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Crash Course: Dario Argento

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Argento's Deep RedWith his newer work failing to make the same connection with audiences that his masterpieces of the twentieth century did, there is an entire generation of horror fans who may not be as intimately familiar with Dario Argento as previous generations. To remedy that, we've compiled a guide to five Argento films every horror fan should see. This isn't solely a list of the mastermind's best work. In fact, this guide contains one of the director’s most maligned pieces. But to get a good understanding of Argento's aesthetic, one must take the bad with the good. These career spanning selections will give any viewer unfamiliar with the works of Dario Argento a crash course in the work of the prolific filmmaker.

Italian horror is noticeably different than typical American made horror films but it's the forward thinking nature of older Italian horror films and gialli that helped inspire the American slasher films of the early eighties. Argento was and still is a big inspiration for writers and directors working in the horror genre, today.
 
The following selections span Dario Argento's lengthy and primarily successful career and give viewers not familiar with his work a good jumping off point to explore more of the famed director's work.

Dario Argento's SuspiriaSuspiria
Suspiria is the first entry in Argento's unofficial Three Mothers trilogy. It is Argento at his best. Suspiria is not a particularly cohesive film. But, most of Argento's greatest work isn't known for cohesion. His films are celebrated for being visually striking, over the top, and slightly bizarre; Suspiria is all of those things. It employs the use of bright, intoxicating color to tell a story. The film's score is amazing. Rock band Goblin brought their musical talent to the film; the combination of rock music and violent imagery work together as a perfect pairing.

Suspiria is a great place to start for anyone not familiar with Argento's work. It was the first Argento film I saw and it piqued my curiosity and left me anxious to seek out more of the master director's work. Each time I watch Suspiria, I discover a nuance I may have previously missed or subtleties that I hadn't picked up on beforehand. I enjoy Suspiria more each time I watch it. It has aged well. While there are certain aspects of the film that are dated, the set pieces and wardrobe don't immediately betray the film's exact age or make the viewer feel as though they are looking in to a time capsule.

Inferno
This is the next entry in the Three Mothers trilogy, so it is the logical next step after Suspiria. Like its predecessor, Inferno relies heavily on the use of color to tell its story. Inferno is even less cohesive than Suspiria and even more surreal. It has a very psychedelic quality to it.

Inferno’s strengths lie within its cinematography and set design. Inferno features some of the most bizarre, amazing; over the top imagery I've seen. The building and its secrets and maze-like passageways provide a much unexpected first time viewing experience. I was bowled over when I first saw Inferno. The underwater scene is breathtaking. Argento names this as one of his most sincere and purest films. He says that it was a hard film for him to make and that it took a lot out of him, creatively. It's not hard to see what he means after watching Inferno.

Mother of Tears
After taking in Suspiria and Inferno it's time to give Mother of Tears a look. It's one of the biggest letdowns of Argento's career, but it offers closure on the trilogy and it will give you an idea as to what contemporary Argento looks like. Mother of Tears lacks the punch of the previous entries in the trilogy. The bright intoxicating color scheme of Suspiria and Inferno was abandoned in favor of gratuitous nudity (featuring none other than Argento's own daughter) and the kind of excessive ultra violent imagery that came to prominence with the introduction of films like Saw. We see strangulation by intestinal tract and a lot of other gimmicks that the previous two films didn't employ. Decisions such as these served to the film's detriment.

In an apparent attempt to evolve, Argento moved away from what had worked best for him in the past. The result is disappointing and led to legions of outraged fans. However, to see how the director's career has progressed, get a taste for modern Argento, and bring closure to the trilogy, the film must be viewed - at least once.  Much time passed between the release of Inferno and the release of Mother of Tears.  There was huge fan demand for the release of the final film in the trilogy, which may explain why Mother of Tears felt rushed and as if attention to detail was not a concern.

Deep Red
Deep Red is one of Argento's most celebrated films. It's a masterfully crafted giallo. Argento gives his audience a major clue at the beginning of the film. However, it's done with such subtlety that if you blink, you'll miss it. Deep Red is a great choice for your first Dario Argento giallo. It’s more reserved than many other Argento titles. Deep Red, as the title implies, plays with color beautifully. The score, which is composed by rock musicians Goblin, is amazing. Deep Red is considered by many to be Argento's masterpiece. It's an excellent introduction to the director's collection of giallo films and to the giallo, in general.

Deep Red was the first Argento film that I saw, after Suspiria. It's less over the top than films like Argento’s Opera, and a perfect choice for a first time viewer of Argento's rather large body of gialli.  

Tenebre
Tenebre marked Argento’s return to the giallo, after veering in to supernatural territory with Suspiria and Inferno. Tenebre is among the director's best gialli. It features a great cast, including Daria Nicolodi, (Argento's long time collaborator and one time wife) and the legendary John Saxon (Black  Christmas) prior to his turn in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Tenebre is an excellent film. It's got some truly bizarre moments, but if you've seen the previous films mentioned, you should have an understanding and appreciation for the way Argento tells a story. Tenebre differs from Argento's other gialli because it hits the viewer over the head with a double twist ending. It certainly surprised me the first time I saw it.  

 

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