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Two Underrated Dario Argento Films Worth a Second Look

Two Underrated Dario Argento Films Worth a Second Look

For us horror fanatics, we make it a point to seek out every single movie listed on our favorite director’s IMDb page. Sometimes, we don’t like what we see. Whether it’s John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars or Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend (minus awesome “basketball to the head” death) – sometimes we’d just rather forget these titles littered our Masters’ filmographies. Well, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m here to pinpoint at least two titles worth a second look. They might not be such sore spots on a director’s resume after all! Remember, critics and fans alike dismissed Carpenter’s The Thing as a dud upon release. 

Fans are still reeling from the loss of Tobe Hooper. Personally, I remain unable to wrap my head around the loss of both Romero and Craven as well. There are moments I find myself thinking of the possibilities of a Scream 5, only to snap back to reality and realize it’s unlikely to happen without Craven behind the camera. Besides, without him who would want it? Despite the sadness of loss hanging over the legends of horror, today we have an excuse to celebrate. The Maestro, Dario Argento, is turning 77! Anyone who knows me knows Argento is one of my biggest influences. When I was a youngin, I made weekly trips to the mall’s Sam Goody to peruse their horror section. While DVD was a thing, I was still rocking a VCR back at home. And nothing caught my attention more than a thick, black, clamshell VHS from Anchor Bay.

My first introduction to Argento was through the amazingly over-the-top Demons. Granted, Argento only wrote/produced that film, but his name was plastered on the front cover as “Dario Argento Presents”. I was in love from the very first pustule burst. In a lot of ways, it felt familiar to the other 80’s horror I had been devouring. I could see shades of Night of the Demons, but the style and blistering gore were on a level I had yet to experience. The next week, I saw another clamshell calling my name. I noticed the name “Argento” on the box and immediately took my purchase to the front counter. That film was Phenomena. I was wholly unprepared for that night’s viewing.

Phenomena melted my fucking face…for lack of more eloquent wording. It was the first time a film caused me to jump up out of my bed and begin yelling at my TV, “No! NO! Run!” I’d witnessed a woman reacting similarly when I first saw Scream in a theater, but I’d never been driven to the edge of the seat in that same way myself. I realized in that moment of pleading with the girl from Labyrinth to vomit up a pill and flea, the name “Argento” truly meant something special. I watched Phenomena three times that weekend, twice alone and the third time forcing it upon my best friend. A love affair began with his work, and I snatched up every bit of it that I possibly could.

I was lucky to have the chance to meet the man recently at Texas Frightmare. He was there celebrating the 40th anniversary of what most consider his masterpiece, Suspiria. I tend to fluctuate on what I feel is my personal favorite (outside of Suspiria, there’s Phenomena, Deep Red, Tenebre). I’m not someone who gets starstruck at all. I’ve had the opportunity to be in the same room as quite a few “famous folk” and ultimately find them to be…ya know, normal people. When meeting The Maestro, I nearly started crying…nearly. Okay, maybe I shed a couple droplets? When I told him what a huge inspiration he was to me, I’m not sure he fully understood. His English isn’t that great. Nonetheless, it was a brief yet monumental moment for me. It was pretty much the coolest thing ever. That is, until the day I get flown to Rome to work on his newest script. Ahh, dream logic, right? While we may have lost several Masters of Horror in recent years, I’m so happy that today we can still celebrate the birth of Dario Argento.

In honor of his special day, I wanted us to focus on a  couple of films that might be worth a revisit by fans. I’ve decided to pick something from the director’s heyday and one selection that’s a bit more recent. There are many who consider Opera to be his last great film. “Bollocks,” say I! Full Disclosure: from Argento’s massive filmography there are only three films that I simply don’t like. I mean, at least The Card Player, a somewhat stale procedural, is better than most episodes of something like CSI.

Sleepless (2001)

Easily the most underrated of Argento’s filmography, Sleepless is a full tilt homage to the director’s own work. While it certainly doesn’t feel as “fresh” as Gialli from the sub-genre’s golden era, it packs in some breathtaking set-pieces that make the film warrant “undiscovered gem” status. Despite this feeling like a Giallo through and through with a convoluted plot, each kill presented with operatic staging, and a lead who just barely remembers the one detail that will crack the case, Sleepless still manages to bare the marks of a film produced in the post-Scream horror landscape. The first scenes almost feel like Argento’s skewed way of trying to one up Wes Craven. There’s the raspy voiced killer taunting our victim on the telephone, only instead of one Drew Barrymore, we get two prostitutes. It all culminates with the type of suspenseful chase that slasher fans dream of.

While the film might reach its peak early on, there are plenty of trademark Argento flourishes that keep it a fun ride from beginning to end. The stylistic standout is an amazing tracking shot along the aisles of a theater during intermission that culminates in quite a gruesome discovery. Plus, you get Max von Sydow in an uncharacteristically subdued performance. I can’t understand why this film hasn’t begun to build up its following. Availability could be an issue. I know Arrow UK has polished the film up for Blu-ray, but the US has been stuck with the cruddy full frame, slightly edited, Artisan DVD since the film’s initial release. Lucky for us, rumor has it that Scorpion Releasing is planning to rectify that issue in the near future.

