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Sam, an American writer in Rome, witnesses a murder attempt on the wife of the owner of an art gallery by a sinister man in a raincoat and black leather gloves - but Sam is powerless to do anything as he gets trapped between a double set of glass doors in going to her aid. The woman survives, and the police say that she is the first surviving victim of a notorious serial killer. But when they fail to make any progress with the case, Sam decides to investigate on his own, turning up several clues that point in the direction of just one possible suspect - assuming that he really knows who he's looking for... Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Argento's first film is his first Giallo, and one that is sharply crafted, amusing, chilling, and even eerily jazzy
Dario Argento's first dip into the directorial pool is a pot-boiler somewhere in the realm between Hitchcock and Jack the Ripper, classic noir and the "modern" cat-and-mouse serial killer picture. Argento's method's may still be in a slightly embryonic state (i.e. his intense stylistic flourishes, which by the 80s would seem totally ridiculous in comparison to Crystal Plumage), but already on his first film as director- not on writer, however, as he penned all odds and sorts of spaghetti westerns and thrillers- he assumes control like it's second nature. Suspense sequences involving the coolly suited knife-wielding killer, with Argento trademark black gloves, and a long trench-coat and black hat, come off without a hitch, and not without the kind of excess gore that he and other Italian Giallo directors got branded with throughout the 70s and 80s. Damned if I'll say this, it's probably the one film by the director you can show unashamedly to your grandmother.
Tony Musante, an actor I've never come across, impresses (as far as a protagonist in an Argento film can such as this) as an American with his girlfriend who are in Italy for some reason or another (a writer it would seem, as we only are told in one or two scenes, which is just as well). He witnesses an attack on a woman inside an art gallery, the only witness in a string of what has already been vicious murders by butcher knife, all women, all unconnected. He just wants to leave, but he has to stick around to give more details. And then, lo and behold, he grows more and more intrigued and involved in the case till, of course, he and his girlfriend become a target by this sadistic killer! All of this is handled by Argento as if they're not the conventions that we all know in this kind of thriller; he approaches all of them with a fresh take, and adds in doses of unexpected humor to keep things interesting (the painter behind the possible clue-painting with the killer in a field and his cats is incredibly funny).
But it would be just one thing if Argento kept at making near-golden Hitchcockian ideals and the pulpy juices of a genre piece moving along. Argento is out to depict a sense of paranoia, growing and growing upon an aesthetic that is not quite the Master of Suspense, and not quite your common Dirty Harry thriller (though Ennio Morricone's score sounds like a mix of his quintessential touch and some Lalo Schifrin thrown in for good measure). In a sense Vittorio Storaro's cinematography throws one off guard; it's at times not so shot like your common thriller, but as something more ambitious, something that drills away through its premise to dig up any pure cinematic threat to the characters. This might sound a little pretentious, but just watch certain sequences, like when Sam is being trailed by the man in the yellow jacket, or when the second female victim is seen, point of view changing without a beat misses on either end. Thanks to Argento's backup of Storaro and Morricone, he has here a twisting tale of a psycho killer with an artistic edge. It's clear to see, even with the ending that yells out as bad Psycho exposition rip-off, that he was on his way to a solid career. 9.5/10
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