Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) and SUSPIRIA (1977)
To understand Dario Argento, there are two types of films you need to know about: his kaleidoscopic graphic novel-style horror, and his Hitchcock thriller pastiches. His first feature film, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, is probably the best example of his Hitchcockian aspirations. Although his next film, 1971’s The Cat O’ Nine Tails would go all-out with the To Catch a Thief references, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage wears its influences on its sleeve, and probably the best synthesis of the filmmaker he wants to be with the filmmaker he is. Once you’ve watched that, your evening will go from great to greater as you put on the next film: 1977’s Suspiria. Easily his best-known film, Suspiria abandons the Hitchcock riffing for a sensory supernatural horror experience that would become a mainstay of his filmography. These two films are the apogees of each approach, and will make for a seriously great evening of viewing.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, try 1975’s Deep Red, starring 1970s icon David Hemmings. Like Plumage, it combines his bright red horror stylings with a whodunit mystery. If you can’t get or have already seen Suspiria, try 1980’s Inferno. It might not be amongst Argento’s personal favourites works, but it is a total visual orgy that, like Suspiria, eschews Earthly culprits in favour of the supernatural.
The Hidden Gem: Want to watch something from off the beaten track? Check out 1973’s The Five Days. You can pretty much thank this film for Argento’s career: the historical comedy/drama performed so badly at the box office, he retreated to the somewhat ironic safety of horror. But let us suggest that it is actually a forgotten classic: at first, the story of a thief who accidentally becomes a revolutionary figurehead seems tonally muddled, but it really synthesises as it progresses, ending up as something really fun, really interesting, and not a million miles away from Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker! (1971). This is one that’s really worth checking out.
How to watch them in Australia: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is available from most retail stores on DVD and Blu-ray via the Cinema Cult label. Suspiria is available to rent or buy on iTunes. Deep Red is available on Blu-ray for $10, or as part of a DVD set that includes Argento’s Phenomena and Tenebre for only $7, both released via Umbrella Entertainment. Umbrella also released Suspiria on Blu-ray, but at time of writing its website claims it is out of stock. Neither Inferno or The Five Days appear to be available on any format in Australia, so you’ll have to order those from overseas.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Alexandra Heller-Nicholas talking Dario Argento, will be released on the morning of August 31 (AEST).