Dario Argento is one of the most influential and iconic directors in the history of Italian horror cinema. Known for his visually stunning and bloody films, Argento pioneered the giallo subgenre and became famous for his directorial style that emphasized vivid colors, creative camerawork, and gripping musical scores.
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Dario Argento was born in Rome in 1940. The son of a film producer, he was exposed to the movie business from an early age. As a child, Argento was drawn to fairy tales and gothic stories, seeds that would later blossom into his horror obsessions.
In the 1960s, Argento began working as a film critic while screenwriting on the side. His first major screenwriting credit was for Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Argento also worked on other westerns before making his directorial debut in 1970 with the giallo film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
Learning Filmmaking and Developing Style
- As a young man, Argento studied film and became a film critic, gaining knowledge about cinema.
- He was able to learn from legendary director Sergio Leone while co-writing Once Upon a Time in the West.
- Argento’s first films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage allowed him to hone his unique directorial style.
Emergence of the Giallo Genre
- In the 1960s and 70s, giallo films emerged as a distinctive genre of Italian mystery/horror cinema.
- Argento’s first films established many giallo conventions like black gloves, twisted plots, and stylized violence.
- His giallo films brought him great acclaim in Italy and across Europe.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Argento directed a trio of films. These films represent the peak of Argento’s artistry and his mastery of horror imagery and technique.
- Considered Argento’s masterpiece, it follows a ballet student who discovers her dance academy is run by a coven of witches.
- Suspiria featured vivid color schemes and an unforgettable score by Goblin.
- Its horrific set pieces, including the opener involving double murder, became iconic.
- A thematic sequel to Suspiria, with a story involving witchcraft across New York and Rome.
- Argento extended his use of vivid lighting and color to create surreal, frightening imagery.
- The film highlighted Argento’s willingness to experiment and innovate his style.
- Also titled Creepers, this film tells the story of a girl who communicates with insects and uses their help to track a serial killer.
- He again collaborated with Goblin for another memorable rock score.
Later Career: Opera to Dracula 3D
While Argento continued making films after his artistic high point in the 80s, his later output was more uneven in quality as the horror genre moved in different directions. But his influence on Italian horror remained strong.
Exploring New Genres and Techniques
- Argento took on new challenges like the opera-themed thriller Opera (1987) and the supernatural mystery The Stendhal Syndrome (1996).
- He began experimenting with and critiquing digital effects in films like The Card Player (2004).
Uneven Recent Work
- Films like Giallo (2009) and the 3D release Dracula 3D (2012) were considered disappointments by critics and fans.
- Argento has struggled to adapt to newer horror styles and lower budgets.
- Argento pioneered Italian giallo films and the lurid yet artistic horror style they embodied.
- He directly influenced famous horror directors like John Carpenter and Hideo Nakata.
- His iconic 1970s films remain hugely popular and inspiring to filmmakers and horror fans.
In a career spanning over 50 years, Dario Argento has cemented himself as one of horror cinema’s great visionaries. The stunning visuals, suspense, and graphic violence of his landmark films inspired generations of horror directors and left a permanent mark on the genre. Though his later output has been mixed, Argento’s masterful early work – most notably his “Animal Trilogy” – will ensure his legacy as the defining voice of Italian horror.
Dario Argento’s Filmography
|L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
|In this giallo film, an American writer witnesses an attempted murder and becomes embroiled in a series of killings by a mysterious assailant. As he delves deeper into the case, he becomes a target himself. The film is known for its suspenseful atmosphere, intricate plot, and stylish direction, marking Dario Argento’s directorial debut. It received positive reviews for its innovative approach to the thriller genre and became a commercial success, establishing Argento as a prominent figure in Italian horror cinema.
|Il gatto a nove code
|When a blind former journalist and a young reporter investigate a series of murders connected to a genetics institute, they uncover a web of secrecy and danger. This film, the second installment in Argento’s “Animal Trilogy,” blends elements of mystery and suspense with a focus on visual style and inventive murder sequences. While not as well-received as its predecessor, it still garnered praise for its cinematography and atmospheric tension.
|4 mosche di velluto grigio
|A musician is blackmailed after accidentally witnessing a murder. As he tries to unravel the identity of the blackmailer, he finds himself targeted by a relentless killer. The final film in Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” is noted for its emphasis on paranoia and the protagonist’s increasing sense of isolation. Although it received mixed reviews upon release, it has since gained recognition for its contribution to the giallo genre.
|Le cinque giornate
|Set during the Five Days of Milan in 1848, this historical drama follows the events of the uprising against Austrian occupation. The film depicts the struggles and sacrifices of the revolutionaries as they fight for independence. Despite being a departure from Argento’s usual style, the film was praised for its portrayal of historical events and the emotional depth of its characters.
|After witnessing the murder of a psychic, a music teacher teams up with a journalist to solve the crime. Their investigation leads them into a twisted world of secrets and deception. “Profondo rosso” (Deep Red) is celebrated for its stylish visuals, intense suspense, and a haunting score by Goblin. It received critical acclaim and achieved commercial success, solidifying Argento’s reputation as a master of the giallo genre.
|A young American dancer enrolls in a prestigious European ballet academy, only to discover that the school harbors dark and sinister secrets. As she uncovers the academy’s terrifying supernatural reality, she becomes entangled in a nightmarish series of events. “Suspiria” is renowned for its vivid color palette, surreal imagery, and unsettling atmosphere. Despite initial mixed reviews, it has since been recognized as a landmark in horror cinema, praised for its visual artistry and influential impact on the genre.
