Opera (1987) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

Opera (1987) is a rather typical Dario Argento effort. It is the story of a  young diva who is being stalked, and those around her murdered. She places the blame partly on the opera they are performing, Macbeth, which is known as a bad luck opera. Argento mixes opera with grunge music in a very odd soundtrack, and the film is his usual slow paced effort with over-the-top gore and an abundance of camera and lighting techniques. There is no doubt that Argento knows how to shoot film and light scenes, but his films are an acquired taste.

The DVD transfer is top notch, and the special edition  is loaded with extras. I have to admire Argento for one thing. He makes his films exactly the way he wants to make them. I find myself enjoying moments, but usually not the entire film. The genre is Italian shock horror, and this is a C+.


The good news is breast exposure from Spanish actress Christina Marsillach,  who plays the lead. 
 Scoop's comments in yellow:

No matter how much you like Dario's films, you will find yourself whispering and muttering because of some of the disappointing elements which exist side-by-side with moments of sheer genius. I guess you can take consolation in that Dario's filming concepts are rarely ordinary.  They don't always work, but you can't accuse him of being run-of-the-mill.

Even the most demanding film purists can't help but admire some of the craftsmanship he displayed in this film. These include: the erotic close-ups of the blades, the pinned eyelids (the killer forces the diva to watch his murders), the shots of the opera house, the ravens' eyes, the one raven with red highlights in his feathers, the ravens actually solving the crime, the art design, the stage design of the opera, the POV cams (especially the raven cam), the peephole murder, and the vertiginous camera movement. There is great tension in some of the scenes, notably when the diva and the little girl escape through the a/c ducts, and when the diva runs through the curtain-shrouded corridor, leaving us to wince every time she pulls a curtain aside. You can watch this film and see monumental talent on display. In his best moments, Dario maintains a level of horror and suspense on a level with Hitchcock or De Palma or anyone else. Furthermore, if you love opera, this has some of the art form's very best music in the score, not just Verdi during the actual opera-within-a-film, but many other great works in other scenes, including Puccini's Un Bel Di, for example. 

If you love hard-driving heavy metal, the film also has plenty of that during the actual violence. That's kind of a Dario trademark. I think it works in that context, but many disagree.

And then there is the plot, which is straight out of The Big Book of Horror Cliches, and the completely bizarre ending, which is anticlimactic, unnecessary, and almost unrelated to the rest of the film. People always want to prattle on about how genius and insanity are sometimes indistinguishable. In Dario's case, they are inextricably woven together. He clearly has the genius and imagination to devise lasting moments, and to think of things we never would have thought of. Unfortunately, he lacks the lucidity to distinguish between things people don't do because they don't have his imagination and things which people don't do because they are capable of rational thought. There's nothing unusual about that. Geniuses are used to the fact that they don't think like the rest of us, so it is difficult for them to distinguish between "things that are different because I am the only one smart enough to think of them", and "things that are different because I am the only one insane enough to think of them"

By the way, Dario may have set the single film record for the most separate POV cams in this movie. Some of them make perfect sense and are dazzling 

  • watching the flight of a raven through an opera house from the raven's point of view
  • the bullet through the peephole from the victim's perspective
  • victim cam watching through eyelids pinned open by needles

while others are just plain odd for the sake of being odd

  • the dreaded "sink drain cam" from the germ's POV, as shown in every American TV commercial for drain uncloggers.

If you like this sort of thing, you will enjoy this film. It is one of the supreme achievements of the Italian Splatter School, which is a literary tradition dating back about two millennia before the invention of cinema. The tragedian Seneca, tutor to the insane emperor Nero, was as controversial in his own time as Dario Argento is in ours. As a dramatist, Seneca was criticized for many of the same "faults" (lurid violence, insane rants), and praised for many of the same virtues (originality, style, intelligence) as Dario Argento. The controversy hasn't really disappeared. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • an all-new documentary featuring interviews with the director and key crew members

  • a complete CD of the soundtrack

Given his sporadic brilliance, I always thought that Dario would one day make an unsullied masterpiece, a work that would reach out far beyond his usual cult devotees and become the supreme mass market horror film. It never happened, and it apparently never will. His recent film, Phantom of the Opera, demonstrates none of the talent he once possessed, and is stupefyingly bad on an Ed Wood level. It is artistically without merit and technically inept. In fact, it is so bad technically that you could make a better movie with a camcorder and your PC. The lip-synching is bad, the lighting is bad, the dancers are out of step with the music, etc. It has every possible fault a movie could have. So forget that movie and rent this one instead. The older trip to the opera is not really based on the Gaston Leroux story, but is very much in line with what Leroux might have written if he had conceived the story in 1987. Opera features an guileless young opera singer pursued by a madman, it explores sexual obsession, lost innocence, and a childhood trauma. As the critic Michael Felsher wrote

"Opera (not Phantom of the Opera) is arguably the truest representation of Leroux's novel filtered through Dario Argento's imagination"

Opera is a must-see for genre lovers and film scholars, the very apotheosis of the Italian Splatter Film. In general, it is grandly entertaining in a deliberately over-the-top way that only that school of film could produce. If Vince McMahon staged MacBeth, hired Brian De Palma to film it, and asked Andrew Lloyd Webber to score it, it would be a lot like this. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6, exceptional for a genre picture in general, especially a splatter film.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Genre masterpiece, one of the best of its kind, but no crossover appeal. A film made by Dario for the aesthetic sensibilities of himself and his fans.

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