Optimistic after Argento’s Four Flies, I jumped ahead a decade to a film that I supposedly watched back in the 90’s but don’t remember at all except for the doberman scene. Editing and dialogue and acting all bad (I switched a couple times, settled on the English version), but lighting good, and that’s all you need.

Black-gloved killer vs. the lighting:

Anthony Franciosa plays an American in Italy (in Across 110th Street he played an Italian in America), a famous author on a book tour, whose acquaintances keep ending up dead. It’s a nonsensical murder mystery with at least three black-gloved killers, including the author, who then dies in a freak modern art accident. Fortunately, John Saxon is here (with a hat on!) to save the movie, the only guy onscreen having any fun. Saxon eventually gets stabbed, the sole survivor being the author’s secretary Daria Nicolodi. Other victims include the detectives, combative audience member Mirella D’Angelo (Caligula), the author’s ex, and Lara Wendel of Ghosthouse as the girl chased by dobermans.

Saxon, with hat:

Some cool camerawork, including a scene where the camera climbs the walls of an apartment building, a precursor to that Massive Attack video. The cool 1970’s synth soundtracks have devolved into 1980’s synth-rock by the Suspiria gang. Commentary guys Jones & Newman say it’s Argento’s most 80’s movie, and influenced by Possession. They supposedly love the film, and spend half their time making fun of it… I switched to McDonagh’s commentary, which was immediately better, but has too much narration. Didn’t stick around for an explanation of why Argento has his stand-in author draw attention to the sexism in his own movies.

Incredible scene:

“Death’s a commercial necessity.”

This absurd murder conspiracy movie was the perfect follow-up to a Final Destination sequel. Logical movies are boring, illogical ones are stupid, but movies that follow their own dream logic, where a woman in a busy daylit park can suddenly, while lighting a cigarette, become all alone at twilight, then get chased through a hedge maze, ending up trapped between cobwebbed stone walls… what was I saying?

Drummer and Wife:

Drummer Roberto is being tailed by guy in suit, follows the follower into a theater, but it’s a setup, where he’s photographed killing the suit guy. Paranoid, he tells his blonde wife everything, . Detectives get involved, a terrible gay private eye is hired, the drummer’s cat gets kidnapped, he visits a coffin convention with “God” Godfrey and a wacky Professor. In the middle of all this, a hot cousin stays over and wants to give him a massage in the bath. After the cousin’s incredible death scene, her retinas are scanned to find an image of the last thing she saw, which leads to the drummer’s wife. The drummer and his wife are good in this (some side characters are very dubbed) but the wife’s last-minute psychological backstory keeps reverting to Italian before she fatally flees from the house.

God with his parrot Jerkoff:

Intense filmmaking, this worked better for me than Crystal Plumage or Deep Red. The lead guy was also in a Bea Arthur movie. His wife Mimsy Farmer has a great Italian horror career – Autopsy, Fulci’s Black Cat, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, and something from the Cannibal Holocaust guy. The cousin was in The Disappearance, Stuart Cooper’s followup to Overlord.

American Sam witnesses a woman get attacked in an art gallery after hours, then gets stalked by the killer and suspected by the asshole cops, but seems fine just hanging around Italy and playing detective. He replays what he saw at the scene (nicely done, with freeze frames and zooms) and the Honeywell-brand police computer equipment prints statistics and an outline of the attacker. Sam follows some unusual leads, of course paintings are involved, while his friend gets killed and his girlfriend Giulia kidnapped. Turns out the killer is Monica, the apparent victim of the gallery incident, and we get neat psychological explanations of everything over the ending.

The bird > the poster > the movie. This was Dario’s debut feature. Sam is Tony Musante, who really is American despite the dubbing, has been in a couple James Gray movies. Giulia is British, a screamer in Berberian Sound Studio. The Inspector is from Hercules and the Captive Women, and murderess Eva Renzi from The Prodigal Daughter. DP Vittorio Storaro shot The Spider’s Stratagem and The Conformist, also in 1970, a productive year.

Sam, his girl Giulia, and their Black Power poster:

Victim Killer Monica:

This is the 500th horror movie in the blog, holy shit. We’ve been running for over 15 years, so that’s around 2.7 horror movies per month. We can do better, I know we can.

Closeups of a pretty bird, cawing over the credits! Just as I’m thinking the movie’s not gonna get any better than this, Dario proves me right by mistreating the bird the moment his own credit expires, then a horrible bird-hating woman jabbers for ages until she’s hit by a car, yay.

