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Director Profile: Dario Argento

It has been said that Dario Argento puts the 'gore' in gorgeous, that in watching his movies, you will see horrible things happen, yet you cannot look away because it is done in the most beautiful way possible. Those who have witnessed the imagery in films like Suspiria and Deep Red know that this is true beyond any doubt. Not content to point a camera and shoot moving objects, his films greatly utilized anamorphic lenses that would pan and zoom with jagged suddenness as if in the grip of fits as bodies and blood falls all around. His colors are lavishly exaggerated and wholly unnatural in their settings and the blood that permeates the films is red to the point of technicolor florescence that almost glows in the darkness. Argento is best known for his workings with in the genre known as 'giallo,' an Italian invention that blended the suspense-heavy drama of the iconic detective novel with copiously gratuitous scenes of violence and bloodshed. Acclaimed director Mario Bava may be dubiously credited with the invention of 'giallo' but Argento's surveys and explorations within the genre are what truly made it what it is today. He pushed the boundaries not only of 'giallo' but of film in general to limits that few up until then had dared. Masked men with knives were all well and fine for a while, but soon assimilated supernatural elements that moved his work into something more surrealistically Baroque. Fairy Tales and fables were something that struck a mighty chord with Argento, the cautionary plots and playfully wicked imagery resonating within him, waiting to be released within his aural mosaics. We live in an age when such stories have been dumbed down or altered to be much more cheerful, but when going back and looking at the early versions of these tales, we can see things far more horrible than what we may have grown up with. Argento in not afraid to shy away from such things, in fact, he makes us witness the true horror that has been ignored or forgotten. The savagery of a wicked witch or the jealousy of a scorned lover are not so lightly thrown aside. Perhaps his best known work, considered by many to be his unrivaled masterpiece, is the 1977 supernatural horror, Suspiria. It is a bright, noisily colorful work of art, an acid trip of a movie that features perhaps the most beautifully choreographed and violently elaborate deaths ever to be put onto celluloid. It is with this film that he truly began to move outside of the boundaries laid down by he and other 'giallo' filmmakers. Sight and sound became just as important as story and every shot, whether it be a grisly murder or a more subdued scene of conversation is art directed down to every last detail. The breaking of glass, the slamming of doors, the sounds of knives against wood and flesh; all entered the mind with crystal clarity, gnawing at it and becoming intense fear without it ever being known. Until the blood ran cold and the skin crawled of course. The story itself owes much to 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' featuring a pale-skinned, dark-haired young woman at the mercy of a decrepit and vile witch. It is like a Walt Disney film by way of Dario Argento, fantastical and colorful yet unflinchingly evil and incomprehensibly odd. Most famous are the film's first fifteen or so minutes which feature a murdered ballet dancer falling through a multi-colored plate-glass window. So intensely macabre they are, instilling your emotions with fearful suspense, that is it often heralded as having never been rivaled, hailed as one of the greatest opening sequences of all time. Much of Argento's work gave way to what we now call the 'slasher' film, a genre that does indeed have its moments, but for the most part pales in artistic comparison. The quality of his output has arguably sagged over the years but their is no denying his strong influence on the modern horror genre. And with recent efforts showing echos of his previous glory, one can hope that this master of horror is not finished just yet.