Tag Archives: Dario Argento

Dario Argento’s Phenomena

Dario Argento’s Phenomena isn’t one you usually see in a greatest hits list offhand from the oddball Italian horror-meister, but it ranks number two for me in his filmography. Set in the already spooky, airy Swiss Alps, this one sees a very young Jennifer Connelly and her classmates at a boarding school terrorized by an unseen killer who, like in most Argento films, just loves to stab people with super sharp objects in excessive closeup. Connelly has a special power and affinity for insects, which comes in handy when she meets entomologist McGregor (the lovely Donald Pleasance), his pet chimpanzee and they try to snare the killer using their own keen instincts and that of the vast collection of bugs in his care. It’s a unique, eclectic setup for a horror flick, but what’s interesting here is the outright horror and nastiness doesn’t even show up until the hectic, gross out final act. Most of the film is like an atmospheric, eerie fairy tale. Connelly is a darkly radiant beauty and you can practically see the effortless star-power percolating even at the age of fifteen. This film is unique in Argento’s career for several reasons; he takes full enjoyment and advantage of the setting here, the cavernous, looming alps and vast, flower speckled fields of Switzerland provide a more nature themed, organic palette here than his usually urban choice of old European cities and historic edifices, it’s a switch up that works quite well. Mostly though this one is notable for a sense of compassion that isn’t there in any of his other films, brought in by kind eyed Pleasence and his friendship with Connelly. As per usual, some of the acting, pacing and continuity is really off balance here, but that has become an Argento trademark and you kind of have to just roll with it at this point, the guy’s forte has always been atmosphere, music and the feeling behind what’s onscreen, not so much the logic of plot or realism in performance. Speaking of music, this also has to have the coolest soundtrack he’s ever amassed. Not only is there an electrifying, thunderous synth score by Goblin and Claudio Simonetti with a very lyrical, dreamlike vibe, we’re also treated to original rock compositions by the likes of Motörhead and Iron Maiden, making it one of the most collectively memorable soundtracks out there. There’s another cut of this film called ‘Creepers’, but it’s awkwardly edited down by chunks and loses all the magic, so don’t even go near it. The Anchor Bay DVD is the way to go. One of Argento’s best, and a gem amongst horror films.

-Nate Hill

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20,000 Leagues of Cinema and Literature: An Interview with C. Courtney Joyner by Kent Hill

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C. Courtney Joyner is a successful writer/director/novelist. He was a zombie in a Romero movie, he hangs out with L.Q. Jones and Tim Thomerson, he was once roommates with Renny Harlin and made the breakfasts while Harlin got the girls. It makes me think of Steve Coogan’s line from Ruby Sparks, “how do I go back in time and be him.”

Truth is we are the same in many instances. We’re just on different sides of the globe and one of us is in the big leagues while the other is at the scratch and sniff end of the business. But we both love movies and fantastic adventures. We both wrote to the filmmakers we loved long before the director became celebrity. We both longed for more info from behind the scenes – long before such material was in abundance.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of a doctor and a reporter. He came of age in the glory days of monster movies and adventure fiction. Then he headed west and after college it wasn’t long before his writing caught the attention of producers and thus a career was spawned.

Spending those early years working with Charles Band and his company, Empire, Joyner was prolific, and soon the writer became a director. All the while he was working on a dream project, a work we all have in us, that he was fighting to bring into the light.

It was a love of Jules Verne and the “what if” type scenario that gave birth to the early version of the story that would become his current masterwork Nemo Rising; a long-awaited sequel, if you will, to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

His story would go through several incarnations before finally reaching the form into which it has now solidified. Swirling around him were big blockbuster versions which never quite surfaced. Names like Fincher and Singer and stars like Will Smith were linked to these big dollar deals.

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Unfortunately even Joyner’s long-form TV version came close, but didn’t get handed a cigar. So at a friend’s insistence he wrote the book and his publisher, in spite of the property being linked at that time to a screen version that fell apart, agreed to still put the book out.

Thus Joyner’s Nemo has risen and at last we can, for now, revel in it’s existence. I believe it is only a matter of time before it shall acquire enough interest – and the new major playing field – the field of series television may yet be the staging ground for Courtney’s long-suffering tribute to the genius of Verne and the thrilling enigma of a character known as Captain Nemo.

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Long have I waited to chat with him and it was well worth the wait. So, here now I present my interview with the man that director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers, Robin and Marion, Superman II)  once mistook for a girl that was eagerly interested in film.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . C. Courtney Joyner.

 

Dario Argento’s Inferno 


Dario Argento’s Inferno is the most abstract, expressionistic and nearly incomprehensible entry in his Witch trilogy, like oil and blood smeared on canvas haphazardly to create something just this side of the conscious realm. The other two films, Suspiria and Mother Of Tears, each have their place in the story, with this one doing middle chapter duties, but really they all work better as standalone films more than anything cohesive. While the film clings loosely to the idea of two college students investigating separate Witch covens in both Rome and New York, that’s just the baseline for a petrifying, beautifully surreal mood piece full of thumping psychedelic music by Claudio Simonetti and Goblin, and episodic set pieces of bizarre dreamlike horror. Argento is the undeniable king of lighting and atmosphere, and although other areas of the work like story, dialogue and acting suffer, it’s easy to look past that and get swept up in his magnificent visions. Unearthly light and wind ripples over the hair of a gorgeously enchanting witch who holds a cat and and stares down one of the protagonists in a lecture hall. An eerie full moon possesses one man trying to drown a bag of cats, and a butcher knife wielding whacko. A woman descends underwater into a flooded derelict building and discovers a bloated corpse floating there in the film’s most harrowing scene. Argento’s films are less about the rhyme and reason, more about the feeling of it all than anything else, very much like dreams. Inferno is one of his very best, a feverish madhouse of light, colour, operatic violence and hypnotic music. 
-Nate Hill