Betty takes over from the accident victim as untested star of a new opera, her young stage manager boyfriend is Stefano (from Texas, has been in 100 movies I’ve never heard of, and also Copycat), and they both have GRAND apartments, real estate in Rome must be super cheap. Some vaguely culty murder stuff starts happening, and soon Betty is tied up, needles taped under her eyes so she can’t blink, and she’s made to watch her boyfriend get stabbed to death. This happens a couple more times, some meathead hard-rock song accompanying all the murders – next victim is Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, an Argento regular also of Demons 2. Unfortunately, the killer also murders some ravens – but the ravens get their revenge, so I’ll allow it.

Betty’s got Purple Rain on VHS:

Appreciate that Betty gets a flower from a fan early on, then chucks it against the wall when she finds out he’s a cop – he will turn out to be the killer. One of his last victims is a fellow cop played by Michele Soavi – this came out the year of his directorial debut Stage Fright.

Argento characters never behaving like actual humans makes the movies more phantasmagorical. The dubbing is atrocious except in the opera singing. This is relatively late Argento, the tail end of his respectable period, made after Phenomena.

Someday I’d like to visit Italy and see if everyone acts the way they do in Argento films, moving all artificially and speaking poor dialogue out-of-sync with their mouths. Probably it’s just a very bad movie. And that’s not even counting the fact that it’s about a rape investigator (played by Argento’s daughter) who gets repeatedly raped (she’s also a cop who repeatedly gets her gun stolen), then it justifies this in the second half by having her become the killer. “He forced his way into me and now I can’t get rid of him.” Worse, I’m not even sure why I watched this. I’d previously read up on Argento and decided which movies might be worth watching (just the ones I’ve seen plus Crystal Plumage, Grey Velvet and Opera), and Stendhal Syndrome was not on the list. Maybe I put it on the netflix blu-queue as a placeholder? Anyway at least the picture on the disc looked fantastic.

The earliest Asia Argento I’ve seen, two years before New Rose Hotel. After being kidnapped and raped the first time she acts prickly towards a creep coworker (Marco Leonardi, love interest Pedro in Like Water For Chocolate) who is relentlessly trying to date her, starts seeing a psychologist (Paolo Bonacelli of Salo, one of the few films more icky than this one), and eventually returns to her stress-inducing family (to relax, haha), where she’s followed by both creep Marco and blood-obsessed rapist Thomas Kretschmann (Argento’s Dracula, also in Queen Margot with Asia).

Then she kills the rapist but keeps insisting he’s still alive, as she carries on his work, taking out the psychologist, her new French boyfriend Marie (a boy with a girl’s name as the movie continually mentions), Marco and a couple others.

Moo Orleans:

And by the way, Asia has the Stendhal Syndrome, which causes you to become entranced by works of art, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with this, plot-wise. It combines well-staged practical effects with the worst computer graphics I’ve ever seen, which is used with Fight Club excess (why, when she swallows pills, must we follow them down her throat?). It’s not just 1996 CGI – it’s Italian 1996 CGI. The movie has story problems (a half hour in, it’s already explaining its first scenes in flashback), missed opportunities (Marco brings Buster Keaton videos to a girl who imagines herself falling into paintings, but we get no Sherlock Jr. clip) and the unsurmountable flaw of having no recognizable human behavior. After reading that interview about invisible acting in The Dirties, and watching well-performed horrors like Hellraiser and The Tenant, this is especially disappointing. At least I could enjoy the paintings, the cinematography and the blatant Vertigo references.

Asia takes up painting:

Things I remembered while going through screenshots: (1) Asia gets amnesia between passing out at the art gallery and being raped by the loony, (2) she kisses a fish in a dream sequence, which looks like the romantic opposite of the zombie-vs-shark scene in Zombi 2, (3) she sees graffiti come alive in the loony’s lair, (4) her dad is freaky.

Asia loves fish:

Two awful thoughts: I wish I’d watched the English dubbed version since the Italian was so badly dubbed anyway, and I wish I’d seen the U.S. edit that chopped out twenty minutes. Or perhaps I wish I wouldn’t continue to waste my time on Italian horror movies in the first place. The few I’ve loved (Suspiria, City of the Living Dead) have been dampered by the many I’ve just hated to death. This wasn’t even a proper horror, just a “giallo” (which is not its own genre, people, just the Italian word for pulp crime fiction).

Opens with a psychic named Helga (Macha Méril of A Married Woman and Night Train Murders) giving her presentation to a sparse audience. “Butterflies, termites, zebras, all these animals and many more, use telepathy to transmit orders and relay information. This is a proven fact that can easily be demonstrated.” She will soon be knifed to death then hung out her jagged broken glass window for Marc (David Hemmings, star of Blow-Up) to come attempt to rescue. It’d be ten years before Argento would change his mind, making a film (Phenomena) with a woman who speaks telepathically to butterflies and termites its star, instead of its first victim.

