A Deeper Love

Tuesday, October 26 2010
A Deeper Love

His career spans some five decades. He’s made some of the most influential horror films of the modern era. He’s introduced UK and US audiences to fright flicks from outside the English-speaking world. His choice of music has been almost as seminal within horror and music circles, taking in psych rock and moving into Italian disco and electronic sounds. He’s fallen foul of UK authorities and been a poster boy for the anti-censorship lobby during the video nasty furore, and he’s almost singlehandedly popularised a horror genre itself, Italian giallo. And now, thanks in no small part to the efforts of one UK video operator, his work is being brought to a new generation of horror fans, as well as being updated and reassessed for the new, high definition era.

He’s Dario Argento and while his reputation needs little enhancement among the cognoscenti. Arrow Video, the offshoot of Arrow Films dedicated to releasing cult films in pristine high definition versions complete with sumptuous packaging and a wealth of bonus material, has helped bring his work to new fans as well as wooing older fans to buy into his product once again.

So what makes Argento the master of horror? Why has his reputation last so long? And why do his earlier films – which often fell foul of the authorities during the video nasty era – still resonate so well when many others that came under the same kind of scrutiny have fallen by the wayside and are even laughed out of town?

“Aside from the gloriously twisted, labyrinthine plots, the Agatha Christie-on-ketamine twists and outrageous convolutions that are part and parcel of the giallo genre, Argento is simply a master of pure, subjective horror,” said horror aficionado, writer and Metrodome marketing manager Giles Edwards.
”For me, there has never been a filmmaker who has been able to conjure such brutally effective and precisely calibrated visions of intense stream-of-consciousness dream logic yet make them so compelling, so thrilling and as deliciously formed as the most spectacular modern day blockbuster set piece.“

“Dario Argento was one of the defining voices of the horror genre; he reinvented horror with his first film, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and wasn’t just successful with the critics but commercial also,” concurred Arrow’s Alex Agran. “His enduring popularity is set in stone by the many classics he made and people will always return to them for the impact they had on the genre.”

And what’s more, Agran added, they have the kind of longevity that most many of today’s couldn’t even dream about. “Argento films are quite unlike modern horror films. The latest horror films aren’t of much interest in terms of re-watch value, once you know who is emerging from behind the curtain so to speak, the shock value is gone.

“But with Argento, the shocks don’t stop after one viewing and there is always something to rediscover with his films. Inferno is a good case in point. The narrative is dream-like in its quality and with every viewing it changes; one could watch it multiple times and get something different out of it every time. This is something the fans know so Argento releases are popular because they are keepers, they aren’t the kind of thing you rent once and forget about, they work their way into your mind and don’t leave.”

Arrow is currently about halfway through the Argento canon in terms of releases, with its most recent, Inferno, proving to be one of the best in terms of both reception and sales. The Argento fanbase is notoriously loyal, Arrow has, thus far, managed to impress those in the know with the quality of its releases.

As Agran explained: “Argento is a very popular director so it is very important to have the additional features right. This can, for some fans, be the deciding factor for purchasing the release over another and until now the releases have been pretty exceptional, it makes it pretty hard to follow one with another but fortunately we have lots of features ready and waiting.”

Arrow has certainly won over the fans, both in the UK and overseas (the latter is proving to be a nice little addition to Arrow’s sales in terms of exports).

“It’s been very heartening to read comments of various fans on Cult Labs, Facebook and twitter who are just so thrilled with our releases and not only of the Argento films,” said Agran. “What we are finding is that a lot of fans have been feeling a little let down by companies in the past of their treatment of cult films, but now they are happy there is a label willing to go the extra mile, which we are only too happy to do.”

With films such as Argento’s, it is essential to have the support of those fans, as Agran explained. “With every release there are new challenges so we want to make sure we are delivering what they want, and we do this by listening to their comments as they are frequently involved once we feel ready to announce a new slate of titles. The fact is a lot of the time the fans are incredibly knowledgeable and will point out various artworks that are often very rare or any number of such items. So it’s good for us to have that support and in turn we hope to do them proud with the finished product.”

Next up is Deep Red and Arrow Video’s painstaking work is once again coming to the fore. “With Deep Red there are two cuts of the film; Argento’s Director’s Cut, which is the cut people are more commonly familiar with, and then there is the international theatrical version. We had to find both cuts of the film with acceptable materials and then go to work on them. The previous major release of the theatrical version had botched end credits – they should include a moving shot of David Hemmings beneath a red wash of blood, so we’re happy to be including both cuts and with fixed end credits.

“It’s challenges like these that can prove difficult but once it’s all done it’s a great feeling to get to the end and put a great product out in the marketplace.”

The fact that there are often so many different versions of films such as Argento’s only makes that task all the harder, as Agran noted: “With Italian films there are all sorts of differences to the cuts and another issue as virtually all Italian films are post synch dubbed we like to include different audio tracks as well as different cuts of the film.

“Coming back to Deep Red, there is an English audio track for the film but this only really exists on the shorter theatrical cut and the scenes from the rest of the film has that missing audio as it was either never recorded or lost as the English audio wasn’t needed for the longer cut in Italy. Maybe, like Metropolis it will turn up one day but no one seems to know where it is at the moment.”

As well as different versions of the films, as we’ve noted here before, it’s the quality too, as Agran noted: “Getting the film to be in the same condition that it was at the premiere can mean restoration, the right audio tracks, flawless subtitles and so on, that’s why we’re so excited about Blu-ray and this has been very positive for us with the fans. Fans of this genre seem to be early adopters of the technology so that’s brilliant not only for the film but also for the extras, which are often HD as well.”

It helps, of course, that Agran and Arrow are such fans of the great man himself.

“Tenebrae is a personal highpoint,” said Agran, when asked about his own personal favourites. “It’s a wonderful film about an American writer who is stalked by a serial killer. It has all the typical Argento twists and turns as well as some fantastic set pieces. I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen (albeit in bad quality) but Argento’s delirious giallo is a wonderful treat that I am very much looking forward to seeing in High Definition.”

We’ll leave the final words to Giles Edwards, whom we started this feature quoting. “This delirious dream state is encapsulated with such extraordinary bravado, such precociously calibrated intensity such bold, brash, insidious, savage almost tactile stokes of light and darkness and blasts of cacophonous sound. His films are as near to a waking nightmare state as I have seen in a horror film. In his early films, especially (Inferno, Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae, Four Flies On Grey Velvet), the sureness of directorial touch, the confidence in the unconventional framing, lighting, music, sound, camera movement and sequence design is nothing short of breathtaking. He makes you work as an audience, draws you into his web of phantasmagoria with his roving, probing, intrusive camera before rewarding you with a sensory punishment as cruel, wicked and gruelling as any of the viciously realised fates which befall his inquisitive and doomed characters.

“For me there is Hitchcock, there is De Palma and there is Argento. The triumphant triumvirate of sadistic cinematic genius.”

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