Dario Argento’s Suspiria: A Review by Nate Hill 

How to describe Dario Argento’s Suspiria. A psychedelic, multicolored mood piece. Free from the bonds of rationality. Surreal and incoherent, using dream logic to disorient the viewer and lull us into a subconscious fugue state, swept away by the color and light, all shot through a prism of dazzling underworld enchantment, a fairy tale designed to shock and shake, and all the while presided over by Goblin’s rhythmic, haunting score, bewitching the proceedings even further and pushing the atmosphere of the film to elemental heights. No other horror film I’ve ever seen has had quite the same unique, spellbinding effect on me as this masterpiece. The opener still stuns, a kaleidoscope of stained glass splattered in blood, a jarring murder scene that is as beautiful as it is grotesque, setting the stage for the madness yet in store. You know those dreams where you’re making your way through some corridor, drenched in fear and awaiting some doom that’s just up around the bend, but suddenly you get there and nothing seems to make sense, circumstances are now different and all attempts to extricate yourself seem hopeless? That’s the kind of nightmare that young American ballet student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) finds herself in. Arriving in Germany to a prestigious dance academy, she gets a fleeting look at some poor girl running from… something, far off in the woods. That being her introduction to the school isn’t a good sign, and it doesn’t get any better. The stern headmistress (Allida Valli would give Miss Trunchbull the creeps) is overbearing and nasty, the rest of the occupants strange and withdrawn, and something seems to live inside the walls, watching Suzy from unseen perches, with evil intent in store. Maggots, a possessed dog, witches, a serial murderer and homicidal German cooks don’t even begin to describe the gauntlet of terror she fights through. Well, they do, but the film really isn’t about those things, they’re just the walls of the gingerbread house, plain, right angled and sensibly threatening. The real horror and unease comes from atmosphere, the icing, sprinkles and decorative splendour on said house. Argento has always given more effort towards atmosphere and ambience, in favor of things like acting, story or editing. It can be silly sometimes, but in Suspiria’s case it really doesn’t matter much, because the hellish haunted house he fashions is worth every second of your attention. There seems to be a starkly colored hue pouring in through every window and behind every door, the academy itself is an ornate and impossibly detailed dark gem of architecture and artistry, the sets put together like a dizzying labyrinth funhouse of brightly lit orifices and shadowed alcoves where nothing seems to be in it’s rightful place, disorder and abstraction reigning supreme. And then there’s the score. Now one of the most iconic janglers in the horror genre, the trancelike nocturnal lullaby by Goblin is a riff that instantly stands your hairs up and sucks you right into each frame, accenting the colours, shapes and hallways with organic precision, as if the dark forces inside the academy were somehow generating this music of their own accord. I also note another track by the group that makes an appearance, a wheezy death cry called ‘Sighs’, signalling that witches are nearby and consequently upping the unease factor a few more notches. This is a film that seems to come straight from the unconscious mind, a technicolor patchwork quilt stitched together with bizarre ideas, supernatural mysteries and otherworldly hysteria, with only the briefest threads of logic woven in, almost as if to further throw us off balance, to tease us with a scenario that seems like it will play out ‘normally’, only to toss us right back into the deep end, back into bizarro world with Suzy and all the forces of the night, clamoring to get her. This is unquestionably Argento’s best, and most complete film, a maniacal masterpiece of gorgeous sights and sounds, a trip to atnother realm via our world, and a horror piece unlike any other.

Dario Argento’s Trauma: A Review by Nate Hill 

Dario Argento’s Trauma is simultaneously one of the most loopy and coherent efforts from the maestro. Most of his earlier work is pure sensory and atmospheric bliss, detached from things like logic and story. While this one does in fact have a discernable narrative to go along with its giallo splendor, it’s still as whacked out as anything else in his ouvre. This was the first of many times he would cast his exotic beauty of a daughter Asia in a lead role, here playing troubled Romanian teenager Aura Petrescu, on the run from dark forces that seem to plague her family. Her lunatic mother (a terrifying Piper Laurie) has her commited and examined by a freaky Doctor (Fredric Forrest in a glorious train wreck of a performance), meanwhile a mysterious serial killer called the headhunter is out there somewhere, decapitating people with a piano wire. It all gets a bit overwhelming for poor Aura, and she runs off, straight into the protective arms of an ex drug addict (Christopher Rydell) who becomes her guardian and eventual lover. Argento is terrific in the role, exuding dark beauty and burnished resilience in the face of many terrors. Brad Dourif has an intense extended cameo as a doctor with icky ties to the origin of the headhunter as well, adding a welcome bonus horror flavor. Also watch for another intense actor, James Russo, playing a police detective determined to nab the killer for good. As far as Dario’s stuff goes, this is about as complete and cohesive a narrative as you will find. Granted it’s not the garish psychedelia of classics like Suspiria, Phenomena and Inferno, but a little more subdued and clinical, a dark fairy tale that gets geniunly scary in several excellently staged scenes and provides loads of uneasy atmosphere.