Marc appoints himself lead detective on the case, even though he’s a jazz musician who barely knew the victim. The actual detective is a jerk anyway. Marc meets a sprightly young reporter (Daria Nicolodi, who had cats flung at her in Inferno) who will be his partner in investigation – and in love. They discuss gender equality (I didn’t know there was such thing in Italy), which leads to an arm wrestling match. DH also tries confiding in his best friend in jazz, Carlo, but Carlo is always too drunk to help.


Next some woman named Elvira is killed (along with her pet bird, and I HOPE that wasn’t a real bird, damn animal-brutalizing Italians) – an author who wrote a book on something or other, I dunno. It doesn’t matter. Hot on the case, Hemmings looks for Carlo but instead finds his weird mom (Clara Calamai, star of Ossessione) who sends him to Carlo’s boyfriend’s house. Once we know Carlo is gay, and this being the 1970’s, it’s assumed he’s the killer (he’s not – it’s his mom).

This is how Carlo’s mom dresses in her own house:

Some professor is killed, I dunno, and Marc becomes obsessed with this spooky house with a child’s drawing on an inside wall and a walled-off secret room with a body inside. It’s Carlo’s old house – enter stylish flashback of Carlo’s mom knifing his dad to death. Before we learn about the mom, Carlo is suspected, gets dragged to death by a garbage truck (but Gabriele Lavia will return as Carlo in Inferno). Mom is beheaded when her necklace is caught in an elevator, heh. And at least one other animal (lizard with a pin through it) is tortured for the sake of this movie.

This is supposed to be a slasher but there are only two killings in the first ninety minutes. I don’t need a movie to give me continual bloody mayhem, but this has little going for it storywise besides the mayhem, mostly alternates overlong conversations with everlasting suspense scenes. I loved the keyboardy Goblin soundtrack, but did not like the dialogue editing. I’ll stop commenting that the voices are annoyingly out of sync when the Italians learn how to shoot sound film properly.

Now that I’ve seen some exciting, excellent/horrible Argento movies from his peak period (Suspiria, Inferno) and some depressing, horrible/horrible movies from his more recent period (Giallo, Pelts), it’s safe to say I never need to watch these three all the way through (although I’m still undecided on Mother of Tears), so here’s The Last Ten Minutes of them:

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, Dario Argento)
First thing I see is a black-gloved hand. First thing I hear is an unconvincingly delivered line. It’s an Argento movie, all right. Looks like I’ve stumbled into a crap remake of Rear Window. Police chase the black-gloved girl onto the rooftop, where she falls, hanging Vertigo-style from the gutter while the crippled Giulio (Elio Germano of musical Nine) watches across the alley. But a minute later everyone is friends? So there was no killer? Down on the street a shopping cart lady puts on a wig. Huh? Anyway, months later, Giulio watches a hot nude girl across the alley and enters a confusing flashback montage. One of the girls was Elisabetta Rocchetti, who later appeared in something called Last House in the Woods (oh Italian movie industry, how you amuse me).

The Card Player (2004, Dario Argento)
“I’m sorry, I had to kill him,” says a dude with a cellphone (and disappointingly, no long mustache to twirl) who has tied a girl to the train tracks. He cranks up a CD of funky electro music and lies on the tracks with her playing cards on his laptop, while she taunts him instead of smashing the computer into his face like it seems like she should do. He gets run over by a train, and she shoots out his car stereo, mercifully stopping the electro music. Someone in the movie was Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley – hopefully not the card-playing killer, because that guy was terrible.

Phantom of the Opera (1998, Dario Argento)
Oh no, it’s a period piece. Asia Argento is pretty convincing as an opera star until a sewer troll interrupts the performance and handsome Julian Sands (Warlock himself – the description says he’d not physically disfigured in this one, but was “raised by telepathic rats”) sweeps Asia away. It is very dark, and a man with a funny mustache stumbles upon an enclave of dead bodies. Long-haired hero Andrea di Stefano (star of a Marco Bellocchio movie) shoots Julian and escapes the bloodthirsty search party (wasn’t he part of the search party), as Asia screams in horror (she’s good at that sort of thing). This looks a ton better than the last two movies, though it has the lowest rating. Maybe that’s from people thinking they were getting the Joel Schumacher version. The rat-squealing sound effects over the finale got my birds very excited.

