The Italian Horror deity Dario Argento is probably my choice for THE greatest living Horror director (and one of the greatest of all-time). A master of the Italian Giallo, Argento helped define the genre in its heyday in the early 70s with his animal trilogy (L'UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO, IL GATO A NOVE CODE, 4 MOSCHE DI VELUTO GRIGIO) and perfected it with the 1975 masterpiece PROFONDO ROSSO (1975), the most famous Giallo which is widely regarded to be the highlight of the genre, and kept the Genre alive after its heyday with brilliant and bloody films such as TENEBRE (1982) or OPERA (1987). Even when doing supernatural Horror films, Argento always gave them a touch of the Giallo, be it supernatural Horror films with Giallo-elements like SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980), or a Giallo with supernatural elements, such as PHENOMENA (1985). Argento's unique talent to build up blood-curling Horror and suspense through atmosphere, and to combine gruesome and gory acts of violence with elegance and beauty make Argento's films so essential.
His 2009 film GIALLO was generally negatively perceived by my fellow fans of the man, which is the reason why I delayed the viewing for quite a long while. The first observation to be made when watching GIALLO is the fact that this is technically not really a Giallo. A typical Giallo generally revolves around a murder series (the victims typically being hot young women), in which a protagonist is a possible next victim, the murders often being spectacular and gory, and the killer's identity remaining hidden until the end. Actually, the phantom identity of the killer (and guessing who it could be) was one of the main points of the Giallo (with some exceptions such as the great Mario Bava's IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA, Luigi Cozzi's L'ASSASSINO È COSTRETTO AD UCCIDERE ANCORA or Rentao Polselli's DELIRIO CALDO).
GIALLO is also about a murder series, the victims of which are young women. However, guessing the killer's identity is no central point of the movie, it actually gets revealed half the way into the film. There is no guessing who the killer could be, none of the other characters is suspicious. We know who the killer is when we first see his face. Also, the murders are not in a typical gory but elegant Giallo-fashion. The killer poses as a taxi driver and kidnaps his victims in a cab, then tortures them to death, making GIALLO closer to 2000s 'torture-porn' of the HOSTEL-type than a typical Giallo.
In Turin, Linda (Emanuelle Seigner) reports her model sister Celine (Elsa Pataky) missing. Half New Yorker Homicide detective Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody) soon realizes that the disappearance of the beautiful young woman must be the work of a pattern killer whose objective is to destroy beauty...
Generally speaking GIALLO has its highs and lows. Many fellow Argento-fans seem to despise this film. I can understand the disappointment; however, something being disappointing by Argento's high standards does not necessarily make it bad, and GIALLO is definitely an above-par present day Horror film. There are two childhood-flashbacks in the movie, one of which i found to be good, the other bad. Way before the movie ends, the killer's motivations are explained by childhood trauma; this is something I generally hate because it lessens the creepiness of the murderer. Argento's fame obviously allowed a high budget and the hiring of famous international actors Adrien Brody and Emanuelle Seigner. Both are good actors, and both are good in their roles, even though the characters are very stereotypical. Brody's chain-smoking Inspector with a super-rough voice is the walking stereotype of the disillusioned homicide detective who is eaten up by the horrors he has experienced. The movie was filmed in English, which shows. Even though the entire film is set in Turin, there is barely a word of Italian spoken. The score by Mario Werba is OK, but it doesn't even nearly play in the same league as the brilliant scores by Goblin/Clauio Simonetti, that were part of what made Argento's masterpieces so great. The gore is brutal but not as elegant as in Argento's old films. As any Argento movie, this was elegantly shot, but, again, there is no comparison to his 70s and 80s films; and while the film is suspenseful and gloomy enough is is nowhere near as scary as Argento's many masterpieces.
I was not really disappointed with GIALLO, because other Argento fans had previously (and exaggeratedly) complained about it. GIALLO is a solid and suspenseful Horror thriller, it is just not good by Argento standards. Argento made a great Giallo as recent as 2001 with NON HO SONNO. GIALLO just isn't one. But while this is a below-par Argento movie, it is still a more than decent thriller. I'm now curious about how Argento's Dracula 3D project (which is due in 2012) will turn out.
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