Inferno (1980)

Here’s the deal. I’m sure most fans of the director’s work have seen this quasi-followup to Suspiria. The problem is, if you’re like me, you saw Suspiria, were blown away by it and then realized there was a sequel. You were all, “What? Argento made a sequel to Suspiria? I have to see it, like, right now!” And so you did. You tracked down a copy of Inferno and were hypnotized by the gorgeous underwater photography (scenes rumored to have been directed by Lamberto Bava). You then noticed the score by English composer Keith Emerson was…not Goblin. After about twenty minutes into the film your excitement likely waned, and by the time a hot dog stand chased a character down to a lake, you had likely given up any hope of Inferno matching the excellence of Suspiria. Now that the initial disappointment is out of the way, go back and see it again!

Trust me. When I first saw Inferno I barely made it to the end credits. The second time I saw it, I did NOT make it to the end credits. I finally revisited the film after many years, not too long ago. I’ve got to say, it’s a damn fine work of art. I think the general disdain for Inferno comes part and parcel with the built in expectations set by following Suspiria. Naturally, nothing can live up to to the experience of witnessing Suspiria for the first time. Argento and his then wife, Daria Nicolodi, even manage to take the relative narrative incoherence of the previous film and shove it into a wood burning stove. This movie is balls to the walls phantasmagoric imagery with only the barest thankful bits of voice over to help string us from scene to scene. Despite the lack of any real narrative structure, Inferno succeeds by unleashing one gloriously photographed nightmare scenario after the other onto the audience. If it’s been awhile since you checked this out, go into it with an open mind. View the tale of Mater Tenebrarum as its own thing separate from Suspiria. There’s some genuine skin crawling stuff here just waiting to be rediscovered.


Also Worth A 2nd Look: Do You Like Hitchcock, Masters of Horror: Pelts

While Argento’s latest filmography might not reach the soaring heights of his early output, I think there’s a lot more to mine than the usual suspects. Besides, I’m still excited by the prospect he may one day soon step behind the camera again. Plus, we have Synapse’s amazing looking restoration to look forward to by year’s end. I know I’ve preordered my Blu-ray.

We salute you, Argento. Happy Birthday, Maestro! What are you favorite underrated or overlooked Argento flicks?



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COMMENTS

20 Comments
  • Simon Allen

    I loved Inferno when I first saw and I love it now but I never really thought of it as a sequel to Suspiria and still don’t ….it’s just the second in the “mothers” trilogy (not that I knew that when I first saw it .
    Tenebrau is an Argento favourite of mine ….it’s beautifully shot with a crazy plot and has some wonderful violent set pieces and it really is the perfect “Giallo” movie .
    Trauma is a bit of a hoot with a really OTT performance from Piper Laurie and some gruesome murders with a decapitation device (effects by Savini) .

  • Always loved Inferno

  • sliceanddice

    Inferno had one of the best jump scares i can recall this side of exorcist 3

  • Necro

    I personally feel his ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy is fucking great! All 3 films: ‘Suspiria’ ‘Inferno’ & ‘Mother of Tears’. Another one I really enjoyed was ‘Trauma’, not to mention his kick-ass episodes from ‘Masters of Horror: Jenifer and Pelts’!

  • Justin Anthony

    I saw Inferno before Suspiria and always thought both were badass in their own way. Also growing up watching Labyrinth I couldn’t dislike Phenomena which is probably my favorite by Argento.

  • Another one he didn’t direct but had a hand in (write and produce) is Michele Soavi’s The Church. Absolutely surreal and great film! It was originally supposed to be a Demons sequel, but it is perfect as a standalone!

  • RIP-REL

    Love your intro paragraph on Inferno, Zachary Paul!

    • Thanks. I felt that was a good representation of my stream of consciousness upon first viewing. 🙂

  • 1000

    I’ve been saying this for over 20 years now; TRAUMA is one of his greatest films, and a seriously underrated film in general. Take another look people – the subtext running through it is beautiful

    • I honestly think a lot of his 90s/early aughts flicks are aging really well. I’m considering revisiting Phantom, though that’s one that I’ve really never liked.

  • Elizabeth

    Hah. You described exactly what happened when I first watched Inferno. It didn’t help that the person I watched it with explicitly told me it was a sequel. Also, as usual, Demons rules.

    • Yes. I actually just watched Demons 1 & 2 again last weekend on a friend’s big projection screen. Felt like a kid again…and am still mad there’s no legit part 3.

      • Necro

        I agree there Zach about there being no legit ‘Demons 3’.

      • Elizabeth

        Yeah, you’re not tricking me into watching the unofficial sequels again 😛

    • Mark

      demons 1 was fantastic..i hated the 2nd

  • Dennis Giles

    Can’t wait to view “IT” ..read the book (twice) 1200 pages..
    The mini-series Iv’e seen few times.. (Curry was impressive).
    I’m 50 years old now and after the book ..and mini-series and Stephen Kings “The Mist” and “Mr Mercedes” ..I hope i’m going to be satisfied .

  • Dennis Giles

    Posted in wrong section.Sorry.

  • Kristoffer Groves

    No Goblin, no thank you.

  • Mpo

    I saw “Inferno” before “Suspiria” and it’s still my favourite Argento film. It’s great, and it’s not a sequel.
    “Sleepless” is his best post-“Opera” film… maybe the only good one!

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