioco per Eveline and Cugine mie before moving to the United States. Nearly ten years later, Avallone began this film through the help of producer Maurizio Tedesco, the brother of actress Paola Tedesco.He wrote the script along with Andrea Purgatori, a newspaper reporter turned movie scribe, and Tedesco. While Dardano Sacchetti’s name is in the credits, it’s because the film’s financial people were not confident in the script and hired him to doctor it up. He discussed the film with the writers but otherwise didn’t add much, by his own admission.During excavations for the Rome Metro, a collapsed wall reveals a necropolis known as the Tomb of Domitian, a place that Professor Lasky (Donald Pleasence) claims was built for Roman Emperor Domitian, the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty. In real life, he was not sacrificed by a death cult, but was assassinated and given the worst sentence possible, as his memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman Senate and his name was erased from anywhere that it appeared on official documents and buildings.Lasky’s three students, Barbara, Marcus (John Pepper, who was an assistant director on Ghostbusters and cast for his ability to speak English) and Andrea (Trine Michielsen, Delirium), must explore the tomb and attempt to escape with their lives.There’s a scene where the students all watch a movie-within-a-movie version of Creature from the Black Lagoon and a bed kill that completely is taken from A Nightmare on Elm Street. This also feels like the Italian version of Quatermass and the Pit with Dr. Loomis screaming dialogue at Italian youngsters. Actually, that’s totally what this movie is, but that sentence makes Specters sound like a much more interesting movie.Avallone would go on to make Maya, which by all accounts is a much better — if somewhat similar — film to this.
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GIALLO IN VENICE (1979, Directed by Mario Landi) - Watched on Disc.Well, that was sleazy. Hard-boiled egg, anyone?
The Police Are Blundering in the Dark (1975)Here’s a peek into the arduous scientific process I use when choosing my movies for this month: I picked this one because the cover art on Vinegar Syndrome’s release (in their Forgotten Giallo Volume I set) uses the same font for the title as A Nightmare on Elm Street. What can I say, I’m nothing if not a connoisseur of fine art. Turns out there’s a reason this was in that particular box, though, because it’s pretty forgettable. There’s a mysterious killer stalking women (as with many movies of this ilk, something the victims have in common is that they all seem to be allergic to shirts) and an intrepid-but-sleazy guy is trying to uncover the murderer’s identity. Also, it takes a bizarre turn toward the supernatural which is unexpected, but it’s not enough to make it work. Disappointing all around.
I have watched the first boxed set, just picked up the second one and haven't had time to dig in yet. I seem to recall this one having a dinner scene that seemed like it was absolutely never going to end and some profoundly timed, even for the genre, courtyard sex? The things that stand out from some of the lesser known VS titles sure are interesting.
I thought that dinner would never end too!
Stage Fright (1987, dir. Michele Soavi)Awesome gore effects and a tense creepy score -- everything I could want from a movie like this. Also definitely makes full use of theater location, it is big enough that it doesn't really feel like a single set.
Inferno (Argento) First time with this one and of course it rules. Love those hazy blues. Love the imagery and blazing fire at that end. Love Daria and all the female characters in this. Love that skeleghost,
Contamination (1980, dir. Luigi Cozzi) Shamelessly ripping-off of Alien, this scifi horror thriller is about a black ops officer and a NYC detective who save the world from imminent invasion by massive avacado-looking alien eggs brought back from Mars. The plot is as implausibly stupid as the ending is. It’s at its most cringeworthy when it stops the film in the second act to try to shoehorn in a romance between the two leads. Contamination looks to have had something of a budget; a large portion spent on helicopter shots, boats and shooting in New York and Colombia, but it still retains that sense of comically cheap production value. But, since it’s Italian horror film, I suppose we grade on a curve.Bonus ‘sploitation points for the score by Goblin (always bringing the beautiful, weirdo vibes) and a copious number of exploding abdomens in slow motion.
Night Train Murders (1975)"Italian Horror movie on Criterion Channel, and Morricone did the score? This must be one classy film!"
THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972, dir. Ferdinando Merighi)Somehow a little less sleazy than it sounds. It's Italian, so there's some eyeball stuff. Very entertaining trash, with a welcome (but brief) appearance by Barbara Bouchet.
Super excited to dig into Giallo volume 2! Entertaining is certainly promising.
Strip Nude for your Killer, dir Andrea Bianchi, 1975I should have known it wpuld be a Andrea Bianchi movie where I would reach my sleaze limit in a movie.
The sleaze overwhelms everything in that one.
Everything except Edwige Fenech's STUNNING BEAUTY! 😍🤩 Not even Bianchi could screw that up. 😎
Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)This movie has a lot. It's Italian title translates to "Apocalypse Tomorrow" because, you know, Vietnam. John Saxon is in it, which is always a plus. It's also a mini CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD reunion (except that it came out the year before). Some good ol' Italian gore, but doesn't live up to the promise of the title.
Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)A man who resembles Franco Nero is trapped in his own body kinda Serpent and The Rainbow style as he recounts the mystery that brought him to this fate. It gets very Eyes Wide Shut towards the end but the payoff in the final two scenes is worth it. Sometimes, ya just gotta’ let the girl go my guy.
