Clad in his familiar lurid clichés (intrusive soundtrack, gloved killers, rampant misogyny), Dario Argentos 1987 movie Terror at the Opera wants to be a sweepingly inter-textual horror story, featuring as it does an operatic version of Macbeth as a backdrop to some horrendous murders.
Yet because of those very clichés, its nothing of the sort. Really, Argento is still in the same gialli mode he was in with Blood Red and Suspiria; the ultimate aim is to gross out and scare the pants off the audience, and in this regard, Opera is a success. Not on the psychedelic level of the astonishingly nightmarish Suspiria, but enjoyable in its familiarity.
By the same token, however, the guarantee of Argentos name means we wont get just any old gory story. When a car accident knocks down the star of Macbeth, the shows producers rush in her replacement, Betty (Cristina Marsillach), who promptly starts receiving unpleasant attention from a deranged psycho connected to her past. Who is stalking the nervous, naïve understudy and murdering everyone associated with the production? The director (Ian Charleson)? The token policeman (Urbano Barberini)? The stage manager (William McNamara, oddly dubbed)? Or someone else entirely?
From the mischievous, off-kilter opening, where a squawking crow ruins a divas attempts at playing Lady Macbeth, Argentos camera swoops, glides, peers around corners and through air ducts, creating a palpable sense of menace and all-seeing evil. The level of violence on display is also hardly usual by the directors normal standards, having clearly been ramped up as a result of more lenient censorship: knives pierce mouths through the throat and, most famously, someone is blasted by a gun through a peephole.
The directors gaze is as pervasive, thrilling and voyeuristic as ever, but he adds a nastier subversive edge to proceedings this time by forcing Betty to watch the horrendous murders courtesy of the killer, who tapes needles under her eyes. Not just a nod to the misogyny of old, its also a clever comment on our unblinking fascination with screen violence, and the compulsion we feel to keep watching. Nowhere else in the film does Argento particularly feels the need to update his stock formula in such a fashion but its slickly done and sick nonetheless.
This new re-release also brings a few new special features to the party, with a shorter US cut of the film (with different dubbing), a music video, Argento trailer gallery, poster and a few other worthwhile bits and pieces.
Overall Verdict: Opera offers absolutely nothing new but Argentos fluid, dynamic style is never in doubt, and the climactic unveiling by crow is so gloriously stupid in its extravagance, it almost attains a kind of poetry. Only almost, mind.
Dario Argento Filmography/Biography
Terrors Photo Album
Opera by Demonia Music Video
Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery (18 Films)
International Version with choice of Italian 5.1/Stereo Soundtrack and English Audio
US Edit Feature with Choice of Original Track or Cannes Dub Audio
Top & Gore Scenes Menu
Reviewer: Sean Wilson