Directed by Dario Argento. Starring Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, William McNamara, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni. Horror/Thriller, Italy, 108 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD by Cult Films on 21st January 2019.
Dario Argento explains in the special features of this release that OPERA is his favourite of all his movies because it was fuelled by his love of opera. He was to direct a production till the producers got wind of what he wanted to do with it. As a comment, it sums OPERA up. To many one it's one last hurrah before the decline in the quality of the film maker’s output. Yet, whatever way that you want to look at it, OPERA does have the feeling of an Argento classic. It has all the ingredients. Its look, its inventive camera work, its brutal violence and a masked killer stalking an innocent victim taking precedence over plot, dialogue and performance.
Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is bland in comparison to SUSPRIA’s Suzy (Jessica Harper) or David Hemmings Marcus in DEEP RED. She is one-dimensional, which makes the surrounding characters seem a little more interesting. In typical Argento style, we never focus on one person long enough than what is necessary for the story to move along. This efficiency in the writing does let the film down a bit, as OPERA never has the police procedural feel of most other gialli, despite the presence of a cop played by DEMONS’ Urbano Barberini missing the narrative direction required to drive it along.
What OPERA lacks in engaging and well-written characters it makes up for in set pieces. The image of Cristina Marsillach bound and gagged with pins taped to her eyes to stop her blinking is iconic - See above. It still stands as an ingenious modus operandi for a killer. The grim violence sets up a contrast with the classical setting of the theatre. The visual embodiment of the beauty-in-death aesthetic that runs through Argento’s work, especially during this period.
The 2K restoration looks fantastic. The colour is graded so that the reds and yellows of the theatre decor and lights have a richness that adds character to the setting. And, of course, the gore effects look a lot narlier because of it too.
Extras include a brand new interview with Dario Argento. A featurette on the restoration process and a behind-the-scenes archive documentary. The dual format package is housed in a rather fetching slipcase. OPERA will look as sumptuous sitting on your shelf as the actual film does playing on your screen.
So is OPERA the last great work by a maestro like many say it is? If you are tolerant for giant praying mantis’, weak remakes of classics, playing-it-safe gialli featuring terrible performances by Oscar-winning actors then there's a good argument for saying yes. Great may be pushing it though. OPERA doesn’t quite match up to the majesty of SUSPIRIA, DEEP RED and TENEBRAE although it is the last movie Argento made where his visual ideas still seemed fresh and exciting. That alone should be a good enough reason to add this glorious restoration to your collection.