In a career full of nutty, brutal, style-forward horror films, few titles on Dario Argento’s resume are as strange, violent, or aesthetically singular as his 1987 giallo, Opera, which has a nice new Blu-ray release from Scorpion. In one of the bonus features, the director calls it his favorite of his films, and it’s easy to see why. It’s like a collection of all of his visual and thematic faves and watches a bit like if Douglas Sirk make horror movies instead of domestic melodramas.
A riff on The Phantom of the Opera, the plot follows a young opera singer (Cristina Marsillach) thrust into the spotlight and stalked by a deranged fan who slaughters everyone close to her while he makes her watch. As you might imagine, she doesn’t like that very much.
In true Argento form, Opera presents a stunning visual tableau. Lush reds and cool blues fill the hyper-stylized color palate. Working with cinematographer Ronnie Taylor (Popcorn, Gandhi), every frame is a carefully staged collection of borders, reflections, and barriers, echoing and constraining the players.
The film has a dreamy, ethereal quality, like walking through a nightmare. Close up shots of eyes—both human, as when the killer forces Betty to keep her eyes open with strategically placed sewing needles; or animal, as Argento frequently fills the frame with raven eyes—form a visual motif. An odd use of a wide, near-fish-eye lens and strange angles lend the opulent opera house a sense of grandeur at the same time POV shots position the viewer in place of the killer, creating an uncomfortable intimacy and complicity in the increasingly violent deaths. We, like Betty, can’t look away. And no one does cinematic death quite like the Italians.
And because no discussion of a Dario Argento movie would be complete without mentioning the music, Opera has a dope ass sound. You’ve got your traditional giallo synth-heavy prog rock, courtesy of Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti. But there are also tracks from Brian Eno and his brother Roger; contributions from Verdi’s Macbeth, the titular opera; and during the brutal deaths, the Motorhead-esque stylings of Steel Grave kick in to add a rock and roll flair. It’s all over the map, and doesn’t always jibe, but it still rules pretty hard.
Playing like Argento’s greatest hits, Opera doesn’t quite rank up there with the likes of Suspiria and Deep Red in the director’s cannon, but it’s easy to see why the director thinks of it as his favorite. The new transfer is gorgeous and looks like an entirely different film than the one I first saw on a warped VHS tape back in high school. The colors pop in ways they haven’t in years, and it’s a gorgeous sight to behold.
And the movie itself is the true reason to pick this Opera Blu-ray. The extras are okay, but nothing remarkable. Most notable is a 20-minute interview with Argento himself. His affection for the film shines through, and he goes into the production background, why they chose Macbeth, an opera widely regarded as cursed, which carried over onto the set. It’s interesting, but not groundbreaking.
There’s also a 16-minute interview with actor William McNamara, who has a small part, though easily the most memorable death. Engaging and affable, he talks about the loose nature of the set, how Vanessa Redgrave was almost in the picture, and more behind the scenes stories. Again, it’s nice supplemental material, but not exactly a must-watch.
Argento fans definitely need to add this to their collections, if only to update and replace whatever grainy copy they already have. The same goes for general horror fans or those with a proclivity for giallo and crazy Italian genre work. Casual fans will probably dismiss it as cheesy, and mock the dubbing and questionable plot and character choices. (Oh, you just witnessed your boyfriend horribly murdered while forced to watch. Yeah, it makes sense to go home and not call the cops or be traumatized at all). But this is still a good pick up for both horror heads and Argento enthusiasts. [Grade: B+]