Dario Argento, born on September 7th 1940 in prestigious Rome, is the man responsible for some of the underrated “Giallo” genre’s most sinisterly stylish pleasures. The maestro’s father Salvtore was a legendary film producer and his mother Elda was a successful photographer in her day, leaving little uncertainty as to where their son’s unique visionary gifts came from.
As a boy, Argento was obsessed with horror literature, and was a film critic for local newspapers during his late adolescence. This lead to him pursuing a career as a screenwriter, with one of his first successful scripts being for Sergio Leone’s masterful “Once Upon a Time in the West”, a collaborative effort with Bernardo Bertolucci.
It wasn’t until 1969 that Argento assumed the role of director, for this was the year that he made “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”, one of the essential early gialli. This was meant to be the first of a loose trilogy, with the middle child being “The Cat O’ Nine Tails” and “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” being the spectacularly spooky finale.
After an unsuccessful run at directing television, Argento returned to the genre he helped to revitalize with “Deep Red” in 1976, and then the fan-favorite Gothic chiller “Suspiria” in 1977, which later spawned an excellent spiritual sequel by the name of “Inferno” (1980). The 80’s also brought classics such as “Tenebrae”, “Phenomena”, and “Opera”; the latter of which many fans and critics alike claim is Argento’s last truly great film.
Judging by his more recent output, it’s easy to see why enthusiasts would be so critical – but alas, the 90’s still provided the director with plenty of ripe material. Take, for instance, the underrated “The Stendhal Syndrome” from 1996, or his bat-shit insane 1998 adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera”; both have their delirious merits, in spite of obvious imperfections.
It’s really Argento’s work in the 2000’s that is deserving of such intense scrutiny, with the long-awaited “The Mother of Tears” being a colossal disappointment and 2012’s “Dracula 3D” an outright embarrassment to his namesake. Nevertheless, the director’s twisted legacy lives on; broad shades of his earlier work can be seen in the majority of contemporary thrillers. Even Hitchcock famously admired Argento’s intuitive ability to instill fear in his audience, which is certainly no easy feat.