Phenomena (1985) Dir. Dario ArgentoThe Amazon Prime version randomly switches between English and Italian dubbing...which seems oddly appropriate.
The House With Laughing Windows (1976, dir. Pupi Avati)I was expecting a guaranteed hit with this one, but I didn't really like it due to it's extreme slow pace. This movie offers very little of the fun and crazy thrills that Giallo often has, and what is offers wasn't enough of a replacement. It does build to a decently frightening conclusion, but takes far too long to get there. Oh well, I guess I'm the grinch on this one.
Inferno (1980)Argento's follow-up to Suspiria is very much a thematic and stylistic continuation of that movie. I kept thinking this must be the most dreamlike, poetic and beautifully shot slasher ever made. There's a hypnotic rhythm to the proceedings - everyone always seems to be moving down long corridors, up or down the stairs, or through a series of rooms flooded with the Argento colors, until they meet their inevitable doom. You get so used to the atmospheric lighting that whenever there's a glimpse of actual daylight, it feels almost jarring and ugly. Honestly, I think I liked this one a little more than Suspiria.
Bay of Blood (1971) Dir: Mario BavaFun movie that Friday 13th and a lot of slashers owe credit too. A lot of these kills have shown up in other movies. Maybe its homage maybe its ripping off. But they are really well executed and deserve the praise. Plot wise lots of twists in this one and if anyone you know can predict that ending get them to give you some lottery numbers. Seriously. The film can be hard to follow at times and I even had to rewind twice to make sure I didn't miss any scenes. I liked this though and I'm not usually the biggest fan of Bava's stuff. Its well worth the watch and under 90 minutes. Its on Shudder.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)I let Patrick and JB choose my movie for me today and I couldn’t be happier.
Great White aka The Last Shark, dir Enzo G. Castellari, 1981This Shark goes full Yogi Bear on Port Harbor. He gets that tast of a picnic basket - or in this case a Wind Surfing Board - and he wants more. Only problem is that people keep feeding the Bear. Those chucks of bait are huge! I'm surprised the Shark in question is still hungry but maybe he just got a tast for Wind Surfing Board.Sorry I know I got my metaphores confused.
Kill, Baby...Kill (1966)A coroner comes to a small town to investigate a death. Was it suicide, murder...or something else!A gothic thriller dealing with the supernatural, overall I liked it. The scene with the guy running after someone and the room is looping and he was chasing himself was awesome.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)I wasn't sure where to go with this one tonight, so I took a cue from Patrick and JB with this week's podcast. It was quite good! I agree with their take. The twist at the end was well earned, indeed.
Tenebre (1982)Directed by Dario ArgentoThis thing is art-directed within an inch of it’s life. Every frame is carefully constructed. Great visuals, ultra-vibrant color. It’s very impressive. This is a baby-step into giallo for me, and I’ve only seen scenes from other Argento films. I’m more impressed than involved or moved, maybe because the characters were so flat. Gorgeous movie, just didn’t wow me. (If I just took a shit on yr favorite movie, I’m really sorry.) I liked it, but didn’t love it.
Phenomena (1985)I just got rocked by this movie in more than one way. Whoa.
'Welcome to the party, pal!' 🥳🤓
Between today's podcast and all your reviews, sticking to my "only new to me movies" rule was especially hard today!The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Emilio Miraglia, 1971) (also (but not exclusively, as is often the case with Italian flicks) known as L'Appel de la Chair - "The Call for Flesh" - here in France)Anthony Steffen, whom I wasn't familiar with but looks a lot like a young Christopher Lee, lures gorgeous redheads in this sex dungeon to torture and kill them, tormented by the passing (but mostly the cheating) of his wife Evelyn. Advised by his doctor friend, he rushes into marrying an Evelyn lookalike in order to heal. That's the sane thing to do, right? Well wouldn't you know it, death by rattlesnake (my second of the month, I should point out), foxes feasting on bodies, vanishing corpses and ghostly visions ensue. A fun little giallo with supernatural elements, a great gothic setting and a twists-feast of an ending!Rosso Sangue (aka Monster Hunter, Absurd, Anthropophagus 2...) (Joe d'Amato, 1981)It's got a Shape AND a face (George Eastman's, of course), a Father Loomis, a (kind of) suburbia setting, a Night to Come Home (Superball, mind you, not Halloween); it's the Halloween of Italian Horror!I'd been wanting to end the night with an unseen Fulci (Manhattan Baby) but Tubi has unfortunately been letting me down since the beginning of the month!
Opera (1987 - Dario Argento)I think enough words had been said about this marvelous looking movie with a fun heavy metal soundtrack. The killings are pretty strong, the terror provided on Cristina Marsillach makes you emphasize with her a lot. At the same time, I believe a lot off the killings could have been prevented if she simply would call the police faster or be more active... but that's a "problem" for a lot of horror movies --> The weird and harmful-for-their-environment behavior of the protagonists, that can be hard to comprehend. I had fun with this and also thought, that the people in the movie looked more like the 90s than the 80s. Anyone had that feeling, too?4 out of 4 ravens on a seek-and-destroy mission.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)Great movie. Not because of the felt hats. But I'm not saying it wasn't because of the lack of great felt hats.
Deep Red (1975) - I love Suspiria so decided to finally watch this. Great performances, score, and fantastic direction throughout.