Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Opera (1987)

...aka: Terror at the Opera

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Another extremely entertaining, imaginative outing from Italian horror master Dario Argento; arguably his last really good film (though I do also somewhat like his 1996 film THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and his latest release MOTHER OF TEARS). An avant-garde reworking of Verdi's operatic stage version of Macbeth at the beautiful La Scala opera house in Rome sets the scene as troubled, reluctant understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is given the lead role after the original Lady Macbeth is struck down by a car while crossing a busy street. Even though she's worried about the "Curse of Macbeth," her debut performance is triumphant enough to spark the interest of a crazed admirer, who proceeds to terrorize the poor girl. He trails her, ties her up and tapes a line of needles across her eyes, forcing her to watch him brutally kill off her coworkers and friends. The suspects are numerous; including the diva she replaced, an intense horror movie director turned stage director (the late star of CHARIOTS OF FIRE, Ian Charleson) and just about everyone else on the set. Clues from Betty's childhood (seen in hazy flashbacks) hide the identity of the killer.

Argento reworks some themes from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (which he also filmed - rather badly - in 1998) for this beautifully photographed movie; standard (some would even say, senseless) plotting is enlivened and overcome with imagination, visual flair, a pulse pounding score (by Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman and others), memorably brutal murder sequences (including a brilliant bit involving a handgun and a peephole) and some awesome camerawork (my favorite bit being a crow POV shot as it slowly spirals down toward the audience in a packed opera house). There are many Italian horror movie regulars in the cast, most notably Daria Nicolodi in the thankless role as Betty's agent (though she does get the film's best death scene), Urbano Barberini (DEMONS) as a police inspector and Coralina Cataldi Tassoni (who also appeared in Argento's PHANTOM remake) as the wardrobe mistress. Also with American actor William McNamara, Antonella Vitale, Barbara Cupisti, Maurizio Garrone, Carola Stagnaro and Michele Soavi in an uncredited cameo as a policeman (he was also the second unit director). Some of the opera vocals are performed by Maria Callas.

Unfortunately, it was a financial flop in Italy (Dario's first) and the initial U.S. straight-to-video video release TERROR AT THE OPERA was cut (both the R-rated and unrated versions are trimmed). The DVD release from Anchor Bay is a great print and has a very good documentary on the production called CONDUCTING DARIO ARGENTO'S 'OPERA' (2001), which was co-directed by William Lustig and features interviews with Argento, Barberini, Nicolodi, Claudio Simonetti, special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti and cinematographer Ronnie Taylor.


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