The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage introduces us to Mr. Argento’s visually striking style and fascination with voyeurism. Stuck between two panes of glass like a trapped fly, Sam – an American writer in Italy – witnesses an attempted murder at an art gallery. Soon he’s pursued by the killer, as well as an Inspector Clouseau type cop, through a grimy-looking Italy.

Sam decides to play detective, enlisting the help of gal pal Julia (Suzy Kendall). I am not sure why anyone sane would do this, but people did all sorts of bizarre shit in the 70’s. Shrugging off the attempts on his life, Sam’s amateur investigation leads him to a ghoulish painting. His visit to the artist is one of the highlights of the movie. While Sam’s away, the black-glove-wearing serial killer decides to play, threatening Julia in a plot development anyone who’s ever watched a thriller can see coming. Speaking of which: a few of the plot developments are ridiculous, but who cares? This movie holds together very well.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is well-worth watching, if you can find it (I watched it through my Fandor subscription). Since this is a giallo, there is a whodunit? element and a fiendish plot twist at the end. Be warned that Mr. Argento’s Deep Red, a better movie, is almost a remake of this film.

 

Deep Red

Deep Red is a Giallo, an Italian horror/thriller/mystery directed by Dario Argento. Despite Deep Red’s availability in the video stores of the early 80’s, this is yet another movie I missed. As a kid I subsisted on a diet of American slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and thus missed a lot of great horror movies.

The plot: famed psychic Amanda Righetti witnesses a murder in front of a packed auditorium. The catch: the murder occurred decades ago, and the killer is in the audience. Amanda doesn’t seem bothered by that second fact, which is a big mistake. Cut to Marcus and his drunken buddy Carlo, who are hanging outside a bar. Marcus witnesses Amanda’s murder through her apartment window.

Marcus rushes into the psychic’s apartment and finds her body; too bad she didn’t foresee her own death. When the police arrive he tells them he thinks the murderer took one of the many creepy paintings hanging on the walls. Feisty reporter Gianna pastes Marcus’ face all over the front page of the newspaper with the headline EYEWITNESS TO MURDER. This turns out to be yet another big mistake. Later that night Marcus is in his den when we see bits of plaster fall on his piano. The killer is walking on the roof. And then a children’s song starts to play. It’s an eerie, creepy scene, one of many in this gem.

The kiddy song leads to an urban legend about a murder house that turns out to be true. Marcus follows the killer’s trail because – really, I have no clue why. There are a lot of things in this movie that don’t make any sense. Unlike Argento’s masterful Suspiria, Deep Red has a plot, but boy oh boy do the characters do some stupid shit.

Marcus finds the murder house, which has been deserted for years. The realtor’s daughter likes to impale lizards and is a future candidate for the Tanz Academy if I ever saw one. In the house Marcus finds a child’s drawing buried beneath the plaster depicting a brutal murder. In the meantime the killer has been busy. Will Marcus be the next victim?

The body count of Deep Red isn’t high, but Argento makes every death count. Highly choreographed, these murders are works of art. The other thing that impressed me about Deep Red is the ending. I figured out the part about the painting because I have access to the rewind and pause button, so I thought I had the murderer pegged. I was wrong.

Highly recommended!

Helloween Day Seventeen: Suspiria

Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror movie directed by Dario Argento. I watched the English language version, which I’m guessing was dubbed. I’ve heard a lot about this movie over the years – it’s on a ton of best-of lists – but I’ve never seen it. To tell the truth, I wasn’t crazy about the Dario Argento movies I’d sampled, and certainly didn’t expect this one to knock me on my ass (spoiler: it did). I borrowed Suspiria from my local library, because I couldn’t find it streaming for free.

The plot: Suspiria doesn’t have a plot, but here goes. Suzy, a young dancer from America, joins a prestigious German dance academy. Suzy arrives during a downpour in the middle of the night and witnesses a fellow student fleeing into the forest. She never returns. The Tanz (which means Dance, no points for originality) Academy looks like the palace of an evil queen. Suzy’s fellow students are all right, but the instructors – led by Miss Tanner – are a bit off. We get the sense something’s wrong with them, although it’s hard to tell what. In fact, the plot revolves around the question ‘where do the instructors go at night?’

That’s the basic plot. What follows is a pastiche of vivid images, knives, pierced hearts, barbed wire, mad dogs, crazy bats, maggots, an undercurrent of Technicolor sadism surfacing suddenly and then slipping away. There are scenes of people flying…just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real. With murders as finely choreographed as any ballet, Suspiria bursts with bright, pastel colors; the reds are so very red. The eerie soundtrack, composed by the rock band Goblin, heightens the effect.

Suspiria is an evil fairy tale. Perhaps ‘old school fairy tale’ would be the better way to put it. In the unexpurgated version of Little Red Riding Hood the wolf eats the girl. Much of this movie’s imagery reminded me of The Shining, which makes sense because both movies are obsessed with fairy tales. I was surprised by how much I liked Suspiria, even on a second viewing.

Highly recommended!