SEPTEMBER 25, 2010
Sometimes I wonder if the people who dismiss Dario Argento’s later films have ever actually watched his older ones, or at least recently. The main criticisms aimed at Mother of Tears and now Giallo seem to be that they were “goofy”, with ridiculous plot elements, bad acting, etc. Um, does any Argento film NOT have silly plotting? Going back to 1971’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (a machine that can record the last moment of someone’s life), Dario and real world logic aren’t exactly the best of pals. And I’ll take Adrien Brody over most actors anyway, let alone the ones from the average Argento movie.
That said, I think Giallo is one of the best things he’s done since I was old enough to know who he was (mid 90s). Sure, it’s got problems, and Byron Deidra* probably would have been more impressive if Adrien Brody wasn’t in it as well, but it’s never boring, which automatically puts it above Card Player, Do You Like Hitchcock, etc., and unlike Mother of Tears (which I also like more than most), doesn’t carry the baggage of being thematically tied to two of his most beloved films.
It certainly doesn’t quite work as a Giallo though, oddly enough. The killer isn’t hidden, and he doesn’t even wear gloves most of the time! Brody’s detective character is the one with the mystery back-story to reveal – the killer is just striking after pretty girls because he is ugly due to his skin condition (and unfortunate wardrobe – why’s he dressed like early 80s Bruce Springsteen?). And the kill scenes aren’t particularly stylish or “set-piece”-y, he actually tortures them for a bit beforehand.
Of course, the movie does have an interesting back-story – it was written as an homage to the style of 60s/70s Italian movies that the writers loved, not just the Giallos. But Argento took an interest in it, so the homage aspect was sort of lost. Also, to be fair, the title seems more of a meta-joke, as Giallo means “yellow”, and the killer is jaundiced, or, has yellow skin. GET IT? So it might not even be fair to claim it doesn’t work as a Giallo, because that might not have ever been the intention. It’s like claiming Meet Joe Black doesn’t work as an action movie.
What it DOES work as, however, is an entertaining detective/serial killer thriller. Brody is terrific as the insomniac detective who is determined to find the killer, if not necessarily save the girl. There’s a bit of a Saw-esque “if only they had done what they were told” angle to the film’s climax that’s really ballsy, and Brody’s one of the few guys who can pull off that sort of balance; on one hand he’s the hero, but on the other, he basically causes an innocent person to die because of his determination. And I liked the detective angle, which had its fair share of unusual quirks, such as when he bribes a guy for information by giving him rare western novels instead of money. Plus he’s just a flat out dick (another connection to Four Flies) – I love that he tosses the killer’s medicine down the drain for little to no reason.
The killer (Deidra) is also endlessly amusing. He looks sort of like Mel Smith’s albino character from The Princess Bride dressed as an early 80’s Bruce Springsteen, and speaks in a garbled mutter, offering things like “Fuck you fuck you fuck you” and “Ugly!” as he does his thing. He also at one point puts a pacifier in his mouth and jerks off to a photo he took of one of his blood-covered victims. So there’s something.
As for Argento’s usual directorial flourishes (primary colors, strange set designs, monkeys), they’re not really there. With the exception of Mother of Tears, none of his recent films have really had that sort of touch, but you can say the same for Carpenter. Perhaps people are dismissing the film for that as well, but maybe he understands something that fans perhaps do not: not every movie he makes has to follow a template. The old Argento probably would have spent more time with the female lead, telling the story from her point of view instead of Brody’s (and she’d be a suspect), but I don’t think it’s fair to compare the work (with well-known producer interference, budget issues, and the fact that it was written by Americans with a sense of humor that wasn’t translated to Italian to boot) of a guy in his prime to a guy who has been beaten up by censors, critics, and studios for the past four decades. Based on crap like Phantom of the Opera, I’m just happy he can pull together a watchable movie at all anymore. It’d be interesting to see what he could have done with a blank check and no interference, but in a way it’s even more impressive that it’s as entertaining as it is when you consider everything that was stacked against him.
What say you?
*Yes, I am aware.