Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us A is for Argento! You don’t know me but going forward I’m the biggest scaredy cat you’ll ever meet. I’m the one who slaps my hands over my eyes as the music picks up, I suddenly check my phone when the monster is just around the corner and I rely on my long-suffering husband to assure me that the battle has now begun so I can turn my head around and look at the screen again. Surprise and I are not easy companions save for one exception: the films of Dario Argento. His direction leaves me rapt and when I try to look away I can’t. A bead of sweat rolls down David Hemmings‘ face and I know this is when I should really go get another beer but my god, the camera pans from his brow to the window to the statue in his hand and before I know it, glass is shattering and the killer in shadow rains down a blow and the blood begins dripping down his face and..Wasn’t I supposed to look away? Dario Argento is an Italian Director known primarily for his thrillers and horror films. He began his career writing movie reviews and I am positive it is in this capacity that he learned what a vulnerable and placid pawn he had in the viewer. Argento once said in an interview that Samuel Goldwyn taught him to deliver a powerful ten minute introduction to a film and then spend the next eighty minutes actually telling the story. He learned this while working on Westerns and co-wrote Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) at the age of twenty. Argento’s first writing and directing credit is The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970). It is based on the novel The Screaming Mimi by Frederic Brown. This film was Argento’s first foray into the “Giallo” genre, thusly named for the Italian Pulp thrillers with the identifiable yellow covers. What drives the thriller, the essential element that makes us squirm, is the simple fear of the dark. Argento just loves to leave us lingering in the dark, looking for the killer and always blind-sided when the killer shows up where we least expect it. This is when I am hooked, terrified of the dark as I am, searching for the clue, the identifying movement that gives the killer away and squealing as the killer charges forward and the blood flows. Childhood is a preoccupation of Argento’s and the echoes of trauma resonate through both his thrillers and his horror films. Deep Red (1975) has freaky, damaged children both real and mechanical strewn throughout to a devastating and oddly sympathetic climax. Suspiria (1977) lands Jessica Harper in a terrifying boarding school run by terrifying witches. These ideas were born of a complicated mix of Italian folk tales, the work of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, as well as a fascination with Edgar Allen Poe. Suspiria is part of a trilogy that includes Inferno (1980) and Mother of Tears (2007) and confirms our deepest fears that at the nucleus of fate and circumstance, three witches are controlling our lives and running the world. Anyone familiar with the Italian Strega Nona can easily see where the young Argento laid silent and terrified of things that went bump in the night and shadows that floated by his window a little too slowly. I am always captivated by the glamorous, high-gloss sheen of Argento’s sets. The living rooms are always full of chrome and glass (the better to smash through or into) and the walls effectively flocked with eerie art. His sets are invitational, a sort of come-hither glance at first that eventually makes you question your sanity. All of the window treatments I admire always wind up framing an impaled victim. Mirrors in lovely gilt frames always catch glimpses of a dark villain in waiting and every sleek Art Deco desk leaves the protagonist cowering in fatalistic quiver. Argento’s mother was a supermodel and I suspect that his love of design and beautiful women is directly related to her. Argento has admitted, to much criticism, that he enjoys watching only the loveliest victims struck down and in this misogyny I am sure he has compartmentalized living, breathing women for the lofty idea of la belle morte again and again. When Argento is held up to other directors he is most often compared with Hitchcock. It’s an obvious comparison, the delicious tension, the killer illuminated for us early on while we look the other direction, and those close, tight nervous knuckle-biting camera angles. The similarities quickly part when the action begins as Argento is as Italian and lusty as Hitchcock was British and restrained. Even in color, as Hitchcock later directed in, Argento is lurid and unyielding. He is generous with impaling and dismembering, favoring a surprise blow from the killer that usually lands the victim swiftly on glass or metal. He never shies from the gory, glorious money shot and I, for one, am always a little taken aback when Argento mesmerizes me with flashing lights and menacing eyes and quickly shifts the camera to the perspective of the murderer. There we are collectively complicit in the murder, stabbing the victim with abandon and pulling away as the scarlet streams down their chest, a drop escaping their lips. I’m always surprised when Argento is referred to as a Grandfather of the modern slasher film. Blood, guts and gore aside, his films are too precisely cultivated to be compared to anything so prosaic. The typical Blonde-checks-the-suspicious-noise-in-the-basement-then-is-blindly-assaulted doesn’t happen in Argento’s films. In his films, the Blonde would be retrieving a specific text that pointed directly to the killer and as she seized on the evidence, the killer would appear angry and spurned as his nefarious plot is thwarted. He would strike a blow but her partner in the investigation would arrive and catch the killer from behind. Wounded but alive they somehow escape. We never know how these films are going to end. The predictable slasher pales in the presence of the shrewdly directed Argento. Even his missteps offer surprises that would escape many directors. Comparing Argento to a Slasher director is like comparing a Margherita pizza to Domino’s. If you’ve never watched an Argento film, I recommend that you begin by finding a copy of Suspiria. Put your phone on mute, lock your doors and turn down the lights. I promise that unsettling feeling is not going anywhere and you most assuredly will not be okay. Enjoy! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses ABCs of Horror Day 21: P is for Phantasm - Psycho Drive-In November 9, 2014 […] Comes by Ray Bradbury (which had already been optioned and would be released to theaters in 1983), Dario Argento‘s Suspiria, and 1953’s Invaders from Mars, he sat down and wrote a series of images and […] Log in to Reply 31 Days of Halloween 2015: Day 22 - The Stendhal Syndrome - Psycho Drive-In October 22, 2015 […] Stendhal Syndrome 1996, Italy. Written and directed by Dario Argento. Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.