Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Stars: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci
Dario Argento's giallo of a young American who goes to Europe to attend a ballet boarding school. Little does she know the school has a dark secret. As events unfold, young Susan starts to realize and uncover the truth behind those in charge.
Argento, among a few others like Bava and Fulchi, are the "masters" of Italian giallo and if you know what that is, your viewing pleasure will no doubt be enhanced. This isn't straight up horror, it's a murder-mystery-thriller with a penchant for some excessive, stylized blood and gore. While that may scare off a few horror fans expecting some Americanized slasher, I think most would do well to try and appreciate trying something new and different and this is a film worth seeing for that alone. For what it is, Argento does it very well.
The collaborative efforts from screen to sound are an absolute work of art. The soundtrack, performed by the band Goblin, in essence, make the film, because it's really not scary at all visually. I just can't relate to those who talk about this movie being, "the scariest film I've ever seen". It's really not scary. It's very atmospheric and moody and it sets a lovely, eerie tone through the collusion of chromaticism and sound. The widely applauded use of angles and color are as good as advertised. It's a very nice looking film and moods are well-captured.
All that good stuff about cinematography and atmosphere aside, the script of this movie is a mess in places and incoherent in others. Sorry, I can't mince words here and this probably isn't going to be a popular opinion in many circles. No one that is taking a realistic approach to this film can deny that there are just some flat out bad scenes in this movie. Stilted acting, wooden dialogue... it's all there. This is one of those movies that has received acclaim and now, it seems no one wants to backtrack. Visually, there aren't many horror movies that can compare, but when it comes to story, acting, pacing and dialogue, there are some definite weaknesses.
Strictly speaking, the story just isn't a great one. Nor is it told in any way that is truly unique. The only unique and interesting quality is the way the movie is filmed. That definitely does set it apart and is the reason why so many still talk about this film today, but style alone doesn't make it a cinematic classic in these eyes. The story is what is missing here. It's just very dull and slow-moving in parts, but done in a nice-looking way. It's a sawdust cake that is beautifully frosted, but has nothing truly tasty at it's core.
As stated before, Argento's use of color in the film is truly brilliant. It creates a mesmerizing atmosphere that is unforgettable and makes the film unique and worth watching. Coupled with a musical score that brought out the vibrant reds and greens, the look and feel are as good as any movie out there, horror or not. Too bad the content just doesn't fully match.
Maybe I am a bit harsh because this film is held up on such a pedestal, but I have viewed this movie several times trying hard to fall in love like many others have. Each time, I am sucked in by the beauty, but driven away by the acting and weakness of the script. In no way am I saying this is a bad film. It is absolutely in my collection and I do enjoy the movie, but I cannot in good conscience rate this film much higher. Story and substance are always above style, in my humble opinion.