Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.
Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.
This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.
Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.
As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered. In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.
Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet
When it comes to my favourite Dario Argento films, in my cinematic eye, two stand out as supreme masterpieces: Suspiria, a bewitching blend of the surreal and the fantastique, and Deep Red, which must be THE quintessential giallo. But what makes the thriller so gripping to revisit time and time again – aside from the fact that it keeps getting re-released?
Murder, mayhem and black-gloved killers were central to Argento’s early gialli, and it was with Bird, Cat and Flies, (aka the Animal Trilogy) that he brought stark terror to the genre and introduced the killer’s PoV stylistic device (which Carpenter copied in Halloween). But in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso), he did so much more. He fused his thriller with an arthouse kink and a surreal theatricality, with the highlight being an inspired homage to film noir in the recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner in a neon-lit Rome street where the first murder takes place (actually Turin’s Piazza CLN).
David Hemmings (who got the part because of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is Marcus Daly, an English jazz pianist based in Rome who witnesses the brutal slaying of a visiting European psychic. After he becomes front-page news thanks to Daria Nicolodi’s over-eager reporter Gianna, Daly starts his own investigation. But when incriminating evidence is left at the scene of another murder, Daly realises the killer is hot on his trail. It’s then a race against time to solve the mystery, which has links to a children’s lullaby and a deserted old mansion, before the killer strikes again…
Deep Red also saw Argento embracing elements horror and the supernatural for the first time, with the film’s most evocative scenes taking place inside a crumbling grand art nouveau mansion (actually the 1902 Villa Scott in Turin), set to the pulsating beats of Goblin’s landmark prog rock soundtrack, which became the benchmark for many of Argento’s subsequent film scores. Topping it all were the imaginatively staged murder set pieces, involving stabbing, scalding and being and bashed to a pulp, all domestic terrors that set the nerves on edge and made your skin crawl.
Now, while Argento certainly must be praised for the film’s visual style (and style is certainly the substance of Deep Red, which was the whole point), it’s the film’s script that brings it all together. And that’s down to Bernardino Zapponi, who was hired on the back of his work on Federico Fellini’s phantasmal Toby Dammit segment in Spirits of the Dead. One can only wonder what kind of film Deep Red would have been without Zapponi’s involvement as he is key to Argento’s ‘truly terrifying magnum opus’ (to borrow a quote from Argento expert Alan Jones).
THE ARROW 4K RELEASE
It was only back in 2011 that Arrow brought out a bloody gorgeous 2k restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, which blew my mind with its sharp picture and excellent sound. Now comes the 4k restoration, which totally trumps that release, ironing out much of the grain that I never knew was apparent in the earlier version until I did a comparison.
The 2011 release came with two uncut versions of the film; interviews with Argento, Nicolodi and Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti; and a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock. These have all been replicated here, but with brand-new transfers of the directors cut and the export version. Another bonus is the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack featuring all 28 tracks that originally appeared on the 1996 Cinevox CD. Newly commissioned artwork has also been for the packaging, this time from Belgium artist Gilles Vranckx.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT AUDIO
There’s a choice of Italian with English subtitles or a hybrid English/Italian audio track on the director’s cut, but my preference is for the hybrid version, as you get to hear David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in English. But the reinserted scenes that were originally left out of the export cut only have Italian audio. While this might make for a disconcerting experience, you do get more battle of the sexes interplay between Marcus and Gianna.
This must be one of Arrow’s fastest-selling releases ever, as it’s already sold out on their website and is currently changing hands for up to £90 online. So, if you are lucky to bag yourself a copy, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and let the screaming begin.
Dario Argento’s 1975 giallo masterpiece, Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso/The Hatchet Murders) is getting amust-have release from Arrow Video. Limited to 5000 copies, this 3-disc box-set includes the new 4k transfer of both the international cut and the director’s cut, plus a mausoleum’s worth of bonus content, alongside the complete 28-track original soundtrack recording, an exclusive booklet, a postcard set, and artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Here are the full specs. My review will follow shortly…
3-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of two versions of the film
• Original Italian soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0 and lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, and original English soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• Limited Edition Soundtrack CD
• 6 x postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
• Reversible fold out poster featuring two original artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Italian Giallo Film writer Mikel J Koven and archive piece by Alan Jones (who did the definitive book on Argento)
DEEP RED: ORIGINAL VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 1)
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
• Isolated Score in Stereo 2.0
• Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
• Introduction to the film by Claudio Simonetti
• Profondo Giallo: Visual essay by Michael Mackenzie
• Rosso Recollections: Dario Argento’s Deep Genius: A look at the giallo’s creation by the director himself
• The Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi on Profondo Rosso
• Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red
• Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid to Shop – a tour of Luigi Cozzi’s Profondo Rosso shop in Rome
• Italian Trailer
DEEP RED: EXPORT VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 2) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
• US Theatrical Trailer
PROFONDO ROSSO: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING (CD DISC 3) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
• 28-track CD featuring Goblin’s entire Deep Red film score
When it comes to suspense, horror and the fantastique, the calibre of film-making can range from slick, big-budget blockbusters to fan-made, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, endeavours. I love them all equally but, only occasionally, does something come along that really touches me. One such film is 2009’s Amer. This meticulously crafted labour of love – the brainchild of Belgian film-makers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani – pays tribute to the the 1960s and 1970s Italian giallo (thrillers) that have greatly informed the duo’s individual artistic visions. Highly-stylised and virtually dialogue-free, Amer (meaning ‘bitter’ in French) explores one woman’s quest for sensual awakening over three stages in her life as experienced through her senses.
