Home Video Hovel: Opera, by David Bax
It sometimes seems like there are those who would like to take the whole gorehound segment of horror fandom and cordon them off, dismissing them as only interested in base, cheap thrills. With Opera, Dario Argento of course details spilt blood and sliced flesh with his expected, exaggerated flights of artful inspiration (and some bitchin’ heavy metal music). But he also reminds us—with knives that plunge through defensively displayed palms and with truly unspeakable things done to eyeballs— that gory movies, executed inventively, can be more than shocking. They can be scary.
Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is an understudy in a famous director’s (Ian Charleson) high-tech, dystopian reimagining of Verdi’s Macbeth. When the show’s star is injured, Betty finds herself in the limelight and shining. Until, that is, a shadowy figure starts murdering members of the crew and forcing Betty to watch.
If that plot description sounds like an artsy take on the slasher genre, oh boy, you have no idea. We’ve just scratched the surface. The killer’s gruesome acts of violence (and the method he uses to keep Betty’s eyes open) are matched by Argento’s exaggerated, grandiloquent camera movements. The opening scene of Opera is shot from the point of view of the angry diva soon to be replaced by Betty yet, even when she’s out of the picture, Argento maintains that roving, wide-angled look. The camera observes restlessly, sometimes probing into the action in a way not dissimilar to the blades that pierce flesh throughout the movie.
To be sure, this is all horrific (and horrifying). But, in Argento’s hands, it’s also beautiful. There’s a dreamy quality to Opera; the scenes seem to flow into one another, including the flashbacks, making it all seem like one long nightmare. And the echoey quality of the looped dialogue means every character sounds like they’re calling to you from another plane of existence. Or when, for instance, their skulls are shattered, they sound like demons howling from hell. You’ll be transfixed, unable to look at the horror but unable to look away from the beauty. And then, later, unable to fall asleep.
Scorpion Releasing’s Blur-ray touts the “extensive” color correction done to their 2K scan. Not being familiar with previous releases, I can’t attest to the changes but the images here are deep, vibrant and enveloping. The 5.1 audio mix is apparently new.
Special features include an interview with Argento and a new interview with actor William McNamara, who plays one of the killer’s earliest victims.