DVD REVIEW: 5 Films by Dario Argento – The Steelbox Collection by Sheldon Wiebe


Anchor Bay Entertainment is known for finding film oddities that are worth bringing back to new audiences and putting together packages that reward the viewer for buying them. In large part responsible for making the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento available to North American audiences once again, Anchor Bay has repackaged five of Argento’s [“the Italian Hitchcock”] films [Do You Like Hitchcock?, Phenomena, Tenebre, The Card Player, and Trauma] in a cool “steelbox” edition. Individual reviews are separated by photos of their original DVD releases.

Hitchcock - Argento

Do You Like Hitchcock? [2005]

This film was planned as a pilot for a TV series that would have consisted of Hitchcockian suspense features. The story involves a young film student named Julio [Elio Germano] who begins to suspect a Hitchcockian deal between two young women when the obnoxious mother of the pretty girl across the way [Elisabetta Rochetti] is murdered. Julio remembers seeing them talking about Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. In true Hitchcock fashion, no one believes him until it is almost too late. Rife with Hitchcock references [Strangers on a Train and Rear Window, just to start], Do You Like Hitchcock is typical of Argento’s work: delicately built suspense; brutal violence [with accompanying gore]; elegantly composed shots that switch to more manic, frenzied cuts; and perfectly scored soundtracks.

Features include: Behind The Scenes [what appear to be Argento home videos of the shoot] and an extensive Argento biography – complete with Selected Filmography.

Grade: Do You Like Hitchcock? – B+

Grade: Features – C

Final Grade: B


The Card Player [2004]

Anticipating films like this year’s Untraceable, The Card Player is about a serial killer who kills women during a game of online poker. If the police win three hands, he’ll let the girl go; if not, she dies – and for every hand the police lose, he amputates something. The film is more a straight suspense tale – most of the violence occurs off screen, and, while there is blood, there isn’t much. The suspense lies more in the hunt [both cyber and real world] for the killer and the clues that lead to a stunning realization by the investigators, Anna Mari [Stefania Rocca] and English forensics expert, John Brennan [Liam Cunningham].

The Card Player is considered to be one of Argento’s lesser films – and it is an experiment for, being shot with natural light – but I found it to be a better than average [and he has a very high average] effort.

Features: Audio Commentary by Alan Jones [Argento biographer and expert on his films]; Playing with death [Argento talks about researching and making the film]; Maestro of Fear [composer Claudio Simonetti discusses his lengthy association with Argento]; Trailer; Promo Reel; Behind the Scenes Video Diary, and Argento bio.

Grade: The Card Player – B+

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: B+


Trauma [1993]

Aura Petrescu [Asia Argento], an anorexic young woman, escapes from a psychiatric clinic where she’s supposed to be recovering from the trauma of seeing her parents murdered. She falls in with a young man, David Parsons [Christopher Rydell], whose kindness eventually wins over – as they try to the find the killer before he finds them. Trauma succeeds in becoming a living nightmare as the two find a link to the past that threatens their lives. Added to the creepiness is the killer’s sense of drama – he only kills when it’s raining!

The film is helped immensely by the presence of several first-rate performances by a supporting cast that includes Piper Laurie, Frederic Forrest, James Russo and Brad Dourif. Trauma works, at least partly, because it doesn’t seem to make sense, giving it a truly nightmarish quality.

Features: Audio Commentary by Alan Jones; Love, Death & Trauma [Argento discusses making Trauma – and his particularly personal connection to it; On Set With Tom Savini [The effects wizard talks the gruesome effects of Trauma]; Deleted Scenes; Poster & Stills Gallery, and a Dario Argento Bio.

Grade: Trauma – B

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: B+


Phenomena [1985]

While her father is off making a movie, Jennifer Corvino [Jennifer Connelly, in her second feature film] is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland where, unknown to her, there is a serial killer targeting schoolgirls. The school is a bit of a bore, but an episode of sleepwalking takes Jennifer to the home of an expert on insects, Professor John McGregor [Donald Pleasance], who is confined to a wheelchair and lives with his chimpanzee assistant, Inga. Jennifer has a gift – she can communicate with insects, a talent that gets her pegged of an asylum before she escapes her school and gets mixed up with the killer. Phenomena is one of Argento’s least well received films, critically, but it features some genuinely chilling scenes and remarkable effects – not to mention a remarkable soundtrack that includes music by Bill Wyman, Iron Maiden and a host of other major eighties bands.

Features include: Commentary by Dario Argento, Effects Artist Sergio Stivaletti, Composer Claudio Simonetti and Journalist Loris Curci, who moderates the discussion; A Dark Fairytale – Argento and some of his cast and crew reminisce; Louis Cozzi & The Art of Macrophotography [how the insects were filmed]; Dario Argento on The Joe Franklin Show; Claudio Simonetti Music Video [Jennifer]; Bill Wyman Music Video [Valley]; the Theatrical Trailer, and a Dario Argento Biography & Selected Filmography.

Grade: Phenomena – B

Grade: Features – A+

Final Grade: B+


Tenebre [1982]

Long considered to be one Argento’s best gialli [a giallo is a horror film with suspense, a lot of gore and no supernatural forces – taken from the yellow covers of Italian pulp novels and magazines]. Here, American writer Peter Neal arrives in Rome shortly after a woman has been murdered in the manner shown in his latest bestseller, Tenebre – and her mouth stuffed with pages from the novel. When a police detective asks him about the killing, he responds by asking if the police interview the president of Smith & Wesson every time one of their products is used in a murder.

The film is rife with Argento’s beautifully composed slow pans and crane work and the quick cuts to reveals that bring added impact to its violence. Also present, a key shot where a character bends down to reveal a murderer poised to attack, is pure Argento. Between his masterful cinematic techniques and the very pulpy story, Argento makes Tenebre a masterpiece of horror.

Features: Audio Commentary by Dario Argento, composer Claudio Simonetti and journalist/moderator Loris Curci; Voices of the Unsane [making of Featurette]; The Roving Camera Eye of Dario Argento [Argento discusses camera techniques and an example of his crane work is shown]; Creating the Sounds of Terror [a brief look at the film’s foley work]; Alternate end Credits Music; Trailer, and Argento bio.

Grade: Tenebre – A

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: A

Final Grade – Five by Dario Argento: B+