First Snow (2006, Mark Fergus)
This dude Vince says he still considers Guy Pearce his best friend, but says that Guy has fucked up and pulls out a gun. Vince goes off with a long, tortured speech then tries to kill them both but only manages himself. Guy Pearce is sad, flashes back to a pretty girl in a cowboy hat as it starts to snow. The writers/director worked on Children of Men and Iron Man, so I suppose this should’ve been good. Didn’t look awful, but I’m not saying I wanna see 90 more minutes of it.

Noise (2007, Henry Bean)
Tim Robbins’ car is making a ton of noise and William Hurt is angry, then he makes it stop, then start again, then he has some kind of noise-epiphany as judge Chuck Cooper smashes his car with a golf club. A Baldwin tackles the judge, who is arrested under suspicious of being Tim Robbins’ anti-noise vigilante. A way unrealistic court scene follows, in which Tim helps Chuck win in order to set precedent that noise can be considered assault and battery. High on his success, Tim considers joining a pimply militant in blowing up city eyesores but chooses not to. He smashes cars Michael Jackson-style as the credits roll. Overall the movie looks pretty fun, if kinda silly. From the writer of Basic Instinct 2.

Lakeview Terrace (2008, Neil LaBute)
Controversially interracial couple Patrick “Little Children” Wilson and Kerry “Last King of Scotland” Washington come home to a mess of a house, then dude goes out back to thank Samuel L. Jackson for helping him for a break-in. But Jackson knows that Wilson knows that Jackson knew the guys who broke in, and now Jackson’s on the attack. Much punching and many gunshots ensue. I wish Samuel L. had the integrity I always imagine he had. Ugh, his character name is Abel. Cops shoot Sam a bunch, the couple turns out semi-okay and family values are protected. Besides rogue cop Abel, the rest of the LAPD force is portrayed as remarkably restrained and competent. Follow-up to The Wicker Man by Neil LaBute’s doppelganger – the one who killed the real Neil and replaced him in 2000, halfway through production of Nurse Betty.

Obsessed (2009, Steve Shill)
Beyonce catches Ali Lartner (Resident Evil 3) in bed surrounded by rose petals, presumable waiting for Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba. Girlfight ensues! So which one of these girls is “obsessed”? I think it’s Lartner, who plays it weirdly affectless. Generic thriller music, fight scene, camerawork and everything. Lartner is killed by a falling chandelier and family values are protected. Idris Elba comes home just in time for the credits, dammit, the only reason I watched this was to see him.

It’s Alive (2008, Josef Rusnak)
Thought I’d peep tha remake since I recently saw the original and more recently saw Splice. Oh it’s the ol’ flashlight-into-the-camera trick from X-Files. This is taking place in a very dark house, not a sewer – the movie probably couldn’t afford a sewer. Father Frank (TV’s James Murray) catches the baby (how? we don’t know) in a trash can and creeps off to a very dark outdoor area, then unwisely opens the can and gets savaged by the baby (played by an out-of-context CG effect). Motherly Bijou Phillips (of Hostel II, here with the horror-in-joke character name Lenore Harker) catches up with them and takes the baby into a burning house where they both perish… or DO they?? Hmmm, no cops – the movie probably couldn’t afford cops. That seemed longer than ten minutes.

Simon Says (2006, William Dear)
Key phrase from the description: “Simon and Stanley (both played by Crispin Glover), backwoods twin brothers with a fondness for booby traps.” That’s all you needed to tell me! Helpless Stanley is being groped by some girl – but he’s got a knife!! She’s got a bigger knife! Did he just headbutt a corpse? Now he’s screaming with a fake southern accent in the woods, wounded and toting a scythe. Could this be the end of Crispin Glover? Yep, got a knife in the skull by a girl who I assume is Margo Harshman (good name). Where’s the twin brother? Maybe there never was one. Oh Crispy is still alive and gets the girl, twist ending. They said “you forgot to say simon says” about four times. I missed the epilogue bit since someone knocked on the door, but I saw a bunch of mirrors and I’m guessing there was never a twin brother, which is disappointing. William Dear, also the writer, once made Harry and the Hendersons.

An awful lot like Inferno, with the ludicrous plot, hysterical acting and silly deaths. But also like Inferno, the visuals are excellent enough that I can forgive all that. I think I actually prefer Inferno, even though this one has better music and funnier death scenes.

Eva Axén went from working with Visconti in classy period pieces to getting stabbed, thrown through windows and hung by Argento:

Eva up there escapes from a prestigious dancing school, goes to stay with a friend, and is dramatically killed (along with the friend) by an unseen evil which cares little for logic or reasonable dialogue, only for the picturesque posed deaths of young women.

Our heroine in the middle is Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise, Pennies From Heaven). At left is Stefania Casini, an older sister in Blood For Dracula.

