OPERA (1987) – The Dungeon Review!
I’m a big fan of Dario Argento’s earlier films but I don’t think I’ve watched anything after Tenebre multiple times. I probably wouldn’t have re-watched Opera had I not found it among the contents of a discarded box of VHS tapes. I see so many horror films in a year that many “good” films get lost in the shuffle. It’s often only the great and the horrifically bad that sticks with me. This is why I keep lists. Opera is one of those good films that got lost in the shuffle. Argento’s stylish and inventive visuals, great elaborate murder scenes and an absolutely amazing setting certainly make it an entertaining watch.
We begin at the rehearsal for a modern operatic adaptation of Macbeth. It is believed that performing Macbeth brings bad luck. It certainly seems the case after a car hits the production’s diva the night before it’s opening. The woman’s reluctant understudy Betty is brought in to replace her. The bad luck continues into opening night when a huge lighting fixtures falls from a balcony and a stagehand is killed. But the show carries on and Betty is a huge hit with the audience and the critics. After the performance she goes back with her boyfriend to his uncle’s opulent home. Her boyfriend leaves her on the bed to pour them some tea and comes back to find her tied to a column, mouth taped shut and eyes forced open with needles. She is forced to watch the brutal killing of her boyfriend and is then freed. This sets the stage for a gory whodunit featuring a masked killer, a bunch of ravens, weird dream sequences, pulsing brains and memorable death scenes.
During the opening credits there is a shot of a raven with the opera house reflected in its eye. Besides the fact it is an incredibly cool looking shot, it also beautifully sets things up for the scene to follow. The ravens are used to great effect throughout and are pivotal to exposing the killer. The death scenes are all grandly staged and are creative and bloody enough to make up for the low body count. In the films reveal we get a remarkable raven’s-eye view of the theatre in an impressive and dizzying aerial shot. The amazing opera house where most of the film takes place is absolutely spectacular. There are also plenty of trademark Argento extended shots down hallways, up staircases, etc. Argento definitely knows a thing or two about making a stylish horror film. Based on visuals alone the film is top notch. But alas a film cannot survive on style alone.
Style it has in spades, but substance is where Opera flounders a touch. For starters, there aren’t a lot of characters in the film, which made the list of suspects pretty short. It wasn’t much of a revelation when the killer is exposed. Cristina Marsillach does a pretty good job with the wishy-washy character of Betty. The Betty character is downright useless for most of the film and really doesn’t do much of anything to help herself. I found the character annoyingly fragile. I wish Argento had given this character a little more strength and depth. With the exception of Betty’s boyfriend who is as wishy-washy as she is, most of the supporting characters are actually more interesting than Betty. The dream sequences are crazy cool and relevant to the plot so pay attention. I am still scratching my head over the shots of a brain pulsing throughout the film. I have no idea what the significance of the brain shots is but I LOVED IT! I found the mix of opera and rock music interesting although it does date the film; there is no mistaking this is a film from the late 1980s.
Opera is a satisfying and entertaining flick. The idea of tying someone up, covering their mouth and taping needles under their eyes so they are forced to watch brutal death is pretty dastardly but letting your victim free only to do it again is extra sadistic. Leave it to Argento to come up with such a wonderfully twisted idea! The film is perfectly paced and felt much shorter than its runtime and Opera’s visuals alone are easily worth the price of admission. Although the killer’s identity isn’t much of a surprise, certainly his motivation was, and in the end I felt quite sated. Opera doesn’t quite live up to Argento’s older films like Deep Red, Suspiria, or Tenebre but is still a rock solid offering. Highly Recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Dario Argento
Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Antonella Vitale, William McNamara, Barbara Cupisti