If their constant cacophony doesn’t completely put you off of this giallo from Dario Argento, the nauseatingly swirling camera shots he uses to show the birds’ point of view surely will. And if you can somehow manage to stomach all of that, there’s still the fact that this thing revolves around people screeching at the top of their lungs at an opera to run off whatever audience still remains.
As any Italian slasher movie fan/opera groupie will tell you, Verdi’s Macbeth is the most deadly of all our Shakespeare plays converted to musicals for loud fat chicks. Just why that is, I can’t really say, but since it meant that our opera was going to be stalked by a hooded madman who didn’t mind impaling an usher’s head on a coat hook on opening night, I was just damn glad it was!
Initially, the understudy Betty is the beneficiary of all this bad luck since the star of the show got herself hit by a car after storming out of rehearsal due to a dispute with the ravens in the opera. The killer later tried to unconvincingly take credit for it (how could the killer possibly have known she would be running into the street at that precise moment?), but Argento had his killer do a lot of things that weren’t very convincing. (The last minute escape involving a prop dummy and an unexplained exit from a room ablaze that our heroine couldn’t get out of among them.)
Argento wisely tries to distract us from the killer’s various deficiencies (motive that oscillates between lame and incomprehensible, seeming superhuman ability to shake off the effects of having eye pecked out by angry ravens) by staging a variety of entertaining death scenes for characters we can’t stand.
There’s a generous helping of stabbings, a fight with a flatiron against a seamstress, and a person being shot in the eye through a peephole accompanied by the expert use of slow motion. Certainly these are standard issue kills, but the killer’s gimmick isn’t just to kill people surrounding Betty.
His morbid modus operandi is that he prefers to kill only after tying Betty up and taping her eyes open with needles so that she’s forced to watch! (Betty, like everyone else in Opera, behaves like an utter moron, staying alone in her apartment after witnessing the first murder, continuing on with the show when it becomes clear the killer is targeting it, and using eyedrops to help her eyes that actually only serve to give her blurry vision at a most inopportune time.)
If it all sounds a bit daft, but at least relatively straight forward, you’ll also be disappointed. Periodically there are shots of a pulsating brain and either flashbacks or dreams of a women tied up and tormented while another woman (Betty in a bad blonde wig!) watches.
Perhaps there is something to Betty’s nightmares as a child where she dreamed of a hooded killer! And perhaps Argento won’t leave any predictably dimwitted family backstory out!
Betty and the opera’s director finally put their heads together and come up with a plan to smoke out the killer. They’re going to put on the opera like normal and then they will crash a giant iron cage full of the ravens through the scenery.
Whatever ravens survive that part of the plan will be let loose in the auditorium to seek out and peck the killer! Who could have guessed that the killer not wearing his hood when he beat up the ravens earlier would turn out to be such a critical blunder!
When he’s not making you seasick, Argento creates some nice looking shots (though his use of both of our most annoying musical genres, opera and heavy metal, for background music leaves a lot to be desired) and there are big panoramic views of the opera (when the ravens are solving the case) that will leave you impressed with his command of the camera. Of course it is also necessary for you to be impressed that a bunch of birds solved the case.
Though not as annoyingly impenetrable as something like Argento’s Inferno, the movie still fails to sustain much in the way of interest. The story isn’t all that intriguing and has stretches that leave you scratching your head either because what went on didn’t make any sense (the ravens) or was simply superfluous (the ending).
Basically this is a slasher version of The Phantom Of The Opera, which probably isn’t the worst idea, but the way Argento executes it, with its bad mystery (was there anyone else the killer could have been?) and weak payoff, you won’t be hanging around to hear the fat lady even warm up.
© 2014 MonsterHunter