Dario Argento: Reflections On His Later Films.

Fred Andersson
5 min readDec 31, 2023

Ever since I saw Deep Red on a fullscreen VHS tape from Redemption, and Suspiria on an old TV set that couldn’t show the color red (which, as you know, is an important part of Suspiria), I’ve been fascinated by the art of Dario Argento. I’ve gone from being a bloodthirsty gorehound demanding violent deaths and graphic details in his movies to one who kinda prefers when more attention is given to the scripts themselves than the special effects budget.

Oh no, make no mistake about it, I do love when Argento sharpens the knife and delivers spectacular set-pieces of death and destruction, but over the years I’ve appreciated the more low-key details in his movies, how he works with characters, and has become — believe it or not — more cynical regarding his characters than earlier in his career. His career has been up and down, but the most controversial of it all is probably the years since he made Opera (to some his best, to some his worst), and the choices he’s made ever since.

It’s like whenever he tries something new, the audience reacts negatively to that, and when he does the same thing as he’s always done, he gets criticized for that. Poor guy. If we’re not counting the collaboration with George A. Romero, Two Evil Eyes, the first two movies after Opera have always caused debate among fans. I’ve come to realize that Trauma (1993) and The Stendahl Syndrome (1996) are among his most interesting works. Trauma because it’s a damn good story, with questionable special effects by Tom Savini, and a more laid-back, commercial look to it. Which isn’t surprising; it was a co-production with the United States. Hey, I even love the “music video” ending, where a reggae group performs in front of the camera! Odd idea, but it works together with the movie itself.

The Stendahl Syndrome is a magnificent psycho-thriller that still keeps some of the giallo mysteries we love so much but also goes in a totally different direction. I must admit I was in awe over the cool, very Argento-esque, digital effect where bullets go through a victim’s cheek. An effect which might not hold up today, but the idea itself makes it a stunning moment in the Argentoverse. The Phantom of the Opera is, to be fair, not his best movie. Not by far. It’s like Argento really wants to do a horror twist on Federico Fellini or any other similar classic Italian director, with lots of cleavages and very broad acting. Still, it is fun, and Julian Sands is great in it — even without the mask.

When Sleepless came a few years later, in 2001, it was — at least to some — hailed as the return of the master. While I didn’t like it so much when I first saw it on DVD, I’ve come to appreciate it more. My problem with it was that Argento seemed to want to give the fans what they demanded, and that resulted in a quite uninspired — but gory — giallo. The years have been kind to it, and even I, today, consider it a good Argento movie. Just like with Trauma, it feels like Argento is trying to make Deep Red all over again, which is perfectly fine by me.

The Cardplayer (2003) might already have been outdated when it came out, but I think it’s a very competent and stylish whodunit. I remember when I first saw it together with a friend with zero knowledge about Italian genre cinema, and he turned to me afterward and expressed how impressed he was by it. That’s how it can work when one removes expectations. For him, it was a great, original thriller; for others, a lame giallo. Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) is an interesting TV-movie because here it feels like Argento just wanted to provoke the audience, with a mystery movie which, in the end, didn’t turn out to be so much of a mystery but exactly what we thought it would be.

Maybe affected by the disappointment from the fans regarding both The Cardplayer and Do You Like Hitchcock?, he turned back to the magical world of Suspiria and Inferno, with a much-awaited sequel, The Mother of Tears. I’m not sure what people expected from it, but looking at it now — objectively — it’s a sequel that truly delivers, from the abstract script to extreme violence and lots of esoteric symbolism. I know that if it had been made in the 70s, it would have been hailed as a classic. Not so much now, I’m afraid, which is a pity — it’s darn good. It’s one of those movies where the filmmakers didn’t kill their darlings, and it’s needed from time to time.

In 2009, Giallo came, which kinda feels like a vanity project for star Adrien Brody. Is it successful? No, it’s not — however, I feel it’s slightly better than people say it is. I think the biggest problem with it is that it doesn’t know what it is. A whodunit? A serial killer thriller? A Scooby-Doo adventure? Personally, I feel it could have turned out a lot better without that last shot, which kinda takes away the cynical vibe of the unfolding of the story.

For some reason, Argento made an even worse choice a few years later, in 2012, when he unleashed Dracula 3D on an unsuspecting audience. Produced by legendary exploitation producer Giovanni Paolucci, the man behind some of Bruno Mattei’s most outrageous movies, it was pretty clear where Dracula 3D was heading — and the result is truly something special. I’m not sure what to say about it actually, though I find it very entertaining and especially when the giant mantis comes into play!

At this very moment, when writing this text, I’m watching his latest, from 2022, Occhiali NeriDark Glasses. I’ve seen it a couple of times since the Blu-ray arrived, and it’s an impressive and incredibly slick thriller. Like with Do You Like Hitchcock?, a take on the giallo where the mystery itself — the detail of who is the murderer — seems less interesting than the characters and their development. I for one welcome this, especially since the movie itself might be his most well-directed since The Stendahl Syndrome, a movie with a clear vision of what it wants to deliver to the audience, even if it’s not always popular among fans. Argento has confidence in what he’s doing again, which bodes well for the future.

Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden, out now from Beyond the Fray Publishing. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Fred Andersson

Author of "Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden", television freelancer, mystery aficionado and cat lover.