Dario Argento is one of those filmmakers horror fans either love or loathe. I am, personally, a huge Argento fan, yet even I will concede that the guy ain't workin' on all cylinders when it comes to his screenplays. Case in point; the classy-yet-schizophrenic giallo, Opera, one of Argento's personal favorites, and, despite its myriad shortcomings, a favorite of mine, as well.
Opera is the story of Betty (the gorgeous Marsillach), an opera understudy who is given the lead in Macbeth after the star is injured in a traffic accident. Betty is terrified, not only because this is her big break and she doubts her abilities, but also because the opera Macbeth is considered cursed. Betty's performance brings down the house, quite literally in fact, when a lighting rig falls from a private box seating area. The show goes on, though, and Betty is suddenly the toast of the town. The crew is later informed that a stagehand was killed in the accident, however, and Betty's fear of the curse consumes her.
Later that evening, Betty spends the night with her boyfriend, Urbano, and while he is off fetching the pair some tea, Betty is accosted by a masked man who ties her up, gags her, and tapes needles under her eyelids to make her watch him slice up poor ol' Urbano. After the killer is finished he frees Betty and disappears, only to reappear and assault her again and again.
That's about it really. The story once again takes a backseat to Argento's beautiful camerawork, bloody violence, and lush lighting and visuals, and for me, that's fine. I don't pop in an Argento film expecting Schindler's List, I pop in an Argento film and expect Hitchcock as channeled through a music video director with a large portion of his budget allotted to blood, gloves, and retractable knives. Perhaps the main criteria by which I judge an Argento film is in how innovative the kills are, and, in that regard, Opera is one of the maestro's finest. One such scene, involving a peephole, a gun, and a phone call is particularly impressive!
What if you aren't a fan of Argento? Well, that's a different story. The film has plot holes galore, some dialogue is atrocious, and many of the "actors" seem as though they were hired as they were walking by the set. Marsillach is fine as Betty, and the late Ian Charleson is on the money as horror movie maverick/ turned opera director, Marco (Argento says the role is semi-auto biographical), but other players come off as wooden or overact infuriatingly. If you’ve never seen an Argento film, and haven’t yet acquired a “taste” for the director’s work, Opera is certainly not the film you should be initiated with. I’d suggest starting with Suspiria or Deep Red, and, if your suitably wowed enough to overlook the eccentricities and narrative shortcomings of those films, you’ll find much to love in Opera.
As for the DVD, the version reviewed here is Anchor Bay's 2-disc special edition, and it’s dynamite stuff. It's chock full of extras, including a 36 minute documentary made for the release and a separate CD of the excellent Claudio Simonetti soundtrack. Sadly, this version is long out of print, but is readily available on the secondary market. The film is also available in a single disc edition from Blue Underground, and features the same gorgeous transfer, as well as all of the extras from the AB set, sans, of course, the Simonetti soundtrack CD.