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By Eric J.

**Please note the films mentioned in this post are not appropriate for all ages.**

EVPL is proud to have Kanopy, a free, digital streaming service for libraries. Watch great movies with the click of a button but without the monthly fee of most streaming services. The app, available to download on evpl.org, works on phones, desktops, Roku, and Amazon Firestick. As an EVPL user, you will have access to 20 films per month. This feature looks at some of what Kanopy has to offer, highlighting a particular filmmaker, actor, studio, genre, or theme.

This time, the spotlight is on Dario Argento, a famed Italian director of some of the best and most unique horror films ever made. Starting out as a screenwriter for spaghetti westerns and comedies, Argento made his name directing The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), one of the first and most successful giallos. Meaning “yellow” in Italian and named after the yellow covers on Italian paperbacks of crime novels, these murder mysteries straddled the line between the noir detective stories that preceded them and the ultra-gory slashers of the 1980s that giallo films inspired. Argento peaked in that genre with the breathtaking Deep Red (1975) and moved on to even more success with supernatural horror in Suspiria (1977) and beyond.

In time for Halloween, this article will put a spotlight on four of Argento’s films available for streaming on Kanopy: three of his supernatural-themed horror films, and one of his early giallo thrillers.

Note: Though made in Italy, the audio on Kanopy is in English because of the way sound was recorded for Italian films and is correct.

SUSPIRIA (1977)

Runtime: 99 mins.

Rating: R

Suspiria follows a young American named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), who is accepted into a prestigious ballet school in rural Germany. What was supposed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity turns into a nightmare, where fellow classmates go missing or wind up dead. The teachers smile like nothing’s wrong while never keeping their eyes off you. The more Suzy investigates, the more she suspects that the teachers, and the mysterious, never seen owner of the school, are powerful witches, manipulating everyone around them…

Although very popular for his giallo murder mysteries, this is Dario Argento’s first film dealing with the supernatural. One of the last films to be made in traditional Technicolor, the movie bathes the audience in bright red and pink that feel both psychedelic and unsettling. The score by prog rock band, Goblin is alternating loud and obtrusive, then quiet and lullaby-esque, helping the film’s tone of being beautiful and terrible in equal measures, a warped fairy tale. Amazon released a very different remake in 2018 that is fascinating and scary in its own way, but the original Suspiria remains one of the most unique, inventive, and terrifying horror films ever made.

 

INFERNO (1980)

Runtime: 107 mins.

Rating: R

Inferno is a sequel to Suspiria that elaborates on the witches’ backstory. Inspired by Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, this film reveals there are three immortal witches who covertly rule mankind: Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears), and Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness). While Suspiria showed us Mater Suspiriorum and her coven in Germany, Inferno introduces us to her two sisters, living in Rome and New York respectively. Each sister draws a web that ensnares anyone who dares investigate the Three Mothers…

This sequel was given a much bigger budget and had a major studio backing it with 20th Century Fox, but they ended up shelving it for five years and even then, only released it on VHS. Despite this, Inferno is in my ways more haunting and unnerving than the first film. The bright colors are still unsettling, now adding in more blues and purple to contrast the red and to represent the Three Mothers. Rock legend Keith Emerson continues Goblin’s tradition of a progressive, innovative score, with Emerson going for a heavy electronic sound, combined with elements of choir and orchestra. Many years later, Argento would complete the Three Mothers trilogy with The Mother of Tears (2006), but it is not on Kanopy, and Suspiria and Inferno can be understood without it.

 

PHENOMENA (1985)

Runtime: 116 mins.

Rating: R

Phenomena stars a young Jennifer Connelly, before she was famous, as a young girl also named Jennifer with psychic abilities that allow her to communicate with insects. When sent to a boarding school in Switzerland (shades of Suspiria here), she finds help with her abilities from a kindly professor (Donald Pleasance) who specializes in insects and whose only companion is his pet chimpanzee. When murders start occurring at the school, Jennifer must use her abilities to find the real killer and prove that her sleepwalking has nothing to with them, lest the school start to think that she is the killer…

Originally released in the United States as Creepers, this film would be Argento’s third supernatural thriller, but also include the masked, gloved killer trope of his giallo films. Argento got some current and future big names for this one: Donald Pleasance, famous for the Halloween films, plays a similar role here as a doctor on the side of the heroine, while Jennifer Connelly appears right before her big break out in Labyrinth and already shows her outstanding acting skills and immediate charisma. Phenomena would go on to inspire the successful survival horror franchise of video games for the original PlayStation, the Clock Tower series.

 

THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971)

Runtime: 112 mins.

Rating: R

The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a mystery film with two lead characters: reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) and a blind man named Franco (Karl Malden) who is a master of putting together puzzles he cannot even see. When Franco is the only witness to “see” a break-in at a large medical facility, the case seems relatively normal until a doctor who worked at the center is pushed in front of a moving train. After that, Franco and Carlo must team up to figure out who is killing people, why, and what it has to do with the medical center…

This is one of Argento’s earliest films, only the second film he directed after 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and the middle part of a “trilogy” of giallo films that all had an animal name in the title, ending with Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). After this, he directed a comedy that flopped at the box office and forced him to return to giallo with his tour de force Deep Red (1975), which is not on Kanopy but a public domain copy is available on the Internet Archive. Although The Cat o’ Nine Tails is Argento’s personal least favorite of all the films he has made, it is still a fun ride and gives a good insight into the giallo genre: a murder mystery but with the threat and body count of a slasher.

***

Also available on Kanopy are Two Evil Eyes (1990), an Edgar Allan Poe anthology Argento co-directed with George A. Romero, and Trauma (1994), starring Argento’s daughter and actress in her own right, Asia Argento.

Eric J.

Eric J.


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