"obsession. murder. madness"
directed by: Dario Argento
starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Antonella Vitale, Barbra Cupisti, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Daria Nicolodi, Francesca Cassola, William McNamaro
(review by Bengt Wallman)
At the centre of Dario Argento's film Opera lays a tale of fetishism and cruelty. As the leading lady of a production of Macbeth meets with an untimely accident the young understudy, Betty (Christina Marsillach) is called in to sing the leading part. An anonymous phone call in a suitably mysterious voice delivers the news- "Tonight you make your debut as Lady Mac Beth, are you happy?". On the opening night, the same anonymous fan watches in secrecy from a closed off box and an old gothic tale of love and murder springs to mind - The Phantom of The Opera. And from there on Argento flirts uninhibitedly with Gaston Laroux's story of the murderous phantom. There are several scenes strongly reminiscent of scenes from, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of the classic novel. Yes, a "chandelier" does fall, and yes, a man with a disfigured face sobs the words "How can you love a monster?"(!)
However, Argento tries to disguise the fact by throwing the audience off by several more or less subtle passes to Shakespeare's Macbeth - there is of course the fact that the opera performed in the film is Giuseppe Verdi's version of Macbeth but also Argento, just like Shakespeare uses ravens as an omen of death and misfortune. And like the ravens circling the castle Dunsinane, foreboding the demise of the scheming Macbeth, the ravens in OPERA play a key part in the downfall of the killer. Furthermore just like in the old play the murderer acts on the exhortation of his lover. But I don't want to go as far as saying OPERA is intended to be a remake of the either The Phantom of the Opera or Macbeth, the similarities are far too subtle. It's just a typical Argento masterstroke, and with it he gives this otherwise quite basic thriller a vivid hue of gothic mystique.
Having said that, there are some serious downsides to the film and apart from my personal dislike of the soundtrack's way of mixing Verdi's beautifully melancholic Macbeth and 80's hard rock, the one that really spoils it for me is the fact that in the final part Argento leaves the atmospheric setting of the opera house. Suddenly we are transferred to somewhere in Germany's alpine countryside where Cristina Marsillach is chased across green hills like in some bizarre take on The Sound of Music. Needless to say, little of the film's creepy feeling is left. And even though the actors do their best to stay convincing the ending doesn't really come out right and actually comes across somewhat unbelievable.
All in all I would like to describe Dario Argento's OPERA as something of a flawed masterpiece with parts of it being just as spine chilling as his best works and Ronnie Taylor's photography, including several unconventional and highly memorable POV shots, holding the usual high standards. However the plot is surprisingly standard formula giallo (if ever Argento's work can be called standard). OPERA is far from reaching the intriguing suspense of, say TENEBRAE, and in the end we are left with a few loose ends too many. But if the film is not particularly well thought out and low on originality in the plot department, it certainly delivers the shocks with some of Argento's strongest murder scenes. As a horrific incident from Betty's past seems to have caught up with her, a sadistic murderer will kill for her, actually before her as she bears witness to one grisly murder after another tied up and with pins taped under her eyes compelling her to watch. Grim stuff indeed.
BODYCOUNT 9 female:4 / male:5
1) Male gets back of head slammed into hanger hook
2) Male stabbed through throat
3) Female killed (off screen - flashback)
4) Female stabbed and gets throat cut open with scissors
5) Female shot in the head through door peephole
6) Male stabbed (off screen)
7) Female found stabbed
8) Male stabbed
9) Male shot