Directed by Dario Argento.
Starring Cristina Marsillach, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Ian Charleson, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and William McNamara.
A young soprano is forced to contend with a sadistic killer stalking the halls of the opera house in which she sings.
Ah, Opera. The height of high culture and home to some of the finest voices the world has ever known, singing some of the most beautiful music ever composed. Well, forget all of that because we’re talking about a gory, ultra-violent slasher. However, this is not any old sleazy 80s slasher. Oh no. From the Italian horror maestro Dario Argento comes the high class, artfully staged, ultra-stylish slasher Opera.
As usual, with Opera being a European production, the actors are dubbed throughout, making it difficult to critique their performances fairly. And while several actors are speaking English, all of the dialogue sounds like it was re-recorded in post-production. While the dubbing is perfectly serviceable, the obviously “recorded in post” nature results in characters having these extremely crisp, clear voices, that for some reason, struck me as weird. On the plus side, it does result in the film’s masked killer being given an appropriately sinister, almost robotic voice, a bit like if Darth Vader decided to join the cast of a slasher film.
The story is a classic whodunnit Giallo of the kind that Argento made his name with. However, what is interesting to note is that the plot was inspired by Argento’s own career at the time, supposedly making the film after a failed experience directing a production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Funnily enough, the plot of Opera deals with a well-known horror director attempting to stage, you guessed it, Verdi’s Macbeth. Although, where things differ (I hope) is that a killer is stalking the opera house, channelling his inner Phantom with his murderous obsession towards the beautiful new soprano. It’s a decent plot, and while it is obvious who the killer is early on, it’s still great fun watching things pan out. I was caught off guard by the unintentionally hilarious way our heroes unmask the murderous fiend by setting a flock of angry revenge seeking ravens on him. Yes really. Also, in an interesting aside, given that it heavily inspired the plot of this film, it’s amusing to discover that Argento would later direct his own adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.
Where Opera excels above all other aspects is the sheer style that Argento directs it with. The cinematography is simply brilliant, Argento’s camera gliding through the halls of the opera house in several masterful and smooth tracking shots depicting the killer’s point of view. Although they, hilariously, do make it look like he’s stalking the halls in rollerblades. There is also some great stand out sequences, such as high tracking shot used to depict a raven’s point of view. The camera, craning upwards to the roof before swooping down and over the heads of terrified patrons, before honing in on its target. The sheer smoothness with which the camera performs the act makes it a doubly impressive feat. The terrific cinematography of this scene is aided by its filming location, the Teatro Regio in the city of Parma, a beautiful building whose vast auditorium makes for an imposing and suitably grand setting for a horrific night of murder and music.
The violence in Opera is vicious, filled with blood-soaked stabbings that sometimes shock with the sheer brutality inflicted. Yet, it is also presented with such stylish mastery that I, in a worryingly sadistic way, found myself almost looking forward to scenes of murder just to see how Argento would stage them. The death scene that takes the cake is, on the surface, simple, a gunshot through a peephole. Yet, this simple scene is rendered shocking and memorable thanks to its presentation. The creative use of slow motion and extreme close-ups show the bullet travelling through the hole and into the victim’s head before shattering a phone behind her. Now that is how you stage a death scene. The murder scenes allow for the film to indulge in some light social commentary. With our heroine Betty repeatedly being tied up and forced to watch the killing, the killer taping pins under her eyes to prevent her from closing them, lest she ‘rip them apart’. It’s almost like Argento is taunting his audience for wanting to look away when things get violent when they are the ones who wanted to watch.
The film has some minor issues but nothing too severe. The musical score is disappointing, with it not holding a candle to Argento’s other films, despite featuring regular composer Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin fame) alongside former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and ambient music legend Brian Eno. While the score is lacking, the soundtrack makes up for it, with various rock/heavy metal numbers chiming in when the killer strikes, adding that extra punch to the brutal violence. I really liked the track Knights of the Night by Steel Grave (I’ve never heard of them either), an aggressive racing song whose hilarious barking vocals make it a lot of fun, even as it scores a man being stabbed to death. I especially like how it re-appears in the climax, a chase through the Swiss Alps, almost making the scene seem like the opening to a very unfaithful remake of The Sound of Music. Other problems emerge with the pacing, particularly towards the end, where the film starts to run out of steam after a great first half. Although, this issue doesn’t hold things back too much, with the stylish visuals and daft rock soundtrack proving enough to keep an idiot like me sufficiently distracted.
Beautifully staged with exquisite cinematography and scored with a wonderfully absurd soundtrack mixing classical opera and heavy metal, Opera, while not one of Dario Argento’s better-known efforts, or perhaps even his best, is definitely one of the most sadistically fun.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★