There is a theater that’s rumored to come with a curse. A curse of disaster and murder, where nails are keeping a girl’s eyes open as her lover is repeatedly stabbed over and over in front of her. There’s a knife being pressed against her thin shirt as she shrieks in terror at the masked man standing over her, whispering threats in an disgustingly romantic voice. There’s a slew of nasty history behind it all, and sitting in a dimly-lit room is myself. And I’m glued two inches from the screen, unable to move an inch.
Dario Argento’s Opera follows opera soprano Betty (Cristina Marsillach) as her career suddenly takes off, once the female lead of a production is injured by a car in a bitter rush out of the theater. Betty is self-conscious but takes on her role anyway, despite her very young age. However, the opera has a nasty background. Murders aren’t uncommon, and her mother was one of the last singers to meet her demise within the curtains. Soon into Betty’s career, she is pressed into a sick world of savage violence from which the only escape is death.
The first thing anyone will pick up on with Argento’s Opera is the amazing cinematography throughout. I couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t imagine a scene that would’ve been shot better. It’s a rare moment when the camera takes a rest. The constant motion isn’t sickening as it is in modern horror, where the D.P. attaches the camera to a stick and basically whips it around. Instead, movement is constantly panning and pulling in and out. A common fact when filming is to use the zoom as sparingly as possible, but it’s welcoming here. And that’s good, because everything else in the film might make you want to turn tail and get the hell out.
The violence in Opera may remind some of the video nasty era. While not as extreme when compared to the infamous scenes in Anthropophagus or the original Dawn of the Dead, it still manages to be nasty whenever murder is on the menu. Some of the tortures here may remind us of Saw. While they aren’t overly complicated, the voyeurism and S&M make them stand out. The things that Betty is thrown into are just flat-out brutal. The hard thing to do is look away. Murder here is very violent, but their angles and viciousness are incredible. The camera doesn’t even shudder once as they explode on our screens.
The plot is where we find ourselves a little dry. If you’ve seen Phantom of the Opera and Scream, you’ll find this film is those two condensed. The fusion works great, but there were times where I just didn’t care what was next on the plot’s agenda. The murders are what we come here for. But the only problem with them is that the build-up takes a bit too long. Luckily, the camera makes every scene interesting, enough that we feel visually satisfied with the beauty of the canvas that Argento paints. Every scene is a work of art. It’s when we stop and start looking for a story that we find ourselves falling a little short. Opera is pretty loyal to the Phantom of the Opera script, but it breaks away enough that Argento can call it is own. The difference between this and Phantom was that when it came to plot, the latter kept our attention.
Opera is a film worth checking out, but be warned. While it sounds all fine and dandy, the ending makes things a little lame, and the glue that once held me to the TV began to crack and grow stale. Opera isn’t a bad movie at all, but it does lose a lot of luster the further you dive into it. Check it out, but see Suspiria first.