❉ Cult Films’ 2K Blu-ray release shows the black-gloved killer’s sadistic murders in all their gory glory.
Dario Argento reached a turning point in 1987 with Opera. Often looked upon now as his last truly successful film before a gradual slide that saw him lose his instinct for style, pacing and his already tenuous grasp of coherent storytelling, Opera displays both his best qualities and his worst.
Opera tells the tale of a young understudy opera singer, Betty, played by a wide-eyed Cristina Marsillach, who is soon thrust into the spotlight when the unseen, but heard, star of a radical production of Macbeth bumps into the front end of a moving car because she was bitching too much. (Not an exaggeration, that really happens and we’ve barely started so strap yourself in.) Then someone starts murdering people in increasingly inventive ways, making sure that Betty gets to see it all, usually with the aid of Sellotape and needles.
As plots go it may come across as pretty standard for the genre but this being an Argento giallo there are plenty of red herrings, visual style, a pace that hardly stops to take a breath and of course some beautifully choreographed death scenes including the best bullet through peephole sequence put on film yet.
Newcomers to Argento may find themselves befuddled if this is their first attempt to tackle the director’s oeuvre. The dubbing gives proceedings a less than real sense to the already crazed events. Often it seems that one actress has been tasked with providing the voices for the entire female cast including that of Betty’s ten-year-old neighbour who also happens to be a massive fan. If this wasn’t confusing enough ludicrous ideas are then carried out with astonishing directorial flair, most notably in the scene where a crow is used as a reliable eye witness to a murder. Like an elastic band being stretched to its full length we find ourselves snapped back to the other end of the quality spectrum with the character of Betty herself; while witness to a number of increasingly savage murders she always walks away with barely a care in the world. By the films conclusion the viewer may find it impossible reconciling her downright bizarre behaviour with what has come before.
Marsillach seems to be the first sign of where things started to go wrong for Argento. The actress gives a less than stellar performance but in fairness to her she really does not have a lot to work with. In the past where Argento could rely upon recognisable faces such as John Saxon, David Hemmings, Donald Pleasance and Jessica Harper to anchor his often-delirious proceedings Opera suffers in comparison with a cast who sometimes give performances so broad that they barely resemble normal human behaviour. Where once before Argento crafted, with the help of his actors, protagonists we rooted for and felt involved with in their own respective mysteries from Opera onwards we were only really interested in how elaborate and gruesome their death scenes would turn out.
Argento however still had enough gas in the tank at the time to create a seductive world for all of these events to play themselves out in. Cult Films’ 2K Blu-ray release displays this beautifully with a pristine remastering which shows the black gloved killer’s sadistic murders in all their gory glory. The close-up image of Betty with her eyes wide open, needles taped directly underneath her lids making sure she bears witness to all that unfolds is one of Argento’s most iconic and sadistically elegant images. Close-ups of beating brains dwelling on the sins of the past and the present amid a soundtrack that switches from a sublime collaboration between Philip Glass and Brian Eno to shredding heavy metal guitars at the drop of a hat all show a director who back then was in a field of his own.
This Blu-ray release is a beautifully presented and bittersweet reminder of those days. The extras may at first seem sparse but prove to be very worthwhile; the behind the scenes video footage shows Argento on set, looking for the most part like a man who takes great pleasure in his work, figuring out how to execute his over the top vision while the more recently filmed interview provides his own interesting thoughts and recollections on the film. For long-time fans looking to upgrade on whatever previous release they had it really is an essential no-brainer, for newcomers… Good luck. Just remember after this it is best to go backwards and not forwards through his work. Your heart might just break. Or feel like it’s had a butcher’s knife plunged into it in gruesome close-up.
❉ ‘Aria of Fear’: a brand new candid interview with director Dario Argento, revisiting his work from a fresh viewpoint
❉ ‘Opera Backstage’: a unique behind the scenes documentary about Dario Argento directing Opera.
❉ Restoration featurette: from raw scan to the regraded, restored and reframed final vision
❉ CultFilms released ‘Opera’ on Dual-Format Blu-ray & DVD and Digital 21 January 2019.
❉ Order via Amazon, direct from CultFilms or watch via iTunes:
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.