Friday, July 30, 2010

Do You Like Hitchcock?

The 90s were not a good time for Dario Argento. After being hailed as one of the greatest horror and giallo directors of the 70s and 80s, he kind of floundered for a good decade, making films that started at sub par and worked their way steadily downward, bottoming out with his disastrous Phantom of the Opera. Whatever the cause of his slump may have been, he seems to have finally started to overcome it, and while this ode to his idol isn’t exactly on the level of his past classics, it’s certainly a step back in the right direction.
The film opens with a scene that is wonderfully Argento, and has nothing to do with the rest of the film. We follow a little boy in the woods, who stumbles across a cottage that is home to two witches. They howl and cackle while slaughtering a chicken, as blood sprays everywhere, before they see him spying on them and give chase, screaming out lines like “I’ll gouge your eyes out!” After he gets away, we cut forward to the present day, where we sadly find that despite following the boy as a college student, those witches are not coming back and have no bearing on the plot at all. It’s a tremendous cock tease.

Anyway, our young hero (Elio Germano) is a film student that seemingly specializes in Hitchcock, as apparently the local video store does as well, as there are posters for the likes of Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and more all over the damn place. It gets to where it becomes a silly game seeing what movies are given prominence in the film, such as a poster for Argento’s own previous film The Card Player, and his daughter’s directorial effort Scarlet Diva. This isn’t honestly as much of a distraction as one would think, both because nothing very important is ever happening at the video store, and because Argento has a tendency to place his films in bizarre alternate worlds, so why not one where all the hip young twentysomethings are obsessed with Hitchcock in 2005?

But onto the plot, as I keep getting distracted myself: from his apartment, he discovers that his neighbor (Elisabetta Rocchetti) is a total hottie that gets naked in front of her window a lot (complete with soft-core porn music playing, for that added touch of class), but when her shrewish mother is viciously murdered shortly after seeing her talking up Strangers on a Train at the video store to another girl, he becomes convinced that the two women planned to trade murders a la Hitch. “Criss cross,” as he puts it to his long-suffering girlfriend. Determined to prove his theory, he begins an elaborate game of straight-up stalking his neighbor, complete with stealing her mail and hunting down the other girl to stalk her too.

It’s a fun, if over-the-top and silly, movie, and while I can’t unreservedly recommend it to any Hitchcock fans (while Argento is arguably Hitchcock’s greatest disciple -- his only real competition being Brian De Palma -- it is a devotion filtered through Italian madness, and not to everyone’s tastes), it should pay just fine to anyone that enjoys Italian cinema and cheap thrillers. It’s also surprisingly bloody and nudity-filled for a TV movie (the murder of the mother involves her being bludgeoned so badly that her head seems to explode, drenching the camera in blood), which is just never a bad thing. This does mark the end of Hitchcock Month, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed it. I’ll still be around next month too, I promise. Now go enjoy the Japanese trailer.

Rating: ***

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