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Dario Argento Panico : Simone Scafidi Probes the Psyche of a Legendary Filmmaker

@The Courtesy of IFC Films 

Dario Argento Panico is a documentary about the legendary Italian director of horror and slasher films who has been a master of the horror/slasher genre for half a century.

Now in his eighty-fourth year, Dario Argento has always preferred to write his scripts in hotel rooms, which here provide a familiar venue for Simone Scafidi’s fascinating though imperfect retrospective of his life and career. Argento first came to prominence in the 1970s with the release of several films in the genre known as “giallo,” the Italian word for “yellow.” (In Italy, the Mondadori publishing house typically published its pulp translations of English-language mystery and thriller novels in books whose covers had yellow backgrounds.)

Many of Argento’s films have since become cult classics, such as his “animal trilogy” The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), and Four Files on Grey Velvet (1971), as well as his “three mothers” trilogy Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), and Mother of Tears (2007).

As Simone Scafidi explains, “Dario Argento isn’t just a prominent Italian director; he’s a cinematic rockstar whose name evokes instant fear. His mastery extends beyond films—he’s fashioned an enigmatic persona synonymous with wrestling inner nightmares onto the screen.

Dario Argento Panico1

@The Courtesy of IFC Films 

Dario Argento Panico” delves into his life and films, probing deeper into the man behind the legend. It explores vulnerabilities, his role as a father, ambivalence, and magnanimity. As Argento admitted, he creates to be loved. Thus, our documentary evolves from chilling narratives that gripped generations into an exploration of his quest for affection woven into his creations.”

There are no whiz-bang special effects in Scafidi’s film, which tells a chronological story in traditional documentary fashion by interspersing archival footage of the young director on the movie set with recent interviews with family members and colleagues. Scafidi’s interviewees include Argento’s daughter Asia Argento, an actress and filmmaker in her own right who offers many insights into her father’s psyche.

Perhaps the most interesting biographical vignette about Dario Argento comes at the very beginning of the film, when details of his childhood are revealed. As a young schoolboy, Argento spent many afternoons in the studio of his Brazilian-Italian mother, Elda Luxardo, a prominent fashion and celebrity photographer. It was there that he became fascinated by how women’s images were confected with the aid of cosmetics, lighting, and costuming.

Dario Argento Panico4 @The Courtesy of IFC Films 

Also appearing in Scafidi’s documentary are film-industry figures like Guillermo Del Toro, Franco Ferrini, Gaspar Noé, and Nicolas Winding Refn. While the information conveyed by the interviewees is certainly of interest, the “talking heads” approach gets a tad tedious, especially when the non-Italophone viewer is required to read lengthy subtitles to make sense of the narrative.

There is a brief scene toward the end of Dario Argento Panico when the Italian filmmaker opens a closet door in his hotel room to reveal his face in the mirror—one that calls to mind the iconic profile of Alfred Hitchcock from his old television series in the 1950s. The resemblance is more than coincidental, for Argento counts Hitchcock as among his influences, but few details about this connection are revealed.

The Hitchcock liaison is not the only underdeveloped aspect of Dario Argento Panico. Unfortunately, one of the most intriguing questions of all is posed at the very end of the film, as almost an afterthought: namely, what is the difference between fear and terror, and between terror and panic? If this question had only been raised early on, it might have provided a framework that would have helped viewers comprehend the complex story of Dario Argento with greater clarity. Perhaps our curiosity about this intriguing filmmaker would have been better served if Scafidi had chosen a thematic focus instead of a chronological one for this otherwise informative and superbly researched documentary.

Dario Argento Panico, Guillermo Del Toro

@The Courtesy of IFC Films 

Rating: B

Check out more of Edward’s articles. 

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Edward Moran
Edward Moranhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to hosokinema.com and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.


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