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Terror at the Opera  (5 ratings)

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Movie Information
TitleTerror at the Opera
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Movie Reviews
Submitted by James@drfreudstein.com 
(Aug 16, 2002)

'Opera' Director: Dario Argento (1987)

Made during a brief renaissance period in the Italian directors' career, 'Opera' is truly a work of great assurance but of great disappointment also. Here is a film that could have been the greatest murder-mystery ever. There is no other Argento work that can come close to this film in terms of visual and technical excellence. However, a selection of truly awful music really tarnishes what could have glittered like gold. When attempting to get into the head of some of your favourite directors, you simply believe that they know what works and what doesn't. You always believe that they will make the right decisions. Much of Dario's work is littered with good decisions and gambles that paid off. A number of such gambles however serve only to spoil 'Opera'.
Set around a young diva striving for her operatic 'big break', her chance comes when the lead is knocked down and injured by a taxi. The production of Verdi's Macbeth features a number of interesting innovations such as bellowing smoke effects and ravens onstage. Argento is his usual self when it comes to these creatures. Long lingering close-ups of their beady eyes really add to the disconcerting atmosphere woven by the Italian maestro. The young leads performance is a revelation with the critics and is only slightly marred by an interruption from a broken light and the strange death of a stagehand. Unfortunately for her, her performance has also attracted the attentions of a crazed killer who leaves a trail of bodies in a quest to get at the diva. When he finally manages to, he inflicts upon her a humiliating and terrifying ordeal that has become legendary amongst both Argento and horror fans generally. Our killer ties the young singer up and places pins beneath her eyes in order to stop her closing her eyes to the ensuing ordeal. He then proceeds to murder one of her many admirers in supremely brutal fashion. (This scene became infamous and is still banned in UK) Although obviously distraught, the girl is otherwise unharmed and the killer allows her to go. What is odd about 'Opera' is Dario's tact on the killer's motives. Without doubt, this is his most overtly sexual piece and strongly hints at a desire for domination and power on the part of the killer. The whole idea of making someone watch such an awful spectacle is to say 'I can get to you at any time and there is nothing you can do about it' Of all Dario's films, this would be the least likely to be released uncut. British censors are extremely touchy about the portrayal of sexual violence.
'Opera' is probably the most 'European' of Dario's later works. Much of the dialogue and acting style is firmly set in the Euro tradition. It also features a number of highly effective plot twists (apart from the last one) I personally enjoyed the scene where the diva and Daria Nicolodi are in the flat trying desperately to discover whether the other individual in their midst is actually a policeman or the killer himself. The death of Nicolodi is also something that will not fade fast from the memory.
'Opera's' main strength is it's technical and stylistic approach to the introduction of scenery. One of the final scenes where a large group of ravens are portrayed swooping around the theatre is truly magnificent. On the recent 'An eye for horror' documentary, an explanation was given on how this was achieved. A series of cameras on a form of scaffold canopy were maneuvered around the auditorium. This was then speeded up and used with footage of the ravens. The end product is truly phenomenal - some of Dario's best technical work.
What is unfortunate about this particular film is that its flaws prevent it from being a true horror masterpiece. As with Phenomena (although to a much smaller degree) the murder set pieces are almost completely ruined by stale and infuriating rock score. This type of music is the real bottom of the barrel stuff, what Dario was thinking when he included this God only knows. Also, the ending to the film is unnecessary and weak. Its not that it leaves too many questions unanswered but that it strives to answer them all - and as such is over-burdening in the extreme. One thing to say however, I rather enjoyed the brief glimpses of the killer. Unlike the majority of Argento films, the murderer's masked face is slightly visible through various dark and atmospheric shots.
The DVD I reviewed this film from was an excellent 'limited edition' double disc set again from Anchor Bay. One disc featured the brilliant Claudio Simonetti soundtrack to the film. The other included a nice feature by the name of 'Conducting Dario Argento's Opera'



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