Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. Through the month of October, I will watch at least one horror movie a night for the 31 days. I try for mostly new films, but I throw in a few favorites as well. This year, I have had zero time to do that and my 31 days dissolved to 2 days in a blink of an eye. So despite me not doing my normal tradition of warping my mind further for 31 days straight, I still made time to revisit some films by one of my favorite horror directors, Dario Argento. If you aren’t familiar with Argento, no worries! I’m going to help you out with my list of the Top 10 Films of Dario Argento, the films that have made him the Italian icon that he is today.
Dario Argento was born in Rome, in September of 1940. Argento has had a brilliant career spanning television and movies. He is one of the first directors to introduce the “Giallo” movie genre to audiences. Giallo, a form of crime fiction, derived its name from the yellowish covers of the 1930 pulp novels that inspired the film movement. Argento certainly has his hit and miss moments. His misses are mostly with his more recent films, which is understandable as he gets older and appears to try and hit the mainstream audience that he never catered to in the past. Below is my Top 10 Dario Argento films. Every list is subjective of course. I would love to hear your opinion as well. Hit me up on Twitter! @Sycotic
Also just a small warning, some of the trailers below might be NSFW! For those that don’t know what that means, it means “NOT SAFE FOR WORK” So don’t tweet me or send me messages if you get fired, tweet Argento! Oh and one of the trailers is in German, but trust me, it just makes it scarier! Enjoy!
The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Even though many say that The Stendhal Syndrome is Dario Argento’s comeback film, I have this as #10. It is more of an honorable mention for me since I feel this is the film that started to mark the decline in Argento’s work. The Stendhal Syndrome is about a detective Anna Manni, (played by Dario’s daughter Asia Argento) who is hot on the tracks of a serial killer in Florence. The Stendhal Syndrome is a condition in which people are strangely overcome by works of art, that renders them in a state of delusion. The killer uses her syndrome to distract her, he then kidnaps and rapes her. After successfully getting revenge, she starts to lose her mind. What I find interesting is the working relationship between Dario Argento and his daughter. Asia frequently appears nude in several of her father’s films but in this one she is brutally attacked. Asia has laughed it off saying she suspects her father is working out some of his aggression he has for Asia’s mother. Either way, the pair are two of the more interesting film making family.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
Drummer Robert Tobias is a troubled man. He has noticed that for the past few days that someone has been stalking him. He confronts the man outside of an abandoned theatre. Of course, the stalker denies Robert’s accusations and becomes frustrated. The stalker pulls a blade out and a struggle occurs. During the commotion, Roberto accidentally stabs the man. Meanwhile, there is an unknown masked figure inside the theater taking photographs. The next day, Roberto finds the dead man’s ID in his mail. *insert suspenseful music* The film is a little slow in some places, but there are enough interesting deaths to keep things moving along. The score in Four Flies on Grey Velvet is fantastic as well!
Phenomena (Creepers) – 1985
Jennifer Corvino is a student at a Swiss boarding School. Corvino has been blessed with the powers to communicate with insects. Girls start turning up dead at the school and Corvino is wrongfully accused as the killer. She pairs up with a scientist that helps her understand her abilities better to help her track down the true killer. Corvino is played by Jennifer Connelly, which is one of her earlier films. The scientist is played by the legendary Donald Pleasence. Plus, there is a monkey! We all love monkeys! Connelly is perfectly cast in this film; she adds a sense of innocence and she almost drowns in a vat of maggots! What more do you want? Check Phenomena out!
The Cat O Nine Tails (1971)
The Cat O Nine Tails is an interesting murder mystery. A blind man and journalist team up after people that were involved with a burglary at a genetics institute start to drop dead. The pair discover a chain of events that surround the genetics lab’s discovery of a genetic marker that may indicate criminal tendencies and a drug that may in fact cure it. No monkeys in this one, but the blind man isn’t afraid to use the concealed blade in his walking stick to stab whoever threatens him or his nice! The best part of the film is the finale where Dario Argento delivers one of the greatest death scenes of his career.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
The plot of this one follows Sam Dalmas, an American living in Italy suffering from writer’s block. As he does his best to overcome this, he witnesses an attack on a woman in an art gallery by an assailant wearing black gloves and a raincoat. Dalmas starts to receive weird phone calls with the noise of a bird that is confirmed to be the rare Southern Caucasus. (oh, that explains the title) A key characteristic to Giallo is eroticism and this film is one of Argento’s most erotic. Also, fans of Tarantino’s Death Proof will pick up on some of the score used in the film. There are plenty of twists and turns in this film to enjoy!
The discovery of an ancient book title “The Three Mothers” sends a poet named Rose on a journey through New York. Rose sends her brother, who is living in Rome, a letter that alerts him to check on her. Things happen and Mark decides to go to New York. Rose has disappeared and it is up to him to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and find out what his sister was searching for. Critics have accused Dario Argento of misogyny over the years and this movie helps their position. I have never come to that conclusion myself, but this film does have some brutal deaths involving women. I can see where that might come in to question. But Inferno is pure Argento through and through with his over the top way of telling a story, acid trip like lighting and furious score.
Tenebre aka Tenebrae (1982)
Tenebre is about a very successful horror writer Peter Neal. Neal is in Rome promoting his latest book as a series of murders begin. The killer has become inspired by Neal’s writings and is killing people in the same style of his books. Dario Argento got the idea from a crazy fan who was obsessed with his movies. No! There is no misogyny buried deep inside Argento! I promise! Please ignore the cast of beautiful women that all suffer at the hands of the killer! This movie is a favorite of mine because it contains one of the best reveals of the killer in his film career. It is also a very violent film that features an incredible death scene that earned it a place on the UK’s “Video Nasties” list, a list of films that were deemed unsuitable to be shown due to graphic content. This one is a must see!
Deep Red aka Profondo Rosso (1975)
Deep Red is about Marcus Daly, a music teacher who witnesses the murder of a psychic. After the death, Daly notices a painting missing from the psychic’s home. He sets off on his own investigation to find out what has happened to it. But little does Daly know, as he gets closer to the killer, the killer is getting closer to him, as he is killing everyone that might be able to reveal his identity. The deaths in this film aren’t as graphic as Argento’s other films. The one detail that I found eerie was the use of childhood lullaby as the killer’s “calling card”. Whenever it is heard, you know that something bad is going to happen.
Bettie is a young singer performing in Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth. She attracts the attention of a psychopath who becomes obsessed with her. Along with assaulting Bettie, he immobilizes her, tapes needles to her eyelids forcing her to keep her eyes open. She must watch a series of murders or risk stabbing her own eyes. Opera has its memorable moments, the biggest one being the device that is strapped to Bettie’s head that prevents her from blinking. It reminded me of the device used on Alex in A Clockwork Orange and most likely influenced the filmmakers of the Saw franchise. The best scene will have you thinking twice before you look through a peephole.
My favorite Argento film is Suspiria. The first in Dario Argento’s supernatural Three Mothers trilogy. (other two being Inferno and The Mother of Tears) The story follows Suzy Bannion, a young American ballerina who travels to Germany to begin her training at the famous Freiburg dance academy. Oh, by the way, that academy with its seemingly endless secret hallways and traps is a front for a coven of witches. Once again, Argento offers up his acid trip, hallucinatory colors and lighting. Another cool fact is that Argento worked with the band Goblin, as he has done on many of his films, to create the score. Argento blasted the music on the set as the actors performed to keep them on edge. I don’t believe that any of his other films come close to this one. If you must select only one movie on my list, make it this one! You will not be disappointed!
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our earlier Top Lists!