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Opera

Posted on the 16 October 2014 by Christopher Saunders
 OperaHorror fans consider Opera (1987) one of Dario Argento's masterworks, yet it showcases his worst tendencies. While providing a surfeit of stylish slayings, it's also crammed with questionable staging and pervasive bad taste.
Argento and Federico Ferrini's story plays like a poor man's Phantom of the Opera. Young singer Betty (Cristina Marsillach) stars in a production of Verdi's Macbeth, after the lead actress suffers an accident. Soon afterwards, Betty earns the attention of a sadistic stalker. He attacks Betty, forcing her to watch as he murders her friends. Betty turns to her director (Ian Charleson), her best friend (Daria Nicolodi) and a police inspector (Urbano Barberini) for help, but the killings go on. Cryptic clues and nightmares convince Betty that her tormentor comes from her past.
Even by Argento standards, Opera is dramatically weak. The entire cast from Betty down are poorly-acted ciphers, while the killer's motivations make little sense. Despite the omnipresent Verdi music, Opera makes little use of its setting: the Parma Opera House makes a grand abattoir, but why bother? Argento introduces side characters (a little girl who idolizes Betty) and jerky flashbacks that needlessly muddy things. Then there's the mind-boggling climax, with Betty reenacting The Sound of Music scored to thrash metal.
Never mind narrative: how are the murders? Opera's characters suffer evisceration, death by coat hanger and avian dismemberment. Argento provides an unforgettable central image, with Betty's eyes pried open by needles. The stage ravens provide an unnerving presence, menacing heroes and villain alike. It's morbidly enthralling in approved Argento fashion, with long takes, swooping angles and buckets of gore. But others feel cheap: when someone gets shot in the face, Argento uses ludicrously extended slow-mo to make this banal death "exciting."
Dario Argento's movies are all about direction. With Deep Red or Tenebre it's easy to forgive plot lapses for the atmosphere and slick set pieces. With Opera, Argento's efforts to top himself show: the killings are overbaked, the story nonsensical, the best images recycled too often. How many close-ups of raven eyes do we need? The finale plays Monty Python and the Holy Grail's ending straight, showing how misjudged Opera generally is.

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