When people talk about Italian horror and giallo (which is—film-nerd alert—Italian for “yellow” and means “Italian thrillers” and is a term taken from the yellow color of the covers of the Italian penny-dreadful horror/thriller/crime-novel paperbacks from the Mondadori publishing house, which eventually became known simply as gialli, or yellows), whether they know it or not, they are only talking about them because of the work of one guy: Roman-born-and-raised Dario Argento. With his films The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), and especially his masterpiece, Profondo Rosso (1975), the ex-film critic essentially defined the parameters of the sexy, gory, stylistically dazzling, musically proggy giallo genre. After that, with the delirious Suspiria (1977), Argento moved toward supernatural, macabre, unhinged horror, thereby enlarging his area of mastery to two genres, which he then continued to explore with the classics Inferno (1980), Tenebrae (1982), Phenomena (1985), and Opera (1987), as well as many others. He made it possible for these genres to escape the land of the film buff and cross the border into the mainstream. You would do well to see all of his movies.
But Argento is much more than the guy who epitomized two very cool film styles. Arguably, after years of being considered a commercial B-movie maker, he is the man whose late critical acclaim first made it even conceivable to talk about slasher films as art. Also, he is largely responsible (together, perhaps, with Sergio Leone, with whom he cowrote the spaghetti-western masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968) for the rediscovery of Italian cinema as more than just the purveyor of dense, difficult films of social responsibility, philosophical musing, and high art, but also as a rich basin of fantastic populist movies that go way beyond the borders of what genre stuff can usually do.
Oh, and Argento cowrote and produced the best zombie movie of all time, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). And he first discovered Goblin, Claudio Simonetti’s seminal prog band. It’s all Argento. Not bad for just one guy.
We recently took a train to Rome and met the legendary Italian director at the shop and museum that he owns. Here is what we talked about. (VICE)
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