Released in 1975, Profondo rosso (Deep Red) is considered by many to be not only Dario Argento’s greatest work, but also the highest example of the giallo form. Although I still think that Suspiria is probably a superior film, and Phenomena is my personal favorite, it’s not hard to see why Deep Red was the recipient of such wide international critical acclaim (including being the first of Argento’s films to garner an audience in Asia, especially Japan), or why that popularity is so enduring, even forty years later.
“You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre” declares one of the taglines for 1982’s exploitation horror film Pieces, although you would have had to be in Austin this week to see the screening of the 35mm master print, cobbled together by Grindhouse Releasing from the extant copies of the film (and from which their remastered 2008 DVD was produced). The film’s other tagline, “It’s exactly what you think it is,” is also accurate–Pieces is a solidly hilarious and gratuitously gory flick about a campus killer who murders women with a chainsaw, full of ridiculous and unrealistic dialogue that would give a more modern postmodern horror spoof a run for its money. Shot largely in Spain and set in Boston, Pieces will leave you breathless, but from laughter, not fear. This movie is a camp masterpiece, and has set the bar high as my new standard for horror comedy.
And now for something completely different.
Following the conclusion of his “Animal Trilogy,” Dario Argento declared that his time as a giallo director had come to an end. From a modern perspective, this seems as preposterous as Alfred Hitchcock declaring he would begin focusing solely on period romantic comedies in the wake of the success of Psycho, John Malkovich leaving the world of acting to become a puppeteer, or schlockmeister Eli Roth making a family movie about, like, child spies or something. Historically, however, this kind of move is not without precedent; David Cronenberg, for instance, ditched a lifetime career of making body horror flicks to focus on prestige pictures (with mixed success), and many actors have made the leap from on-camera to behind-the-camera work. This change didn’t work out so well for Argento, however, who went back to his wheelhouse for his fifth picture.
Speaking of l gatto a nove code (The Cat o’ Nine Tails) in the book Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, Argento himself referred to his sophomore follow-up to 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage as one of the his least favorites from his canon. Released just 51 weeks after Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a weaker effort, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it is more grounded and follows a more linear narrative than Argento’s previous film. Where Plumage was impressive in that it already exhibited so many of Argento’s stylistic eccentricities, Cat almost seems like an earlier work, with mostly monochrome environments and a drab color scheme; whereas Plumage was populated by bizarre characters and situations (I still can’t get over the hermit painter who raised cats for food), Cat is much more straightforward.
No matter how you slice it–no pun intended–4 mosche di veluto grigio (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) is a weird, sloppy mess, even for a Dario Argento film. The final part of Argento’s so-called animal trilogy, Flies was released just ten months after The Cat o’ Nine Tails, and the movie follows a horribly unlikable protagonist who is being stalked and harassed by a killer in a mask. Oh, also, the protagonist is a killer. Well, not really. I should explain, and I will try. Be warned: this review is chock full of spoilers, but it will save you the trouble of sitting through this stinker.
When I was a kid, I looked forward every week to the articles on TV Guide’s website from the Televisionary and FlickChick (better known as critic Maitland McDonagh). These proto-blogs were where perplexed readers who had reached the outer limits of their personal research could ask what this film or that TV show was that featured that thing–you know that thing–and finally get an answer after years of trying to recall. “What was that movie with the kid living in the walls?” Bad Ronald. “What was that series with the girl whose dad was an alien and she talked to him through a crystal?” Out of this World. “What was that movie that was like Blair Witch Project but, like, from the 70s?” The Legend of Boggy Creek.
I wish that I could have really, really loved this movie. D.E.B.S. is a perennial IFC favorite, and even though there was a period of time where this movie seemed to be on several times a week, I never managed to catch it. It’s a quirky movie with a great cast and a smart concept, and although it has a great stride once it hits it, it takes so long to get there that I can’t give it 4 stars based on the last act alone.