The first – which takes its inspiration from a segment in Mario Bava’s 1963 Black Sabbath trilogy – sees Ana as a young child attending her grandfather’s wake. Relying solely on sound effects – from heavy breathing to whispers – Cattet and Forzani create an air of unease and eerie dread as little Ana watches the family maid conducting strange rites over her grandfather’s corpse, and then is shocked seeing her mother having sexual intercourse.
The second part draws on Japanese ‘pink’ films. Now a hormonal teenager, Ana strolls into a seaside village one hot summer’s day and becomes aroused by the sights and sounds around her – in particular, the sound of the sea and of a youth playing with a ball. Originally planned as a short, this section was the springboard from which Amer grew.
The final act, in which an adult Ana returns to her family’s now rundown estate, is where Amer triumphs. After a taxi ride that turns into a wildly erotic daydream, Ana settles into the mansion. But her solitude is soon disturbed by masked men who chase her into the estate’s wild, overgrown garden. Ana’s surreal living nightmare finally comes to an end in a shocking, erotically-charged climax…
I had so much fun trying to pinpoint the film’s many visual points of reference – the mansion is a nod to Dario Argento’s Deep Red, while a runaway football recalls the Toby Dammit segment in Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead – and this from two film-makers with no formal training? Wow! As a paean to the power of seduction, Amer is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses and a wonderful example of ‘film as art’ that plays beautifully on both the big and small screens. Anyone who loves bloody good editing will lap this up and if you want to see what the Belgian Bavas did next, check out my review for their debut feature, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.
Amer is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and screens regularly on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138).
In Dario Argento’s The Card Player, Liam Cunningham (currently playing Davos Seaworth in TV’s Game of Thrones) plays disgraced Irish cop John Brennan who is sent to Rome to investigate the death of a British tourist at the hands of a serial killer who targets his victims via an online poker game.
Inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1930’s thrillers featuring his evil genius Dr Mabuse, The Card Player is a cat-and-mouse detective thriller in which Cunningham’s Brennan teams up with Italian detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca in the role originally devised for Argento’s daughter, Asia) to track down the killer. But when the duo are forced to play the game themselves, the stakes are raised even higher as the chief of police’s daughter is abducted and a connection is made between Anna and the fiendish Card Player.
Featuring a just-ok score from Claudio Simonetti, The Card Player was a brave, but flawed attempt by Argento to move away from grand excesses of his previous thrillers. It’s still got some his trademark motifs, but for me, it misses the mark.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE9O1kAFSg0%5D
Tenebrae (1982) | Dario Argento’s visceral visual feast gets a shiny new remastered release from Arrow
After his shockfest masterpieces Suspiria and Inferno in 1977 and 1980, Dario Argento returned to his beloved giallo genre for 1982’s Tenebrae, a disturbing psychosexual murder mystery about the horrors of unexplained violence.
On a book signing tour in Rome, famed crime novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) learns a razor-wielding psychopath is turning the fictional homicides in his latest chiller into sadistic, blood-drenched reality. But while helping the police, Neal and his closest associates soon find themselves next for the maniac’s slashing blade…
Argento is in top form here, giving fans all those trademark stylistic touches that he is famous for: the black-gloved assassin (using his own arm à la Hitchcock); the outsider trapped in a foreign city; flashback clues; inspired set-pieces – all combined with Luciano Tovoli’s dazzling, purposely clinical, cinematography, and an electrifying score from three members of Goblin.
But it’s Argento’s fast and furious murder sequences that fans crave and Tenebrae has one of the best; a four-minute sequence in which the killer scales the walls of a gorgeous modernist house to hunt down his prey to the pounding strains of Simonetti’s rock music (which the victims are actually listening too). It is the film’s most memorable sequence and one which forces the viewer to become the ultimate voyeur – just as Hitchcock did in the opening scene of Psycho. Argento also adds a touch of surrealism to the mix with some Suddenly Last Summer inspired flashbacks involving transgender actress Eva Robins, who plays the murderer’s first victim.
THE ARROW LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK
For their UK SteelBook edition, Arrow Video presents a brand new edition of Tenebrae, remastered from original print materials by Wild Side Films in France, which improves on the 2011 slipox Blu-ray release (which was a tad grainy in parts). The extras are the same that appeared on that earlier release, although Daria Nicolodi’s introduction and ending has been omitted, with the highlight being Goblin (who return to the UK early in 2014) performing two tracks at a 2011 gig in Glasgow. New, however, is an informative analysis of the film from Maitland McDonagh (which contains spoilers, so be warned).
- Limited Edition SteelBook packaging featuring original artwork
- Remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film NEW
- Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
- Optional original English & Italian Mono Audio tracks (uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for Italian audio and separate English subtitles for English audio
- Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Alan Jones
- Audio commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction by Daria Nicolodi
- The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with director Dario Argento
- Screaming Queen! Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae
- A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae
- Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena live from the Glasgow Arches
- Interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento NEW
- Original Trailer
- Collector’s booklet featuring writings by Alan Jones (Profondo Argento), cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and director Peter Strickland.