Director: Dario Argento

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

When I think of tremendously cool horror directors I think of Romero & Cronenberg. I don't think Dario Argento.

Yet many of my fellow film-fans love Argento to distraction, & can barely say the title Suspiria without making orgasm sounds. I've certainly been thrilled by midnight showings of some of his stuff, in a crowded theater of fans who love cheap gialo horror, which is the perfect way to appreciate agregiously bad movies. I've seen Argento get standing ovations for the worst camp, & it is infectious to be in a crowd of people with no better taste than that.

SleeplessThe charms of his films seem fewer at home with a dvd. It's harder to focus on the fact that the scream-queens are having a great deal of fun & acting out a misogynist fantasy is not necessarily the same as actual misogyny. It too often comes off as profound woman-hating rather than the grand guinol silliness.

I think I understand the Argento aesthetic intellectually, just not emotionally. The aesthetic strikes me primarily as tacky. Not even rising to the level of kitsch, it's just tacky. Is there enough sticky cherry syrup that looks nothing like blood? No! Spill some more of it all over the set & the dead women! Do the scream-queens scream cool enough? No! Do one more pointless scene of screaming! Are the female victims pretty enough? Actually, they're kind of ugly, but caking on an inch of extra whore-makeup fixes that! Does the axe-through-the-head (or in the case of Sleepless, flute-through-the-face) look "real" enough? Sure does! So let's show it again in flashbacks!

All this adds up to a kind of "date movie" (or date rape movie) for unutterable dorks who can never get it through their heads why they've never scored a second date with any woman.

But as a horror fan it's impossible to ignore Argento altogether, & I had to see Sleepless because even if I don't share a fondness for the Argento mystique of tastelessness & hooker-hacking, this one at least had Max von Sydow, who somehow can't help being good no matter what he is in. And he's good even in this. He turns in a performance that would've been worthy of a serious film.

There are kitsch ingredients that I do admit to liking. Any film with a bunch of little people actors I'm not going to hate, but these small guys weren't given much to do. The idea that the killer might have been a psycho dwarf mystery writer is in fact a cool kitschy idea, which I've loved since as a child I read Ray Bradbury's short story "The Dwarf," from which the idea of the psycho dwarf mystery writer seems to have been stolen.

I also noticed even as a child that many a children's lullaby are truly sick & demented songs, & much of the present plot, if plot it is, hinges on an obsession for a nasty-sounding lullaby (the lyrics are very convincing as folk tune, but was actually written by Dario's daughter Asia Argento, & how cool is she).

There is a jarring quality of the bad acting of the scream queens vs the good acting of von Sydow. The elements of police procedural were very thin & boring. I will admit to being impressed with the flute-through-the-face bit (the dialogue calls it a french horn, but a french horn is a big circular flared horn; this weapon was a flute), but one startling effect shown twice doesn't make for a good film.

Perhaps it was just the mood I was in, but I ended up fast-forwarding here & there, & really only paid close attention when von Sydow was on the screen (fortunately co-star Stefano Dionisi holds his own alongside von Sydow, though without the inherent charisma; no one else in the film can act worth a bean, so von Sydow's excellence merely shows how awful everyone else is). The scream queens were just way too boring, & the other side-characters are uniformly uninteresting. So fast-forward was such a temptation.

I've also never shared my fellow horror fantatics' fondness for Argento soundtracks either. The music of Goblin is putrid. If the point is to make the film sound like it was scored in 1975, it works, but the equivalent would be a modern police drama with a Streets of San Francisco Quin Martin Productions soundtrack.

It's hard to believe by its soundtrack that Sleepless is a relatively new film. Argento has an ear for the raucus only. I have noticed a tendency for die-hard fans to pick on Argento for never equalling Suspiria (itself only an alleged classic, though always fun to see big-screen with a crowd) & assume he is just a little burned out in his newer films. But I don't see much of a difference except insofar as the newer films have not moved forward either pictorially or for sound. The later films are too much like the early ones. Argento has been a stationary filmmaker & that's what some fans have mistaken for burn-out.

It has always struck me as so strange that the post-Halloween influence on "the cinema of misogyny" never effected Argento, who just wants to provide hooker-bludgeonings for the lowest of the lowbrow. The death of a taxi driver (fountain pen jabbed repeatedly in temple) at least strives for some parity of who gets to be victims, but as always in these crappy sorts of slashers, the guy gets to die pretty quickly cuz Argento purists aren't interested in seeing guys mutilated.

The "good" bits that drag on & on & on & on are the scream-queens fleeing, hiding, screaming, getting their fingers lopped off & gushing gallons of cherry-red syrup until the knife at long-long-long last silences the screams. For every one guy who dies in 30 seconds, two women have to be killed in slow motion -- usually dragged out to, let's say, eight point five minutes of screen time, which must be about how long it takes an Argento festishist to cum.

When the psycho was revealed at the climax of the film, the young actor gave a wonderfully campy performance as a giggly strangoid dork. In fact, he seemed to me a parody of some of the actual Argento devottees I've met through the years, which, if Argento is at all a thinking man, was probably intentional, a poke in the eye of anyone looserly enough to have guaranteed Argento a career for remaking the same idea time & again.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

[ Film Home ] - [ Film Reviews Index ]
[ Where to Send DVDs for Review ] - [ Paghat's Giftshop ]