The black gloves are back! ... I'd been looking forward to seeing this film for ages, so, you can imagine my excitement when the - hot off the press - Italian Region 2 DVD (with English language track) found its way to my doormat. With much anticipation I slipped the disc in. With the first bars of Goblin's wailing guitars and Claudio Simonetti airing his mighty organ, once again, I was transported back to those halcyon, formative days when DEMONS and FLESH EATERS prowled the video shops in the early/mid 1980's.
Of course, the question on everyone's lips will be: does he still cut the mustard; does the one time horror maverick of Italian cinema still have what it takes to make a cracking giallo? The answer is mostly yes but also, I'm afraid, a little no.
Of course, first things first, you have to applaud the old guy for coming up with such a gloriously absurd premise as we find here: after a rash of murders, seventeen years before, where women were killed according to the methods of slaughter of farm yard animals detailed in a nursery rhyme, supposedly by - get this - a hunchbacked dwarf giallo writer(!), a new series of killings begin (where paper cut-outs of animals are left by the bodies as they were with the previous murders) and the, now retired, detective in charge of the case back then, Commissario Ulisse Moretti (Max Von Sydow), and the son of one of the victims, Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi) (who witnessed brief snippets of his Mother's brutal murder by a killer armed with a deadly English horn(!)), are reunited by the new murders in an effort to solve the mystery once and for all. Such a gleefully convoluted setup is, perhaps, more than a slight hint at the approach Argento takes to material which could be seen as either return to past glories, or more just merely as a tired retread by someone who is artistically bankrupt. Happily it's undoubtedly the former, but all is not what it seems ...
With NONHOSONNO it's good to see that Argento still has the devil inside him. Certainly, he hasn't mellowed in the least in his old age - this is perhaps his most violent and gleefully sadistic work, to date. At times it felt like we were watching one of dear departed Lucio Fulci's early 80's gorefests - this film is liberally scattered with Grand Guginol nastiness: faces are turned inside out with gunshots, fingers snipped with pliers, teeth shattered on marble walls, a fountain pen forcibly pushed through a pulsating temple, and much more. Add to the fact that the film contains some surprisingly frank (for these overly polite days, anyway) nudity (especially near the beginning) and then you can see that this is no half-hearted swansong - far from it. However, it's interesting to note that Argento clearly identifies with Von Sydow's 'past it' character, who mocks the modern mumbo-jumbo used by the police force to track down the killer (whereas, in contrast, the director's early 70's gialli were keen to embrace the new - to be the epitome of modernity). This isn't surprising, and shows clearly that Argento has a clear understanding of his craft - and his unique place within it. NONHOSONNO, like all good thrillers, works on more than one level; it's a veritable Russian doll of a movie.
The film may have a playful sense of reflection but is never played for straight laughs, which means that Argento still intends to scare his audience and, luckily, he has lost little of the power to unnerve. The killer's voice is ultra creepy - especially in one scene near the beginning when, bent double and identity covered in post-coital sheets, a prostitute is alarmed to hear the voice change from the gruff tones of a man to the shrill singing tone of a demented child, intoning: "I've killed lots of people - they're never gonna find me!". Plus, a film which may or may not have a dead dwarf back from the grave to finish a ghoulish nursery rhyme is happily chock-a-block full of chilling little nuances.
Argento is, perhaps, best known for his set pieces - sometimes he's charged with being all style no substance, but if that means more scenes like the incredibly tense night train stalkings, then bring it on, baby! Fans will be pleased to hear that he hasn't lost his fetishistic eye for the normally mundane and the innocent imbued with menace and meaning by his prowling camera - I've never seen a tracking shot of a carpet used to such a mesmerising effect (a witty inversion of his celebrated tracking shot in TENEBRE (1982)).
NONHOSONNO, undoubtably, finds Argento in a playful mood (something which clearly irritates those who seemingly don't get the joke), but certainly his tongue isn't wedged as firmly in his cheek as it was with his almost screwball 1998 remake of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. He is not in the least bit reverential with regard to his past glories (and this film aims to revisit his giallo glory days of the early-to-mid 1970's); in-fact, at times, it feels like spot the reference - a Stars-on-45 Argento megamix, if you like, where a character spouts the line, "The folder .. the blue folder!" - some of these nods backwards are inspired, especially (although this hasn't been confirmed, merely widely speculated) the unheralded use of a transexual, again mirroring an identical 'trick' he used in his celebrated 1982 giallo. He even, in one early scene, has the good humour to launch into a brief near pastiche of SCREAM (part of a cycle of films which he helped, albeit indirectly and many times removed, initiate), which should come as no great surprise seeing as there has always been a cross fertilisation, in the slasher subgenre, between American and Italian film makers (HALLOWEEN may have been John Carpenter's interpretation of the giallo, but TENEBRE was Argento's answer to the early 80's American slasher movie).
Unfortunately, with NON HO SONNO, there are some problems. Perhaps more so than ever before an Argento film is marred by some peculiarly substandard acting and dubbing. You have to wonder why a director like Argento would construct such a beautiful looking film (and it *is* gorgeous) and then populate some of it with such thespian duds? Luckily the main performances are solid and, even some excruciating gurning and unconvincing hysterics from a smattering of supporting players can't ruin it - but it will certainly not impress the usual naysayers, I'm afraid.
All-in-all, if not a stonking return to form, this is probably Argento's best film for nearly twenty years - and that is, at least, worth celebrating. Bring on his next giallo - SUNGLASSES - I say!
female:7 / male:5
1) Female body glimpsed (stabbed to death with English horn!)
2) Female hacked and slashed with knife
3) Female has knife driven through back of her neck
4) Female drowned in stone bath
5) Male stabbed repeatedly in head with fountain pen
6) Female has face smashed repeatedly against wall
7) Female decapitated
8) Female falls to her death
9) Male dies from heart attack
10) Male found stabbed to death
11) Male shot in head
12) Male has face blown off with gun