So it’s official, I’m obsessed, as if that hasn’t happened with other directors before…. But with Dario it’s different. The worlds that he creates are creatively intense and otherworldly filled with screaming women, scissors plunging into a heart over and over, childish characters, silly dialogue, and heads smashing through windows.
I would like if I may to take you on a journey through some of Dario’s movies (and some inside Dario info!) and convince you that you absolutely need to see every single one of these films. Right now. This instant.
Considered the de-facto Argento film, Suspiria revels in it’s theatrics, both visually and musically. I could go on and on about facts and trivia about Suspiria, so I’ll try to hit most of the big ones and move on! The first in the Three Mothers trilogy (followed by Inferno in 1980 and then later The Mother of Tears in 2007), Suspiria follows the character of Suzy Bannion, a ballet dancer who enrolls at the world famous academy of dance in Freiburg, Germany. As she attends her classes (or rather, faints in her classes) she begins to understand that something is quite wrong at her school. Classmates and piano teachers are horribly murdered and the teachers act as if nothing is wrong. Suzy soon discovers that the school might be a front for a coven of witches!
Now that we’ve got the simple plot out of the way, let’s talk about why this movie is considered the best Italian horror film of all time. The musical score by Goblin (with contributions by Dario Argento) and it’s Technicolor 3-Strip Process (deep saturated colors like The Wizard of Oz) made even more colorful from the lighting design by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli are the 2 main technical reasons why this movie is delightful. The soundtrack is loud, harsh, and filled with chills and electronic delights.
The visuals can speak for themselves; it’s tacky, bright, and candy colored world sparks the violence that inhabits this film’s corridors and sidewalks.
All of these elements combined with a guest cameo by Udo Kier and a gloriously cheesy English dub make Suspiria the best Italian horror film around.
Suspiria is highly recommended as a first foray into any italian horror, regardless of director.
The Technicolor Nightmares of Suspiria
Dario Argento Suspiria making of
SUSPIRIA SCENA FINALE
Inside Dario: Daria Nicolodi – Daria is one of Dario’s most frequent collaborators besides Claudio Simonetti and Goblin. A lot of the relationship between Dario and Daria is shrouded in mystery, but what we do know is that they did have a romantic connection at one point in time (1974-1985), and of course that Daria gave birth to Dario’s daughter, the now well known (and kick-ass) Asia Argento.
After Dario had a brief period of continuing with his Giallo style of movies (which we’ll talk about later on) he made a return to the more supernatural side of his style with Phenomena. Using some star power with Jennifer Connely and Donald Pleasence, Dario created a bizarre story with an even more bizarre soundtrack by various artists including his now go-to band, Goblin.
Phenomena takes place in the Swiss countryside where Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connely), the daughter of a famous movie star (“Isn’t he so dreamy??” one of Jennifer’s schoolmates says of her dad) is away at a Swiss Academy for Girls. Meanwhile Forensic Entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence) is investigating a series of murders by studying how the body is decomposing and what bugs are being attracted to the bodies. Jennifer, we find out, happens to be telepathically linked with insects and one night while having a sleepwalking/vision/trippy nightmare where she sees the killer murdering a girl to the musical harmonies of Iron Maiden she manages to stumble into a large chimpanzee who is the companion of the entomologist who takes her to John where they become friends (whoa that was a lot of info!)…. The rest is history as they say with John enlisting Jennifer to help him find the killer using a fly (as her magic wand!). With hilarious dialog, “That sound that you can hear is a mating call…you’re exciting him, and he’s doing his best to excite you!” “And to think we only just met!” crazy random soundtrack moments where hard rock blasts when you expect quiet creepy moments, and chimpanzees holding razor blades a la Edgar Allan Poe, Phenomena is a phenomenon in it of itself. Enjoy!
