With the polarising remake of Suspiria still in cinemas, now seems like the perfect time for the Blu-ray release of one of the lesser known entries in Dario Argento’s filmography; The sumptuous, unmistakeably Argento Giallo slasher Terror At The Opera (or Opera for short).
Opera is, if nothing else, one of Argento’s most visually impressive films. Alan Jones once said that you could take any frame from any Argento film and hang it in a museum (indeed, the cinematography in Deep Red is based explicitly on the paintings of Edward Hopper) but this is one of his most purely cinematic films, with striking cinematography, and some incredibly clever and stylish camera work.
When the lead vocalist in a production of Verdi’s Macbeth is injured, it falls to Betty the understudy (Cristina Marsillach) to take over the role. After her first performance she is apprehended by an leather gloved figure who ties her up and – in the most iconic image in the film – tapes pins to her eyelids, forcing her to watch as her lover is brutally murdered in front of her, unable to look away or even close her eyes. As the body count rises, the murderer seems to be more and more obsessed with the traumatised Betty.
The set-pieces are all meticulously constructed and the violence is tangible and viscerally nasty. One unfortunate victim is stabbed through the throat and then has his hands slashed as he tries to defend himself in a horrible, truly palpable moment, and there is a spectacular set-piece involving the peep hole in the front door.
This much is great, but there are issues too. As with all of Argento’s films, you need to take a lot of plot elements with a pinch of salt. You can’t judge Argento’s films by the same criteria as most mainstream cinema. Some of the dialogue is honestly pretty risible, whether you’re watching the English or Italian version. There are also some giant leaps in logic and characters act stupidly throughout, but to focus on this is to miss the point of Argento’s films. It’s all about the mood, the style and the visceral reaction you have to the film, and there are some genuinely shocking moments here.
The music is a notable departure from the style of Argento’s usual collaborators, Goblin. Some of this is composed by Brian Eno and Bill Wyman, and it’s a mixed bag, wonderfully atmospheric in some places, and horribly jarring in others. Despite clashing with the director, Cristina Marsillach gives a great performance as the protagonist, and there are some fun turns from Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and Argento’s ex-wife Daria Nicolodi. By and large though, the acting is pretty wooden, but a lot of this could be down to the dubbing, which leaves a lot to be desired.
The film falls apart at the ending (As Argento films tend to do) with a complete departure from reality, and some pseudo psycho-babble that doesn’t hold water, but the effect of the set-pieces remains undiluted. Indeed, this film contains one of his most iconic sequences; the climactic release of the ravens in the theatre. It’s a spectacular virtuoso moment containing some amazing camerawork, and is the most satisfying reveal of a murderer in an Argento film.
Opera is a singular work in Argento’s catalogue. It’s not as iconic as Suspiria, as intriguing as Deep Red, or as bloodthirsty as Tenebre, but Opera may be Argento’s most purely sadistic and theatrical film. It has a truly gothic feel, and despite it’s shortcomings is a morbid treat.
The Blu Ray
Whatever faults the film has, this Blu-ray highlights the beautiful cinematography perfectly. The bright colour palette, sweeping camera movements and epic widescreen shots look stunning on this transfer, with colour grading overseen by the director himself. Which is all you can ask for really!
The extras are fairly run of the mill, featuring an interview with Argento himself, who is always a candid, open interview subject, a restoration featurette and a behind the scenes documentary about the turbulent directing process behind Opera.
Opera is released on Dual-Format Blu-ray and DVD on 21 January.