(Italy - 1985; US release 1986)
Written and directed by Michele Soavi. (Unrated, 71 mins)
For horror fans who weren't around at the time and only know him now as a genre elder statesman at best or an aged has-been at worst, it's really difficult to convey just how revered Dario Argento was in the 1980s. It was a time of Jason, Freddy, slasher movies, Stephen King, and pre-CGI makeup and special effects wizardry by the likes of Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and Tom Savini. There was no internet, no social media, and very little in the way of fan/creator interaction. Horror fans of the '80s were in the know thanks to books like Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, John Stanley's Creature Features Movie Guide, and Kim Newman's Nightmare Movies, publications like Fangoria, watching old and new favorites on late-night broadcast and cable TV, and taking blind chances at the video store on Friday and Saturday nights. But knowing the work of a director like Argento really separated the players from the pretenders in horror fandom. So lionized was the "Italian Hitchcock" that he earned the adoration of many fans just on his reputation alone, as most of his essential work was nearly impossible to see in the US at that time. A partial remedy was made available when the 1985 documentary DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR was given a straight-to-video release by Vidmark Entertainment in 1986. Like Paramount's fan favorite TOM SAVINI'S SCREAM GREATS, WORLD OF HORROR was a behind-the-scenes look at a horror master that became a video store staple when it wasn't exactly easy to see a lot of Argento's films and if they were available, they were usually the butchered US versions. 1970's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and 1975's DEEP RED were common sights in any reputable video store (PLUMAGE largely intact; DEEP RED missing around 20 minutes), and though it was released uncut, 1980's INFERNO didn't see an official US release until Key Video's VHS in 1985. 1982's TENEBRAE was drastically cut and barely released in the US in 1984 as UNSANE, and another three years would go by before Fox Hills released that edited version on video. And 1977's SUSPIRIA, generally regarded as Argento's masterpiece, wouldn't be granted a US home video release until 1989, courtesy of Magnum Entertainment.
|Argento with a young Jennifer Connelly
on the set of PHENOMENA
|Argento overseeing the rigging of the
severed arm effect in TENEBRAE.
|Argento with William Friedkin
at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Thanks to all the DVD and Blu-ray interviews, additional documentaries (like Luigi Cozzi's DARIO ARGENTO: MASTER OF HORROR in 1991 and Leon Ferguson's DARIO ARGENTO: AN EYE FOR HORROR in 2001), and the articles and books written about Argento over the years, most notably Maitland McDonagh's absolutely essential Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, there's a plethora of information out there that those watching DARIO ARGENTO'S WORLD OF HORROR for the first time will find redundant. They'll already know it's Argento's hands wearing the black gloves in the murder scenes, or that he isn't particularly fond of actors, especially Tony Musante, his BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE star with whom he didn't get along at all (though the mercurial and often difficult Musante, who died in 2013, mellowed significantly with age and would enthusiastically praise Argento years later), to the point where that one experience soured him on actors in general. And while it jumps around with little sense of narrative flow (for some reason, Soavi waits until near the end to reference Argento's earliest films, but he also includes a impressively-assembled montage of shots from various Argento movies that show recurring ideas and images that flow together beautifully), it's a time capsule work that vividly captures the state of Argento fandom at a specific time and place and for that reason, it remains significant, making its preservation on the new PHENOMENA Blu-ray release one of that set's unsung special features.