Wonder kid from Phenomena
B-roll behind-the-scenes footage
Inside Dario: Goblin – Goblin was initially named Cherry Five and started their work with Dario on the film Deep Red. The five member band had many changes in their lineup and eventually around the time of Tenebre (1982) Dario had to convince them to get back together to do the score for his film (even then they decided to take credit as separate individuals). Claudio Simonetti is the most well known of the band members because of his continued support of all of the work Dario Argento does. Goblin, besides doing many Dario Argento soundtracks also did a lot of the soundtrack for George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
GOBLIN “PROFONDO ROSSO” (DEEP RED) on Italian tv
Goblin “Suspiria” [Live in 1977]
Dario Argento y Goblin en Stracultsat Giallo & Horror Segments
Tenebrae [Tenebre] (1982)
Alright let’s move on to something that Dario Argento is very well known for, Giallo. Wikipedia defines Giallo as a genre that emerged from the Giallo-style novels and began in the 1960s adapting said novels, but soon took on new cinematic techniques and merged horror and psychological thriller genres into a new genre. The masters of this Genre are Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava.
Tenebrae was Dario’s return to Giallo after the success of Suspiria and Inferno. In the US, audiences wanted more supernatural movies from Dario, but apparently in Italy, the public wanted his return to Giallo, and, much to Daria Nicolodi’s frustration at not finishing the Three Mothers trilogy, Dario relented.
Starring Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, and Daria Nicolodi, Tenebrae concerns a series of murders that happen after a mystery murder novel called “Tenebrae” is released in Rome. American novelist Peter Neal (Franciosa) travels to Rome to garner publicity for his new novel, but soon realizes a stalker is taking his fictuous antagonist’s morals and applying it to real life. Peter takes it upon himself to find out who the murderer is and become even more famous.
Tenebrae once again features music by Goblin and features gory killings and dark themes throughout. Lesbians! Prostitutes! Teen Whores! Lord of the Flies type childhood! Tenebrae has it all!
Tenebre (1982) – Axe attack
Whoa talk about a crazy ass film, Opera or “Terror at the Opera” as it was called in US Distribution follows a young up and coming singer who gets her chance to shine as the current diva gets into a car accident (sound familiar at all?). A famous American movie director decides to come the opera to direct a more blockbuster-ish version of Verdi’s Macbeth. Macbeth is known for having many tragic accidents Betty notes before she agrees to star in it. But of course murders start to happen and Betty (with her eyes forced to stay open by the threat of sharp pins taped to her eyelids) has to watch each one! Featuring crows, silly characters, a Bjork style ending, and Daria Nicolodi, Opera is one of Dario’s silliest and funnest movies ever.
Inside Dario: Dubbing – A brief background on Italian films and dubbing. Most italian films you’ll see in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and some in the 90s did not use sync sound like most other films did around this time. This wasn’t just cheap horror films either, we’re talking Pasolini, Fellini, etc. There are many things that contributed to this, but mostly it was because of Italy’s desire to not only bring in famous actors from around the world without much hassle, but also the ability to easily sell their film to many different regions. Most of Dario’s films use American actors and to make it easier on themselves they just have the actors say their lines in their own language. That’s why even Italian tracks on Italian movies isn’t really the “original” language.
Deep Red (1975)
Deep Red is considered Dario’s best Giallo style movie in his repertoire and I’d be hard pressed not to agree. Deep Red follows music teacher Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) who witnesses the murder of a Psychic who had previously read the mind of the murderer at a Pschic Convention. Marcus proceeds to investigate the murder with the help of (guess! Come on! You should know this by now!) Daria Nicolodi who plays an uber-flirtatious reporter. Deep Red features creepy kids, a creepy childhood song that the killer plays right before they kill someone, very effeminate gay dudes, and a score by Goblin.
The 2nd in the Three Mothers Trilogy, Inferno stars Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, and Alida Valli. Inferno is almost entirely different from Suspiria in many ways. Gone is the Goblin soundtrack (replaced with a score by Keith Emmerson) and gone are the many colored lights and crazy cinematography. Where Suspiria dealt with magic, Dario wanted to explore the concept of alchemy with the sequel. Also Inferno doesn’t really have a main character, it keeps switching locations and characters until it finally settles on the character of Mark, who is trying to find out what happened to his sister in her apartment in New York City. Inferno is filled with interesting murders, cool special effects, and some really cheesy dialogue! But Inferno really works even with it’s abandonment of “magic”.
All of the deaths
Inside Dario: Blond Boys – Dario tends to put semi-cute blond boys into many of his movies. I’m not really too sure why this is, but I’m glad he did it!
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
I can’t leave this post without discussing Dario’s first film. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is very good and you can really see the beginnings of many of Dario’s now infamous signature touches. The story follows an american writer living in Rome who witnesses a murder taking place, saving the girl by drawing attention to the situation he becomes obsessed over finding out who the murderer is. With a really cool score by Ennio Morricone, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a must see Dario film after you’ve seen most of his other ones.
Ok, so I can’t leave without talking about the Dario Argento produced and co-written movie Demons. Directed by Lamberto Bava, this movie is basically the Italian version of Evil Dead. A bunch of people are in a movie theatre and while a plot is unfolding on the screen about a group of teens that find the tomb of Nostradamus and turn into demons because one of them put on a mask, that same thing is happening in the movie theatre! Just absolutely gory, shocking, and downright hilarious, Demons is what happens when directors let loose and just have fun. WIth a kick ass score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin and other metal bands, Demons is one of the funnest movies I’ve seen in a long time!
“I can’t read it, it’s in Latin… Oh wait, yes I can!”
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I hope your edifice is the opposite of sad. Yes, I noticed and read that interview with Shaun. He sounds good. I still have that album somewhere. But I sure don’t remember it being good. But time is the great healer and all of that. ** Misanthrope, Hi. I don’t find those ex-things sad for some reason, more just fascinating or haunting or something. Oh, right, three day weekend over there. So you’re still weekending. Enjoy that shit. Happy very early b’day to Kayla. Aw, your mom is a spoil sport. Too far is a good thing, god knows. ** _Black_Acrylic, I wondered if you knew about that tower or had maybe even seen it at some point. I remember my first meal out after the quarantine. Not what I ate though. Just the ‘ahhhh…’ part. ** Steve Erickson, I’ll check out your bandcamp recommend, thank you. I really, really want to see the new Charlie Kaufman. I think it gets here any day. Might even be my first step inside a theater. ** Bill, Hi, B. John Smith’s The Black Tower is completely new to me unless I’m spacing. I’ll check it. Thanks, man. Yes, some of my friends in LA were almost literally dropping dead from the gigantic heat there. The Brandon Cronenberg just showed here at L’etrange Festival, but it was sold out. Easy to do with all those mandated empty seats. Grr. ** Okay. Here’s an oldie brought back to life for you and made by Frank Jaffe long before he was the indie film mogul behind the distributing powerhouse-ette Altered Innocence. The post was put together freshly upon his initial discovery of Dario Argento, and its giddy, wide-eyed wonder and passion are high among the reasons I thought the lovely thing needed to be restored. Have fun, folks. See you tomorrow.
@ Frank, it’s a pleasure to revisit this Day! Confirmed Argento fan here, no surprise. The great man has a shop in Rome selling horror memorabilia, and this is a pic of me visiting the place on a family holiday back in 2008. I did buy a couple of souveneirs but downstairs there is a mini museum housing assorted spooky props from his films, and that part was sadly closed when we went along. Thanks mainly to him, Giallo cinema is a longstanding interest of mine.
Ooh just found out that today is Dario Argento’s 80th birthday. Happy Birthday Dario!
