Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I guess Giallo just wasn’t enough Argento for me for the week, so I decided that today’s movie should be one of his more notable: it’s his first feature made in the United States, the first time he directed his daughter Asia in a film (and as a result the first time he filmed her naked, something he’s also done every subsequent time she’s appeared in one of his films), and it’s the film most of his fans point to as the one where he started to fall apart creatively. Of course, the real question for me was, is the film really as bad as everyone makes it out to be, or is it just bad compared to his earlier work?

Of course, such questions are fairly meaningless when you can just look at the star rating tag; still, it’s a worthy question, and in answer to it I must acknowledge the film to be merely fairly middling, and not outright lousy. The film follows David (Christopher Rydell), who befriends a young European lady named Aura (Asia Argento), an anorexic with a dark past who escaped from a mental clinic after having witnessed her parents being murdered by a brutal serial killer named ‘The Headhunter’. The rest of the film is mainly just the two of them trying to find and stop the killer before he manages to kill them too.

First, let’s talk about what this film does right. That’s mainly the violence, with gore effects by the always helpful Tom Savini (though the opening decapitation features a delightfully fake-looking papier-mâché head). In proper giallo and slasher style, Argento throws in another grisly murder right at the precise moment when the plot starts to bore us a bit (occasionally he spices it up by throwing in some nudity instead, but it’s mostly violence). On a related note, the pacing is mostly good too -- it takes too long to end the damn thing, because of the giallo tendency to reveal the killer at the end, and then show how clever the filmmakers are by revealing that the killer they just named isn’t the real killer after all, but is actually this character, but until we hit that plot speed bump it moves along pretty quickly, with all the creepy POV shots and random madness present (one of my favorite moments: a psychiatrist tries to get Aura to eat some berries for her condition, and after she says she doesn’t want any drugs, he yells at her “It’s not a drug! It works on the memory!” Well, that just makes perfect sense then).

Of course, that just rather naturally segues into some of the problems I had with the movie, one of which is that the dialogue is at best ridiculous and at worst horrible. This is forgivable when he’s making movies in Italian and some third party is doing a slapdash effort to overdub them, but it’s much less understandable when the film was originally designed for English. There’s also the matter of the wildly inappropriate music. According to IMDB, Argento had wanted to go with longtime collaborators Goblin, which would have been a completely awesome choice (go listen to the soundtrack for Suspiria if you don’t believe me), but the studio demanded he go with a more American sounding score, leading to the oddly sprightly and cheerful soundtrack that we wind up with. Truth be told, I’m not really certain that this should count as a negative; it certainly doesn’t help make for a legitimately better movie, but it is so absurdly out of place that it sort of loops back around and becomes rather inspired.

There’s also, as mentioned earlier, the problems with the plot, but really, you can count the number of gialli with coherent stories and plausible killers on your fingers, regardless of whether or not this was made in America (by the way, I do consider it somewhat clever of Argento to flip the traditional giallo story of an American trying to solve a string of murders in Italy by here having an Italian trying to solve a string of murders in America).

While this wasn’t as good as I would have hoped for, it also isn’t as terrible as I had feared, and I’m glad I bought it, as it brings me closer to my end goal of owning everything Argento has ever done. Indeed, all I have left to see of his “bad” period is Sleepless and The Card Player, so I’m very close to have as full a collection as one can have without The Five Days being available in the U.S. I know you’re all very interested in this. I know I certainly am.

Rating: **

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