Argento. Dario Argento is the master of Italian Giallo- a horror subgenre. His filmography (mostly on the strength of Suspiria) ranks him 98th and he’s definitely a style-plus auteur. That’s his case (and that’s why it may seem like I’m underrating him at #113 here). He has a single film that’s superior to anything made by Spielberg, The Coen Brothers, Cronenberg, Sirk, or Fincher. In fact, the only directors with a film rated higher on the all-time top 500 list than Suspiria- who I haven’t got to on my list of all-time directors- are Stanley Donen, Oliver Reed, Victor Fleming and Robert Wiene.  The case against Argento is there’s a steep drop-off after Suspiria. Suspiria is the only film that landed in the top 100 of its respective decade from Argento. There’s also not a lot of depth here. He only had four archiveable films. That’s obviously a weakness.

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Red gymnasium is a standout set piece in Suspiria

Best film: Suspiria

  • Splendid Eastman Colour 35mm
  • Argento’s 6th film- he never touched this level (or really was that close) before or after
  • Horror sub-genre “Giallo” (gore, eroticism, emphasis on visuals over story/dialogue, dubbing, paranoia, beautiful women, elaborate deaths)
  • We have the florescent lighting and the rock score by Argento and the band Goblin set it apart- apparently Argento played it full blast on the set of the film to petrify the actors and create atmosphere
  • Luciano Tovoli is the DP- from Antonioni’s Passenger– apparently he and Argento were inspired by some of early Disney’s (Snow White in particular) color schemes
  • Grand set pieces (the school, hallways straight from Murnau or Caligari)
  • So many standout visuals—we have the neon lighting which colors the rain/storm set piece in the opening—shot reflected in a puddle
  • Much of the film is Harper walking in the dark in horrifying suspense, with stupendous visuals, and that score pounding in background
  • I think that score is superior to 1978’s Halloween and that’s saying something. I also see a bit of that bass in the wonderful score to Apocalypse Now particularly when Sheen arrives at Brando’s camp on the boat
  • Stain glass windows and wild expressionistic wallpaper
  • Reds, blues, greens, but also gaudy golds, too
  • Elaborate deaths
  • Red gymnasium is a standout set piece
  • When Harper’s character is talking to Udo Kier its absolutely sort of a Hutch moment in Rosemary’s Baby with Maurice Evans with them looking up the history of these characters—the character in Rosemary is even called “Adrian Marcato” and this is Helena Markos
  • It’s absolutely packed with some of the best visuals of the decade, horror, or Italian cinema history- it’s actually so loaded that you have to pause and appreciate them because there’s another one coming directly after
  • A Masterpiece
the art deco influence in Suspiria and Argento’s oeuvre
the influence of German expressionism on Argento- this is the neon version of Nosferatu from Murnau or Caligari from Wiene
lots of reds here on the page but Suspiria and Argento took advantage of more than just one hue, the film is filled with blues, golds and greens– really a triumph of color in cinema
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immaculate compositions

total archiveable films: 4

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Suspiria)

top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Suspiria)

most overrated: Nothing here for Argento. He only has two films that found a spot on the consensus TSPDT top 1000 and that’s Suspiria and Deep Reed. Suspiria (see below) is underrated and Deep Red is #966 and that’s close to where I’d have it.

most underrated: I’ve got Suspiria at #110 and the consensus has it at #366 so that’s the easy and only choice here.

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an influence on everyone from David Lynch to Refn

gem I want to spotlight:    Deep Rep. It’s easy Argento’s second greatest work and I’ve already selected Suspiria here above for most underrated and best film. The visuals here speak for themselves—jaw-dropping. It’s also on the list with Carpenter’s Halloween and Powell’s Peeing Tom for films that influenced the first-person POV shot and slasher genre.

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from Deep Red– proving Argento had more than just one great work
wow- from Deep Red–unbelievably gorgeous
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again- composition and framing here even when Argento isn’t showing off his use of color and the immaculately designed set pieces

stylistic innovations/traits:  Argento borrows from Bava, Hitchcock and Polanski (not to mention a whole heaping of German Expressionism) but deserves full style-plus auteur credit for making one of cinema’s most beautiful films. He’s synonymous with the horror sub-genre “Giallo” (gore, eroticism, emphasis on visuals over story/dialogue, dubbing, paranoia, beautiful women, elaborate deaths). The florescent lighting is loud, bold and stunning. He’s an expressionist and I mention the Germans before but it’s hard not to think of Murnau’s Nosferatu or Wiene’s Caligari. That’s a clear art Deco influence and Argento clearly influenced a generation after him- Lynch is probably the first that comes to mind- but how about the coloring via lighting from Peter Greenaway, Nicolas Winding Refn, Spring Breakers from Harmony Korine.

top 10

  1. Suspiria
  2. Deep Red
  3. Tenebre
  4. The Girl with Crystal Plumage

By year and grades

1970- The Bird With Crystal Plumage R
1975- Deep Red HR
1977- Suspiria MP
1982- Tenebre R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives