Tom Jolliffe looks back at the iconic career of the late Daria Nicolodi…
2020 hasn’t been very forgiving, and it was sad to hear the news of Daria Nicolodi’s passing. To a corner of horror fandom, particularly those versed in golden era Giallo horror from Dario Argento (to whom she was a long term partner, and mother of Asia Argento) she was an icon. Not merely in front of camera either. Nicolodi’s legacy, as a key cog in a very successful engine, is not to be underestimated. She co-wrote Suspiria, an absolute all time great in the genre. She helped lay those foundations on which Dario Argento could then broad stroke visually with his atypical artistic flourish.
That in itself would be quite the calling card, but Nicolodi’s associations with Argento were fairly consistent, and always welcome. There were several standout roles, and the first real standout in particular was her part as a vivacious and determined reporter in another horror masterpiece, Deep Red. She represents a font of knowledge and wherewithal who helps the fish out of water musician (played by David Hemmings) unravel a murder mystery after he witnesses the brutal murder of a singer. Deep Red is arguably the greatest Giallo. You could certainly make a strong case for it. Nicolodi revels in the role. She’s strong and sassy, a little playful, and far from just a damsel in distress, or there as an object just to be leered over. There was something uniquely quirky about her character that didn’t fit conventional horror moulds, and that endearing quality meant that few questioned the validity of her placement in the film (given her association with Argento). In fact they met during casting. Ultimately, regardless of the relationship that would burgeon, she was perfect for the role.
Nicolodi worked steadily up to the early 90’s, before slowing her output of acting roles (her last of which was 2009). During that time there were a number of other standout turns in Argento films like Tenebrae, and Inferno. That latter, a second part of the Three Mothers trilogy (the first being Suspiria). The final part, Mother of Tears also featured Nicolodi, so her connection to a world started by Suspiria, formed from her ideas, was strong.
My first association with Nicolodi was one removed from horror (but not too far removed). In a clear hodgepodge of influences, Sinbad of the Seven Seas begins with a mother telling her sick child a bed time story. A clear play on grandpa Peter Falk, doing the same for Fred Savage in The Princess Bride. Nicolodi becomes our narrator in the cheap Italian fantasy that had Italian horror in its bones. Nicolodi aside it featured Brit theatrical actor John Steiner as the villain (and he had been fairly prolific in Italian cinema), and was directed by Enzo Castalleri, who mixed his time between a number of genres, including horror, but particularly in grindhouse action (most iconically in Inglorious Bastards starring Bo Svenson, which formed part of the inspiration behind Tarantino’s latter film Inglorious Basterds). It would only be later, after revisiting Sinbad (and having now become versed in giallo) I realised that it was Nicolodi in the brief (but welcome) role.
A particular standout role though, was her part in Phenomena. Argento’s slightly gonzo but also brilliant fantasy horror. In atypically rug pulling fashion the film takes a final twist and the giallo trope of unexpected villain appears in the form of Nicolodi. She plays up the villainy fantastically well in a finale that is as horrifying as it is grotesque. There’s a revelry in her performance that really adds something to the film and also showed her range as an actress. She’s had an association with strong, or fiery characters. Tough women, and then the ability to go crazy and play such a frightening villain was a real about turn, adding to how effective that finale is.
Nicolodi never seemed to willingly hog more limelight than she needed. She seemed quite happy to come and play a part if needed, without always going for leading lights. Again this was evident in an enjoyable supporting turn in Opera, Argento’s last great masterwork. It’s a brilliant film and Nicolodi, with all the flair of a seasoned character actor effortlessly magnetises the camera during her scenes. It’s a minor role but one you tend to remember, not least in the way she departs the film. In a film of memorable death sequences, she might have the best. That same year she starred in Lamberto Bava’s Delirium as well, before slowing her output and screen time, heading into the 90’s. By that point though, she’d built enough of an iconic legacy to last forever. She will be greatly missed.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.