Review by Gregory S. Burkart
It's really hard to add any words about Dario Argento that haven't been repeated, compiled and rehashed ad nauseam in any number of print or electronic publications over the length of his 35-year-plus career. Italy's most famous (and infamous) thriller auteur is arguably the most unique and idiosyncratic filmmaker to come out of that country since Fellini, and not a day passes that his work is not being debated, celebrated, lambasted or analyzed to pieces by film buffs and horror fans alike. Love it or hate it, no one who's seen an Argento film ever forgets the experience, and they usually want everybody within throwing distance to know how they feel about it.
So why discuss yet another glossy imported book about this man and his eccentric cinema output? Because this one has its own soundtrack, that's why. Edited and published by Italy's Mediane Entertainment, this stylish hardbound volume is not only spilling over with dozens of incredible full-color stills and poster art reproductions from Argento's movies, as well as lots of candid on-set images and exclusive interviews with the director ? it also contains a companion CD sequenced to match the chronology of those collected images.
An essay by Marco Morosini on Argento's film and television output (included in both Italian and English) covers ground familiar to every devoted Argento fan, and is too short to really offer any new insights into the man or his artistry, but it does touch on each film adequately enough to let the accompanying images and sounds tell the rest of the story. Also included are two brief but insightful interviews that focus on the strong role music plays in all of Dario's works: Marco D'Ubaldo speaks with frequent musical collaborator Claudio Simonetti, and of course we get a few words from Argento himself (as told to interviewer Claudio Fuiano), who discusses his working relationship with Ennio Morricone, who scored the director's first giallo thrillers, known as the ?Animal Trilogy?: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O' Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
The CD tracks compiled here represent nearly all the scores to Argento's films, beginning with the Morricone cues in pristine condition. The eerie blend of classical, jazz, mod-rock and avant-garde techniques Morricone employed for these first three projects are on full display in well-chosen cuts. The standout among these is ?Placcaggio? from Cat O' Nine Tails, a bizarre, action-filled and disturbing abstract work filled with dissonant jazz and rock instruments colliding with human screams and guttural gasps that will make you jump. Alternately, ?Nanna Nanna In Blue? from the same score floats with ethereal beauty, buoyed by flute and guitar beneath a gentle, wordless female vocal.
Next we move into the ?Goblin? musical phase of Argento's career, without a doubt the most familiar and beloved by fans of classic horror as well as progressive rock aficionados. Straight away, with the spider-dancing organ riff that begins the Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) theme, we are seized with the amazing power of this one-of-a-kind band that would change the way horror films sounded forever. Goblin and original member Claudio Simonetti would put their stamp on most of the filmmaker's work ? their most significant contribution of course being the outrageously bombastic score for Suspiria, the main theme of which is included here.
Aside from that film's direct sequel Inferno, which was quite effectively scored by ELP's Keith Emerson (his main title from that film is included here), from this point we seldom stray from Goblin & Simonetti turf, continuing with Tenebrae, Phenomena and Opera. After an amusing side trip to hair-metal land with a tune from Steel Grave (who name the song after themselves, thus assuring instant career suicide), featured in the Opera soundtrack, we kick it old-school with Pino Donaggio's more traditional (but quite effective) staccato score to Trauma before returning to Goblin (by this point having reunited) for the moody synth-rock of Non Ho Sonno (Sleepless).
Capping off the score excerpts is the moody, FX-infused electro of the main theme from Il Cartaio (The Card Player), which bristled a lot of fans but which I thought was very effective. The entire package is wrapped up with a fun, Goblin-esque tribute song from funk combo Signor Wolf entitled ?Dark Dreams? (apparently taking its name from the well-known Dario fan website), which is driven by a kicking bass and peppered with piano and guitar loops along with some odd but interesting samples. It all adds up to a seriously entertaining hour spent leafing through the gorgeous illustrations while these tunes fill the room with sinister loveliness.
I really have only two small quibbles with the package: first, the paper CD sleeve (attached inside the back cover via a small pocket) is too tight for easy access to the CD, making it impossible to remove by the edges, which may make audiophiles and collectors a bit testy. My other beef regards truth in advertising: although Mediane's press materials indicate that the CD tracks are derived from ?the original scores,? most of the Goblin tracks featured on the CD (with the exception of the Profondo Rosso cuts and ?Sleepless? from Non Ho Sonno) are not actually from said scores, but new versions recorded by Claudio Simonetti in rock arrangements that will sound very familiar to fans of his new band, Daemonia. Though these are not the Daemonia recordings themselves as they appear on their 1999 CD Dario Argento Tribute, they are nearly identical in composition and instrumentation, and credited not to Goblin but Simonetti himself.
Despite these minor discrepancies, if you're a fan of giallo cinema in general and Dario's works in particular, making this tribute part of your collection isn't optional ? it's imperative. It's not as easy to come by as a domestic release, but it's not too expensive, and definitely worth the investment. (I got my copy at Moviegrooves.com, a UK-based boutique that specializes in European soundtrack rarities.)