Terror At The Opera (1987)

Opera - Film 1987.jpg

Terror At The Opera is the last important film of Dario Argento’s career in the realm of Giallo cinema. After creating Terror At The Opera, Argento’s subsequent films were critical flops, all of them, culminating in his final film to date, 2012’s Dracula 3D. To this day, fans of his work are still waiting for him to bounce back from the years of absolute failure, as he hasn’t announced his retirement yet, and a remake of Suspiria is set to release this very year, but after Dracula 3D, which was hated by both fans and critics, it’s hard to imagine how Dario Argento can bounce back and become the ‘Italian Hitchcock’ once again.

Terror At The Opera is renowned for being his last successful effort. The film was a commercial and critical success, garnering 1,363,912 ticket sales in Italy alone. However, this film demonstrates how Dario Argento’s film-making talents were starting to weaken. As a man who was once known as the ‘Master Of Suspense’, Dario Argento makes some odd directing choices in Terror At The Opera – such as tastelessly playing bad hair metal music over the film’s death scenes – culminating in a very flawed film that contains some elements of his previous work, but the flaws definitely outweigh the strengths.

The being said, Terror At The Opera still contains a few strong elements that stand out amongst the bad: the sets are very detailed and creative, and the film’s death scenes are quite inventive, but Dario Argento had managed to lose his touch when it comes to the film’s cinematography, lighting, and most importantly, the writing. In terms of cinematography, Terror At The Opera contains a fair amount of scenes that are reminiscent of his earlier work, such as the sweeping camera angles of Deep Red or the expressive and creative lighting of Suspiria, and some shots of the film demonstrate an  expert knowledge of framing and lighting. However, at the same time, the film’s cinematography is very underwhelming thanks to bland shots, questionable camera angles and moving shots that are simply disorientating to watch that. Sadly, the bad shots are more frequent than the good ones, and it really hurts the film’s aesthetics as a lot of the film’s supposedly ‘creative shots’ are painful to watch.

One of the worst culprits, however, is the film’s writing. Dario Argento was celebrated in the 1970’s/early 1980’s for being film-maker who could write an engaging, thought provoking mystery. He had the ability to write emotional, empathetic, intelligent characters. Why then, does the characters of Terror At The Opera feel dumb, underwhelming, inconsistent and wholly unbelievable? Whereas the characters in his previous films would try and logically work out the film’s plot and try to put together the subtle clues locked in their memories, why do the characters in this film panic? Why do they engage in meaningless dialogue in nearly every single scene? Worst of all, the killer in Terror At The Opera is found out because of Ravens, not intuition and deductive reasoning, but because of Ravens. Throughout the entire film I rarely found a single piece of dialogue believable, and the film’s mystery is a confusing, pointless mess. There’s barely any character development, no time spent introducing the film’s supporting roles and the characters that are given screen-time are completely bland and forgettable. It’s very disheartening to see the man that gave the world of cinema such fantastic characters as Peter Neal, Franco Arno and Marcus Daly present such weak characters in Terror At The Opera.

The acting talent on display doesn’t help the situation either. Christina Marsillach, who plays Betty, the film’s protagonist, is a horrific actor. She can’t deliver a single line without looking lost and confused. When she only has to mime the beautiful music of Giuseppi Verdi in the film’s faux opera, she’s just laughably awkward: just standing there trying her best to to ”epic’ but she is upstaged by the film’s extras. When she has to look terrified, she looks like a lost little puppy who doesn’t know what’s happening. I could excuse her acting if this was her first film, but it isn’t, and yet, she still acts as if she has no acting experience whatsoever. Her portrayal of a disturbed, tormented young woman is downright pathetic and she ruins the experience of watching Terror At The Opera. That’s not to say the other actors are good: Urbano Barbarini’s performance is bland and forgettable, and Ian Charleson’s performance is also bland and forgettable. I feel that only Daria Nicoladi gave a good performance, but she wasn’t even portraying a main character, so her talents were wasted on this movie.

Terror At The Opera isn’t exactly Dario Argento at his worst – like I said earlier: Dracula 3D – but this film is a truly disappointing foray from the man once known as ‘The Italian Hitchcock’. It’s very obvious that the film was quite inspired by Phantom Of The Opera and the actual Opera work that Dario Argento was doing at that time period, but Dario Argento failed to mix horror with the Opera business like Shadow Of The Vampire mixed horror with the film business. I can’t even say that Terror At The Opera is Dario Argento’s version of Phantom Of The Opera, because 1998’s Phantom Of The Opera is Dario Argento’s version of Phantom Of The Opera. If there’s one thing I can say about this film that’s positive, it’s the fact that the film is quite original for a Giallo film. Aside from that, however, I don’t recommend experiencing Terror At The Opera because it’s sad to see the talents of a man, who was once hailed as a horror legend, start to diminish, and his films would fall into a downward spiral that, to this day, has never stopped.

Also, this will be the last Giallo film I’ll cover from Dario Argento as his films were never the same. He would go on to have a couple of cult successes in the future – namely The Stendhal Syndrome in 1996 and Sleepless in 2001- but those films pale in comparison to the quality of Dario Argento’s earlier work, so I don’t feel like they’re worth reflecting upon in order to gain a true scope of Dario Argento’s cinematic history.

Although, Dario Argento did make other horror films, horror films that had nothing to do with Giallo cinema…

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