“Terror At The Opera” (1987)

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If Cannibal Holocaust is a film that comments on the the American media, and the continuation of Manifest Destiny ;Than  Terror At The Opera is “art imitating life.”

Dario Argento’s 1987 film is a prime example of this, I also consider it his final “Good” film,. It’s a unique blend of Giallo and Horror that he had used in films such as Tenebrae and Deep Red. Visually striking, and exceptionally well filmed.

The film centers around Betty, who reluctantly takes the lead in an avante-garde Operatic version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. A play that many actors consider to be cursed. Most actors who accept a role in the play don’t even refer to it by name, they simply refer to it as ‘That Scottish Play.’ It’s been documented that when Argento expressed interest in directing an Opera in the mid 80’s, he was turned down emphatically.

Here’s where the “art imitating life” comes out in the film. Someone approaches the director while the Opera is in production and is bluntly told “You should stick to doing horror movies.” Betty tells him how every actor she knows has told her of what a sadist he is, and how he treats actors horribly. It’s also well documented that Dario Argento HATES actors. During the filming of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage , actor Tony Musante was berated visciously on set for taking a bath in between takes.

Betty is stalked by a sadistic killer who binds her with rope, and yes, the killer once again wears black gloves. He tapes pins underneath her eyes so she cannot blink, and forces her to watch his killing spree. These scenes are well done, as Argento insults the American film audience for being to squeamish, and looking away during a film. Personally, I think it’s an ingenious concept; real horror is what you don’t see. However,  it’s a lot more terrifying if you’re forced to watch and don’t have the option to look away.

The key element of the film for me is the camerawork. Argento’s inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock is more present here, than ever. Long panning takes that at times seem dreamlike, and the scenes filmed on location at the Teatra Regio Opera house in Parma,Italy are breathtaking. A scene where a flock of ravens assault the audience was filmed with the use of an enormous revolving crane built specifically for the scene. Argento’s greatest talent as an auteur, is making the camera work for him.

In short, the film is probably Dario Argento’s final masterpiece. A work that stands the test of time.  A lot of people have issues with the ending, which I’m not going to give away, I feel it’s a perfect ending to such a visually striking picture.

“If you try to close your eyes you’ll rip them apart”

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