Director-themed boxed sets are always such a mixed blessing, as for every two or three classic films you always get at least one turkey. Such is the case with Anchor Bay’s Dario Argento Boxed Set, which offers up five of the maestro’s flicks, including all-new editions of “Tenebre” and “Phenomena”, as well as reissues of “Trauma”, the abysmal “The Card Player”, and the surprisingly good Italian television movie, “Do You Like Hitchcock?”.
Tenebre tells the story of misogynistic novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), who travels to Rome to promote his new novel, aptly titled "Tenebrae". While there, a series of gruesome killings occur that mirror each of those in Neal's novel. The killer makes contact with Neal and thus a game of cat and mouse begins, in which the author and his agent and publicist (Saxon, Nicolodi) take on the investigation themselves. As the body count grows so do the list of suspects, and, like in all good gialli, you don't know who the killer is until the last reel unspools.
Tenebre was Argento’s return to the giallo after his successful supernatural ventures, “Suspiria” and “Inferno”. Those looking to see the maestro continue his explorations of the paranormal will probably be disappointed by Tenebre, but those who relish classic Argento offerings like “Deep Red” and “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” will find the film a fine return to the sub-genre that launched his career, and Anchor Bay’s newly remastered cut looks and sounds divine, with noticeably less grain than previous versions, and an overall cleaner transfer.
My vote for Argento most…err…unique flick has to go to Phenomena. Also released in truncated form as “Creepers”, Phenomena features killer midgets, maniacal monkeys, psychically controlled insects, and Jennifer Connelly’s massive eyebrows. It’s also one of Argento’s most confusing - yet exhilarating and enjoyable - horror tales.
Connelly stars as Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of a famous actor who finds herself enrolled at a secluded Swiss boarding school whereupon she soon discovers that her fellow students are being preyed upon by a deranged killer. When Jennifer witnesses one of the killings whilst sleepwalking, she finds herself a target, and must turn to the eccentric entomologist, Dr. McGregor (Pleasence), and his monkey pal, Inga, for help. When McGregor discovers that Jennifer has a psychic link with insects, he hatches a plan to…oh….who am I kidding. I’ve seen this film a dozen times and I still don’t really “get it”, but damnit if I don’t love it. It’s a beautifully shot, fairly well-acted (for an Argento film!), and hypnotic piece of gothic horror craziness, and, as with Tenebre, this release has been lovingly remastered, and sports a whole new collection of extra goodies.
Trauma is a film that I think has gotten better with age. When I first saw the movie (in a heavily edited VHS incarnation), I found it a bit on the slow side, and, to be honest, a bit silly. However, as I learned to appreciate Argento’s work, I revisited Trauma on DVD many years later and really quite enjoyed it. Asia Argento gets top billing here as Aura, a troubled teenager whose parents are killed by a serial killer known as the Head Hunter. Aura finds herself allied with TV News graphic artist, David (Chris Rydell), and the two try to track down the Head Hunter before he strikes first!
Shot entirely in the U.S. with some A-list actors (Piper Laurie, Frederic Forrest), and special FX by Tom Savini, Trauma is definitely Argento’s most “American” horror film (and the reason he refuses to make another film stateside), but is still very much a Dario Argento film. From its black-gloved killer to some of the most grotesque beheadings in horror history, Trauma is a truly underrated and underappreciated flick.
The Card Player, however, is rubbish. Easily the worst film of Argento’s career, The Card Player was meant to be a sort of unofficial sequel to another underrated Argento flick, “The Stendhal Syndrome”, which would have seen Asia Argento reprise her role as Anna Manni. Sadly, Asia had to opt out, and was replaced by Stefania Rocca, who, as Anna Mari, has to contend with a serial killer who challenges police officers to games of internet poker, with the prize being the lives of the various women he abducts and kills live on a webcam. It’s an interesting plot device, but it’s wasted thanks to a lazy script, a laughably bad performance by Rocca, and a surprisingly bland visual style that was, apparently, Argento’s attempt at gritty realism.
With many fans still reeling from the mess that was The Card Player, Argento would surprise us once again – this time pleasantly – with the made-for-TV film, “Do You Like Hitchcock?”. Borrowing liberally from Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Strangers on a Train”, Argento crafts a fun and frantic thriller in which a geeky young voyeur believes he’s uncovered a Strangers-like murder conspiracy between two young women. While the production values aren’t up to snuff with Argento’s cinematic gems, Hitchcock’s still a blast to watch, thanks a great deal to the charismatic performance by Elio Germano who, as the peeping tom with the overactive imagination, goes down as one of Argento’s most engaging and likeable characters.
As previously mentioned, both Tenebre and Phenomena feature new transfers and some brand new supplemental goodies (in addition to stuff – like the commentary tracks – ported over from previous releases), while Trauma, The Card Player, and Do You Like Hitchcock? are reissues, each sporting the same transfer and extras from their prior releases. For fans who already own all of these films, skip the boxed set and pick up Tenebre and Phenomena (which are available separately) as the new transfers are noticeably better, and the new interviews with Argento and company are well worth the upgrade. However, if you don’t own any of these films, this is obviously the way to start your collection, as this set offers four very entertaining films (and one coaster) all in an attractive package…and at an attractive price!