When Italian horror maestro Dario Argento created his Animal Trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tales and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) in the early 1970’s, he not only cemented his own standing on the international stage, he virtually single-handedly created the modern Giallo film. Dubbed by critics and fans across the globe as “The Italian Hitchcock”, Argento rode a wave of critical and cultist acclaim for the better part of 20-years before a drought of quality projects in the late 90’s left him seemingly floundering just as a new generation was recognizing the sheer brilliance of his back catalogue.
With the release of Do You Like Hitchcock? – Argento has refocused his energies from past mistakes like The Card Player and Sleepless, and has lovingly crafted his slickest and most accessible film in years. Designed ostensibly as a tribute to the legend with whom Argento will always be compared, the film is the very best parts of Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, and Strangers on a Train all weaved together to create a visual spectacle of anxiety and adrenalin.
Giulio (Elio Germano), a young film student in Torino studying German Expressionism is given over to a serious case of “peeping tom syndrome”, which Argento reflects upon throughout the film, often in overly obvious ways. Giulio is a voyeur, in the grand tradition of so many Hitchcock classics, and his curiosity is going to get a lot more killed than the cat.
One day whist perusing the titles at the corner video mart, Giulio overhears two attractive young women, Sasha (Elisabetta Rocchetti) and Frederica (Chiara Conti), arguing over which one gets to rent the only copy of Strangers on a Train. Giulio recognizes Sasha immediately as the beautiful girl across the street that seductively moves throughout her apartment in the barest of attire. Later when he encounters the two women again, his interest is piqued over their seeming familiarity and friendship. When Sasha’s mother is brutally slaughtered (in true Argento fashion), Giulio begins to piece together what he believes must be a quid pro quo murder scheme. As art begins to reflect on life and the lines between fiction and reality start to blend, Giulio’s family and his girlfriend (Cristina Brondo) begin to wonder if the world of cinema has begun to take a toll on his sanity.
The film, shot as an Italian televison movie, often feels constrained unimaginative, but Argento’s flair – slightly in check here – seeps through and makes up for a lack in spectacular gore effects. Using suspense and soundtrack to set the mood, Argento has supplanted what generally draws his fans to the work and instead offers a lighthearted homage to not only Hitchcock, but to Fritz Lang, Michael Powell, Neo-Italian realist cinema and even himself. Keen viewers will note that the killer sports a pair of white gloves, a sly jab at Argento’s signature predilection for black clad killers. Indeed even a later bathtub sequence pays a psuedo-homage to Argento’s own Profondo Russo.
With all of this tongue in cheek celluloid flying in the foaming mouths of Argentophiles everywhere, it’s a miracle that the end result presents itself as one of the filmmaker’s most coherent works. With the exception of the opening flashback sequence (which comes back into play later – as in all Argento films) the plot is almost boringly linear and virtually devoid of the odd characterizations and sweeping cinematography of the director’s classic oeuvre. Still, the exacting placement of the camera, even for the mostly static shots, shows no more and no less than exactly what the viewer needs to see in order to recognize not only the beauty (as evidenced in the rain sequences) and the necessity (as seen in the darkened apartment) of the plot, but the utter mastery Argento has over his craft.
While fans looking for the next Suspiria or Tenebre may have to hold out till later next year for the long-in-the-wings third mother film (Mater Lachrymarum), those who have been disappointed by Argento’s output since the release of The Stendhal Syndrome may not find the filmmaker back in top fighting form, but Do You Like Hitchcock? still stands up as one of the better later day projects from one of few Masters of Horror to actually live up to the billing.