22 January 2015


God knows I have tried to like Dario Argento. His name pops up everywhere in the horror world and yet I have to admit I have cared for very little he has ever done. His sycophantic supporters say that even if his newer work is weak we must acknowledge the genius of his ‘high period’ when he helped to usher in the great giallo films of the late 60’s and early 70’s as well as his unique brand of horror. And that may well be unarguable. Some of his films from the period, that I have seen, are Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Tenebre, Deep Red, Suspiria, and Phenomenon. While these are classics of some sort, I guess, I have to admit that  all of these films are some of the most confusing and haphazard movies I have ever sat down to watch. When the killer and her motives is finally revealed in Deep Red (some minor female character who had about two or three minutes of screen time earlier in the film) I was so disappointed. Not to say that that is a reason to pan a film and not see it but I seem to missing something that hordes of other people are getting and don’t know what it is. Why is Deep Red (Profundo Rosso) considered to be one of the great giallo films of the 70’s? It is a mediocre film at best. One defense I have read of Argento (and most Italian giallo and horror in general) is that one must not look for a linear story in the Hollywood fashion and instead you have to let yourself go along with the surreal quality of the film and receive its messages on an almost unconscious level.  One is to not watch and analyze the film as a whole but you have look for those special moments that cannot be found in any other genre. I am not sure about all that but as time has gone on I have to admit I have developed a liking for Italian horror and suspense films I did not have when I was younger. I liked Italian post war dramas and pepla and spaghetti westerns for some reason but was confused by Italian horror until I explored Mario Bava’s work. Then I read that Bava was an inspiration for Argento and the men even worked together on some projects at the end of Bava’s career. I decided there had to be something there my Cro-magnon mind could not fathom. Years later I finally concluded some of the stuff is okay after all though I can still be at a loss and typically cannot finish an Italian made horror or crime film in one setting.
Now what totally surprises me is how much I enjoyed Argento’s latest film Giallo. In fact when I bought the DVD I did not actually know it was an Argento film. Shows how out of touch I am I guess. I could tell by the title and cover art that it was going to be an homage film and I like both Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner so figured it had to be a decent enough film for an evening’s viewing. In fact I watched it after watching the really disappointing remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. I picked up the box and noticed for the first time it was a Dario Argento film and my heart sank. I had recently rewatched Suspiria (which I mostly enjoy) and had not seen anything recent by Argento since the TV movie Do You Like Hitchcock. In that case I expected an homage type film with lots of clever references to Hitchcock’s work but I was so disappointed that I went back into another long period of Argento loathing. I do not understand why I liked Giallo but I simply did. I have read scathing reviews of the film online and how the old master has lost his touch. I guess for me I never thought he had much of touch to begin with so I did not expect much. After seeing it I decided to find some other recent Aregento works, like Mother of Tears, I have dismissed in advance in a childish, judgmental fashion not appropriate to a purveyor of trash cinema. It is time I rethink this bias and deal with it and lay it to rest.

Giallo tells the story of a ugly, tormented and more than slightly demented man who suffers from jaundice, ergo the nickname ‘Yellow’ or giallo. The charcter of yellow is played by Byron Deidra. It is also the story of the eccentric and focused cop, Enzo Avolfi (Brody), who is obsessively on the bloody trail of Yellow. Avolfi does things his own way and is left alone by the department for the most part as he has a history of results. The name Byron Deidra happens to be a clever little anagram for Adrien Brody and both Avolfi and Yellow are played by Brody. Some sites have totally panned Brody’s performance but I feel it is pretty good. The lines he is given by writers Jim Agnew, Sean Keller and Argento are the most inspiring and he delivers them in a dead pan fashion that recalls troubles film noir detectives more than the classic giallo style detective who often lacked any dimension at all. Also coming into the mix is the American Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner aka Mrs. Roman Polanski) who is in Milan with her fashion model sister Celine (Brody’s real life fiancée Elsa Pataky) who suddenly vanished the night before. Seems Celine took the wrong taxi, driven by Yellow, and is now held captive in a creepy basement with what is left of Yellows last victim Keiko (Valentina Izumi). There the bitter Yellow engages in his hobby of torturing and disfiguring beautiful women before brutally killing them in various fashions, like pounding a hammer through their foreheads. Celine is a little more resistant than his last victims and eventually causes him a bit of trouble.
Linda seeks the help of the police and is sent to Avolfi’s isolated office in the police head quarter’s basement area. Of course Avolfi is rude and wants to be left alone but soon he drags her into the case and even starts showing her graphic crime scene photos and asking her for her opinions of them. Maybe not the choicest thing to do a woman whose kid sister is being held by the same killer that sort of thing happens a lot in mystery films. Of course a connection forms between Linda and Avolfi and at one point she invites him to spend the night at her place but in true lone wolf fashion he passes on the offer and sulks off into the night to brood over the case more. The violence in the film is pretty graphic,  as it is in most all of Argento’s work,  and there is a strange scene of Yellow choking his jaundiced chicken while looking at pictures on his laptop of his past victims. He is sucking on a baby pacifier at the same time and you can’t help but wonder what the hell Argento is really like as a gray haired man in his twilight years. There are of course inferences to past giallo flicks and while this film has it flaws I can’t help but hope it inspires a trend in this type of movie making for a while. The film score by Marco Werba is suitable and is an improvement in the type of scores that usually accompany Argento’s films, though I do like Goblin.

I am not saying that this is a great film and many of the criticisms are applicable. But if you go into with the idea that there will be some cheesy moments, perhaps intentionally cheesy for all I know, and that the leads are hamming it up here and there then I don’t think you will be all that disappointed. My wife watched it along with new The Taking of Pelham 123 and said she preferred Giallo of the two movies. I was happily surprised. I will probably give it another watch or two in the future and I feel Argento did well enough here. Definitely an improvement on things like The Phantom of the Opera and Do You Like Hitchcock.



Anonymous said...

This may be Argento's worst movie.
But these days, it is certainly a hard decision.


Bill Courtney said...

Yea, I am really trying to be nice here.

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