Dario Argento is probably the most influential contemporary European horror film director. Nearly all of his movies are considered cult films by genre fans. His career began in 1968, when he collaborated with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone on the classic C’ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST. He received story credit along with the two famous Italian filmmakers. Following the success of Leone’s film, Argento cowrote screenplays to other, minor spaghetti westerns and action films, before directing a film himself in 1969.
L’UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO, one of the first 'gialli
', Italian murder mysteries, received critical acclaim for its stylish filmmaking technique. IL GATO A NOVE CODE and QUATTRE MOSCHE DI VELLUTO GRIGIO were made in the same vein, but are hardly distinguished films. LE CINQUE GIORNATE, a comedy starring the Italian singer Adriano Celentano, was produced for the national market only and never found its way to foreign movie theaters.
In 1975, Argento moved a bit closer to a related genre, the horror film. PROFONDO ROSSO, by some considered to be the director’s best film, is an eerie masterpiece, one of the first films that could be called truly ‘psychotronic’. The film was cut for theatrical release abroad and critical acclaim was limited to the inimitable style that had started to become Argento’s trademark.
SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, the films which followed, are the director’s only two supernatural horror films and part of an unfinished trilogy (The 'Three Mothers-Trilogy', based on writings by the opium-addict Thomas de Quincey). SUSPIRIA brought the long-awaited breakthrough for its director, with both critics and audiences. However, the acceptance of INFERNO, one of Argento’s most surreal and artistically accomplished films, was probably not as it should have been.
In 1978, between shooting SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, Argento worked with George A. Romero
on DAWN OF THE DEAD, one of the best modern horror films, a parable on the decay of civilization. Argento continued to make stylish (and violent) shockers after INFERNO. TENEBRAE and PHENOMENA can be considered direct descendants of the 'gialli
' of the 1970s, only with bizarre plots and more explicit violence.
Shortly thereafter, Argento decided to boost the careers of fellow filmmakers Lamberto Bava
(son of the legendary Mario Bava
) and Michele Soavi
, two of his former assistant directors. Bava’s DEMONI was received well by horror fans and established him as a leading horror filmmaker. Soavi did well with LA CHIESA, a bizarre, Argentoesque horror story in 1989.
Meanwhile, Argento had finished shooting OPERA, one of his most frenzied films, which made good use of modern filmmaking techniques. His next film was to be TWO EVIL EYES, codirected by George A. Romero
. The screenplays of the two-part movie were based on short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. Argento’s episode is generally considered better than Romero’s.
For TRAUMA, Argento again worked in the United States. However, he was not very comfortable there, because he went back to his home country Italy for his next film, LA SINDROME DI STENDHAL. Like in TRAUMA, the director cast his own daughter, the beautiful Asia Argento in the lead role. In 1998, the director completed IL FANTASMA DELL’OPERA (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), which turned out to be a weak rendition of Gaston Leroux's novel. A year earlier he had worked as a consultant on LA MASCHERA DI CERA, a film directed by Argento's regular special effects man and cowritten by Lucio Fulci
, one of the most gore-obsessed Italian directors. This film stands as Fulci and Argento's only collaboration, since Fulci died before the film was completed.
In the new millenium Dario has continue to try and reinvent his giallo formula with the thrillers NONHOSONNO (2001) and IL CARTAIO (2004), the latter marking a low-point in his career, however. In 2005, he returned to the medium television, for which he shot TI PIACE HITCHCOCK? (2005) aka DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK?, a feature paying tribute to the Master of Suspense, who Argento has often been compared to. In late 2005, a TV episode directed for Mick Garris' Masters of Horror series premiered in the United States. Argento filmed a second one a year later. Currently, he is working on the conclusion of his infamous Three Mothers trilogy begun with SUSPIRIA and INFERNO!
Critics often dump on Dario Argento, and most of his films are
a matter of taste, but all of them undeniably carry the stamp of an ingenious artist. It admittedly takes a good deal of tolerance to discover, understand and cherish the Italian director’s films. His best films are PROFONDO ROSSO, SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, PHENOMENA and TENEBRAE.