|Following the clues in his sister’s diary, a young man investigates a New York City apartment building, uncovering a hidden underworld of evil forces. As he delves deeper, he realizes the perilous nature of his quest. “Inferno” is known for its dreamlike narrative, elaborate set pieces, and evocative use of lighting and color. While receiving mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has gained a cult following and is appreciated for its surreal and nightmarish qualities.
|An American author visiting Rome becomes embroiled in a series of murders mirroring the grisly scenes from his own books. As the body count rises, he must confront the disturbing connection between the crimes and his own work. “Tenebre” received favorable reviews for its stylish visuals, intense violence, and intricate plot, showcasing Argento’s skill in crafting suspenseful narratives.
|A teenage girl with a telepathic connection to insects becomes involved in a series of brutal murders at her Swiss boarding school. With the help of a forensic entomologist, she attempts to uncover the identity of the killer. “Phenomena” blends elements of horror and mystery with a unique supernatural twist, featuring striking visuals and a memorable performance by Jennifer Connelly. The film received mixed reviews but has since gained a cult following for its imaginative premise and unconventional storytelling.
|A young opera singer is stalked by a deranged fan who forces her to witness a series of murders. As she becomes increasingly entangled in the killer’s twisted game, she must find a way to escape before becoming the next victim. “Opera” is noted for its operatic themes, elaborate set pieces, and intense suspense, earning praise for its stylish direction and inventive use of music. Despite initial mixed reviews, it has since been regarded as a standout entry in Argento’s filmography.
|Il gatto nero, episodio di Due occhi diabolici
|Co-directed with George A. Romero, this anthology film features two separate horror stories. Argento’s segment, “Il gatto nero” (The Black Cat), is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story and revolves around a photographer’s descent into madness after committing a heinous act. The film received mixed reviews, with critics praising the visual flair of both segments while noting uneven execution in the overall anthology.
|A young woman with a history of anorexia becomes involved in a series of brutal decapitation murders. Teaming up with a troubled young man, she unravels a web of family secrets and psychological trauma. “Trauma” received mixed reviews, with some praising its stylish visuals and others critiquing its convoluted plot and uneven pacing.
|La sindrome di Stendhal
|A policewoman suffering from Stendhal syndrome—a condition causing dizziness and hallucinations when viewing art—becomes embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game with a dangerous serial rapist and murderer. As she grapples with her condition and the pursuit of the criminal, her reality begins to blur. “La sindrome di Stendhal” received mixed to positive reviews, with praise for its psychological intensity and visual style, although some critics found the film uneven in its execution.
|Il fantasma dell’Opera
|A reimagining of Gaston Leroux’s classic tale, this film follows the tragic love story between a disfigured composer living beneath an opera house and a young soprano whom he tutors. As their relationship unfolds, jealousy and obsession lead to a series of deadly events. “Il fantasma dell’Opera” received mixed reviews, with some applauding its lavish production design and musical score, while others criticized its deviations from the source material.
|Non ho sonno
|A retired detective is drawn back into a complex murder case involving a series of gruesome killings. As he delves into the investigation, he uncovers a web of dark secrets and personal vendettas. “Non ho sonno” received mixed to positive reviews, with praise for its atmospheric tension and engaging performances, though some critics found the plot overly convoluted.
|A police detective matches wits with a cunning serial killer who challenges him to a deadly card game, using murder as the stakes. As the detective races against time to stop the killer’s escalating spree, he becomes ensnared in a perilous battle of wits. “Il cartaio” received mixed reviews, with some praising its suspenseful premise and stylish direction, while others found fault in its pacing and narrative twists.
|La terza madre
|In the final installment of the “Three Mothers” trilogy, an art historian discovers the existence of Mater Lachrymarum, the malevolent Mother of Tears, and must prevent her from unleashing chaos and destruction upon the world. As she confronts ancient evil, she becomes embroiled in a harrowing battle for survival. “La terza madre” received mixed to negative reviews, with criticism directed at its convoluted plot and excessive gore, despite commendation for its visual style and ambitious scope.
|When an American model is abducted by a sadistic serial killer in Turin, her sister teams up with a detective to track her down. As they delve into the city’s seedy underbelly, they encounter a web of deception and danger. “Giallo” received predominantly negative reviews, with criticism aimed at its derivative plot and lackluster execution, despite efforts to pay homage to the giallo genre.
|In this retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Count Dracula terrorizes a small European village, preying on its inhabitants and drawing the attention of a group of vampire hunters. As they strive to vanquish the ancient evil, they face perilous encounters and supernatural horrors. “Dracula 3D” received overwhelmingly negative reviews, with criticism directed at its amateurish special effects and disjointed storytelling, failing to capture the essence of the iconic vampire tale.
|Set in contemporary Italy, “Occhiali neri” follows a seasoned detective investigating a series of ritualistic murders with ties to a secretive society. As he delves into the enigmatic world of the perpetrators, he uncovers a labyrinth of conspiracy and malevolence. The film received generally positive reviews, with praise for its return to the giallo roots and stylish visual flair, marking a comeback for Argento in the realm of suspenseful storytelling.