|The Plot: After the female lead in a massive operatic version of Macbeth is struck by a car, Betty the woman’s understudy is put in as a replacement. Betty has an amazing operatic voice and is immediately the critics’ darling but she is haunted by familiar nightmares of some previous childhood trauma. After a trist with a stagehand one night, things take a turn for the devious as Betty is tied to a pillar with needles placed under her eyelids so that she must watch as her assailant then murders her young lover. Now Betty is on the run from this psychopath, and must still focus on the Opera. Will this degenerate be caught before it’s too late?|
The Review: For those familiar with Italian horror the name Dario Argento brings up visions of style and chic set design. Argento has made his career from having one of the best eyes for visual filmmaking in all of horror. His films from his pique, like those of Cronenberg or Lynch, have such tremendous visual flair to them that within minutes it becomes evident who the director was. His use of immaculate sets, delapidated buildings and nightmarish lighting creates an atmosphere that is so obviously “Argento”. Opera, which came at the end of his cinematic “best years”, is also his most stylish and uniquely visual film. Flying at the audience at breakneck speeds, Argento crafted a horror film using many of the techniques that made him so popular within the horror community but also outdid himself by throwing all of his visual know-how into every frame of this film. Within the first thirty minutes of Opera, Argento crafts an almost hypnotic allure as the camera in its ever flowing movements (more on this later) wanders about from large set to other large set in such a majestic and fantastic manner that the bloody violence becomes even more jarring to the senses. Truly, Opera is about the closest thing to a “sure bet” that has come from Argento’s filmography – it moves too fast, the violence is so over the top and the style is so thick that you just have to love it. I know that I most certainly do, and so do most Argento fans that I know as well, casual or diehard.
When watching Opera, one has to wonder what has happened to Argento over the years. Since this film, it’s as if his output as a director has become less and less stylish as he has went along. His latest film The Mother of Tears, which I did enjoy, only had the tiniest bits of flash strewn about with a ton of gory violence replacing it. Argento, known for his bloody violence without a doubt, is not Lucio Fulci however. His films made at his peak, the films all of his fans care about and have such fond memories of were rarely ‘gory’, but instead focused on more traditional scares and most of all atmosphere. Opera is Argento in top form as a visual storyteller and although it has a few bumps in the road, it’s simply too stylish and too ‘cool’ not to love. The “bumps in the road” I mention, as usual with Argento, comes from the script. Although taking place in the real world, the characters and their reactions to their situations aren’t exactly the most fitting with what most of us normal folks would do. If some psycho breaks into an apartment that you and your lover are in, ties you up and attaches needles to your eyelids so you have to watch as the psychopath murders the person you have just spent the night with – well, I like to think most of us would call the law after the murderer has left – not wander out into the night slowly and awkwardly. Essentially, the whole script hangs in the balance by our lead heroine making some pretty bonehead decisions. The way she reacts to having witnessed this murder as well is completely out of human emotion. After her boyfriend/fling is murdered and she is picked up on the side of the road by her director, is she crying or particularly bothered? When her director friend asks her what is wrong, is it trouble in love? Instead of either dismissing the charge, or maybe telling him what happened, she would rather be offended at the idea and instead we’re lead into a conversation about the Opera and how women of the opera are often thought to be whores. I’m sorry, but this situation hardly seems like the time to be heading down such roads of conversation.
For longtime fans of Argento, these little missteps are easy to overlook due to how lavish and absolutely stunning the film is and how many beautiful compositions there are to fawn over. It really is as if Argento and company went frame by frame of the storyboard and said “what can I throw into this shot to make it even cooler?”. Whether it’s the camera for no real reason starting off at a ninety degree angle and pulling out while rotating until the camera is rightside up again, or simply amazing visuals like those Argento captures during a few mundane sequences in the film when he keeps the camera ankle level and we’re treated to the beauty of the red drapes that accentuate the hallways within the theater. Without a doubt, Opera is Argento’s most stylish film and certainly one of his best crafted. It has its dips in quality, but if you can appreciate the style you’re in for a treat and I can’t help but give it my highest rating. A fantastic film.
Official Captain Stubbing Award Winner