Thanks for bringing back this Argento Day. “Suspiria” is quite simply one of the all-time great horror films. I’d place it right up there with Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face” Bava’s “Black Sunday” and “The Whip and the Body” and Terence Fisher’s “Frankenstein Created Woman”
Leigh McCloskey of “Inferno” is also the star of my favorite trashy TV movie “Alexander: The Other Side of Dn” which is all about L.A. rent boys. Earl Holliman (who certainly knew a lot about the subject in real life) is also in the cast, and it’s the very last performance of the great Jean Hagen (the immortal “Lina Lamont” in “Singin in the Rain”)
I am still GREATLY in need of funds so write bout the DVDs, CDs and Books I have for sale.
Yesterday, being Sunday and as far as I know the hottest day in my life ever. I had to meditate myself for several hours, holding up in our bedroom reading a MOJO magazine. I was prayiing for the nightfall. Truly a horrific day weather wise. I feel that we are at the entrance of the end of the world. On the other hand, it’s an interesting experience to go through something like that.
Argento is a filmmaker I need to dwell into. I’m a Bava fan myself. Morricone did some magnificent music for Argento. Thanks for the blog above. Excellent reference material.
Dennis, Yay! A Frank repost. I love Frank and think he’s just great.
I guess it’s the nostalgic part of me that finds those abandoned places sad. I find them fascinating, too.
Ah, my mom and lack of gall bladder makes it difficult for us to go too far away from the house to eat somewhere. Stuff just goes right through her. 😮
Taking it easy today too. Might get my hair cut. Really, is this what my life has come to? :'(
Nice to see this Argento day again. I’ve only seen the better-known movies here. I did enjoy Trauma as well, with the garrot. Might have to catch Deep Red sometime, if only because it’s so… red. And I have to say those Goblin boys looked mighty fine back in the day.
Ben/Black Acrylic, I almost never get to anything as cool as the horror memorabilia store in my family outings.
The new Cronenberg was sold out in Paris?
Sorry to hear about your LA friends and the heat, Dennis. We’re close to 90 today, yikes. Ah well, I’m in the mood to start Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm anyway.
Hey Frank – Really enjoyed this Dario Argento day! Great to see it again.
Dennis – How did the play rehearsal go? And glad to hear turning the tv show into a film script is going well. Is that the likely direction of the project? I know you had some trepiditations about budget etc. Are you also still thinking about it having some life as a piece of fiction?
Speaking of Dario Argento, Julian Calendar released a new EP with a song inspired by his movie ‘Deep Red.’ There’s also tunes loosely inflected by disco, trip hop, and no wave. You can check it out here: https://juliancalendar.bandcamp.com/album/crimson-static-2
Are you a fan of Joan Jonas? Recently watched a doc about her work and the clips of her early films/performances looked very intriguing. The later work seemed… hard to tell, actually.
Dario Argento was and is a major player for me still. I am a big fan of his bizarro 2000s digital work, especially, actually, his Masters of Horror episodes Pelts and Jenifer. Favourites for me are Phenomena, Suspiria and Giallo. I was really not a big fan of the Guadagnino remake of Suspiria in 2018, it totally befuddled / destroyed my brain. One of the few works of art I’ve felt truly too stupid for and not in a good way.
CIRCLES is on sale today and available here: https://selffuck.bigcartel.com/product/circles-by-josiah-morgan – your copy will ship out tomorrow alongside the rest of your SF order. I hope you enjoy it or at least find something of interest between the covers. It looks pretty incredible, as a physical object, I mean.
How long ago did you originally post this? I remember watching VHS bootlegs of the uncut versions of Argento films in NYU screening rooms after hours with a friend who was a projectionist there. Things sure have changed – almost every review of Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA remake referred to the original reverently.
Here’s a video of Goblin performing the title theme to DEEP RED on Italian TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IwY_D3pnOs&ab_channel=Horrorwitz. When I entered Goblin into YouTube looking for live clips, the first thing that came up was a video called ‘Doing Ketamine at an AA Meeting” by a man using that name for his channel!