Opera ★★★★

Holy shit Dario man, this film! A whirling black raven-winged POV bullet through the back of the brain exploding onto the retina in a paroxysm of colour! I'm not gonna say it's more of a beautifully deranged nightmare than Phenomena, but it's in the same Speedballpark. There's a giddiness to the neon-lit visuals, the highly strung music (a heady mix of opera and heavy metal), badly dubbed, frequently bizarre dialogue, and the restless camera, roving and gliding and looping through complete 360s like a stoned bird, that actually makes you feel high. It had me shaking my head in disbelief and grinning for most of its run time!

It's a giallo at heart, but in the same way a seasoned jazz troupe jam off the back of a standard rhythmical spine, so Argento riffs in the key of Dario, referencing his own body of work visually, sonically and thematically. When young understudy Betty is forced by circumstance to take over the role of Lady Macbeth in a production of Verdi's opera, she finds that first night jitters are the least of her worries as she's being stalked by a black-gloved maniac intent on forcing her to witness gruesome slayings while trussed up in ropes, knowing that her own time will come. To make matters worse, the maniac makes micro jails for her eyeballs with pins attached to strips of masking tape, forcing her to keep watching for fear of lacerating her eyelids should she close them. It's some brutal shit, I tells ya. There's a ton of Argento staples here - childhood trauma, eye trauma, murder as art (as savage as the kills are, they're all beautifully staged), animals as agents of virtue, baroque settings (the wind-blown sheets in the cutting room are supernaturally charged and gorgeous) and the little girl lost in the middle of it all. But it's Argento in playfully subversive, self-reflexive mode, messing around with genre conventions and through the character of horror director / theater producer, Marco, musing in meta fashion on his own legacy.

The clearest overture to Phenomena comes in the last 10 minutes, where the action is suddenly transplanted to the rolling meadows and snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps and an exposition dump via TV (incidentally the same fictional news channel that delivers news of the killer in Phenomena) reveals that Betty is still in danger. In a series of WTF moments to eclipse them all, it ends up with Betty crawling into the long grass to commune with insects and lizards, establishing her beyond doubt as a kindred spirit with Jennifer - she too is one of Argento's lost girls; a dreamer, beyond the veil: “I no longer wanted to see anybody. I wanted to escape altogether, because I am different. I like the wind, butterflies, flowers, leaves, insects, the rain, clouds…”

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