New student Suzy picks up the narrative from there, discovering right off the bat that her school is creepy but not figuring until the end that it’s a front for a coven of witches run by a hundreds-year-old evil mother.

The Mother Of… something:

One thing the movie’s got going for it: casting Udo Kier. But it loses points for casting Udo Kier in a tiny, talky role, essentially letting everyone BUT Udo Kier overact. Bad call. Maybe Kier was busy in Fassbinder’s The Stationmaster’s Wife at the time.

While Suzy has fainting spells, deals with a plague of maggots falling from the ceiling, and talks with Udo Kier and some professor (Rudolf Schündler, actor since the 30’s and director in the 50’s and 60’s, also in The Exorcist and Wenders’ Kings of the Road and The American Friend) about historical nonsense, more deaths occur. Her friend Stefania Casini is murdered by the unseen hand in a similar over-the-top manner to the first death (barbed wire, razor stabbing, nails through the eyes). And the blind pianist is kicked out of school and walks through the abandoned square at night. The music warms up, the lighting declares the buildings to be a threat, and suddenly a stone gargoyle comes alive and flies overhead… but in the end, he’s simply killed by his guide dog.

Blind Daniel (Flavio Bucci of Il Divo) getting kicked out of school by mistress Alida Valli (star of Eyes Without a Face, Senso, Il Grido, The Third Man, played a caretaker in Inferno)

Joan Bennett (30+ years after Scarlet Street), in her final film role, has got some wicked wallpaper.

Amazing cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (from Antonioni to Argento to Barbet Schroeder to Titus), who shines red and blue colored lights on simply everything. The dubbing is mostly good, and I liked the pumping Goblin music surprisingly well. I dig when Goblin sings along quietly with a sinister “la la la.”

Argento’s debut seven years prior was titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

OCT 2017: watched the new 4k restoration at the Alamo, wowie wow wow.

I don’t know why I didn’t get L’Atalante upon first viewing. Maybe ’twas the low-grade VHS tape I rented, or maybe I was drowsy or impatient, but now I see it’s almost as beautiful and twisted a love story as Sunrise.

Provincial girl marries a barge captain passing through town then finds that spending life on the boat with his two assistants is less excitingly romantic than she’d imagined. Tension mounts between the captain and the gruff-looking but tender Jules leading the girl to flee the ship to see Paris on her own. But she doesn’t fare well and the captain goes into a depression, so Jules goes and finds her for a tearful reunion finale.

Not the fault of the video, I guess, because many shots were out of focus on the 35mm print. Must’ve been rough to do so much location shooting in 1934. So many other gorgeous shots and ideas scattered throughout that it’s easy to overlook technical shortcomings. Movie holds a poetic, dreamy state throughout, and the ending seems deserved despite the captain being kinda unlikeable most of the time.

Jean Dasté got small roles in Jean Renoir films, and many years later, larger roles in Francois Truffaut films. He was also the sympathetic teacher in Zero For Conduct.

Dita Parlo appeared in Grand Illusion and didn’t do much acting after the 30’s.

Michel Simon was more well-known, starring in The Two of Us, Rene Clair’s Faust, Port of Shadows and at least three by Renoir. Jacques Rivette did a 100-minute Cinéastes de notre temps with him in ’66.

Cats are thrown at people from offscreen, an obvious influence on Dario Argento.

Happy ending:

Zero For Conduct, by contrast, was less anarchic hilarity and slightly more tedious than I remembered it. Still a fun boarding school romp with good characters (the dwarf headmaster, the head-standing supervisor played by Dasté who is on the kids’ side from the start) and great portrayal of repressive school life, friendships and rivalries and minor (and in the end, major) rebellions.



I watched the above two at Emory on 35mm last November but delayed posting this until now because I wanted to go through the rest of the Artificial Eye DVD.

I dug the Cinéastes de notre temps episode by Jacques Rozier (new-wave filmmaker with Adieu Philippine, also shot some of the stuff on the Contempt DVD and the Cinéastes episode on Bunuel excerpted on the Viridiana DVD). 90 minutes of Vigo stories and interviews with the three L’Atalante leads thirty years later. Michel Simon looks the same, and Dita Parlo is very recognizable when she smiles. Now that I know what Jean Daste looked like in the mid-60’s, I’ll look out for him in The War Is Over. Didn’t realize that Jean Vigo knew Jean Painleve… and Painleve has an indirect connection to Oskar Fischinger.

Not much to say about the two shorts. The Jean Taris doc has some cool photography, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth watching over and over. The Nice doc is more creative, has lots of cool photography, and is definitely worth watching over and over.

Jean Taris, swimming champion:

À propos de Nice