Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Opera (1987)

The great Dario Argento strikes again with Opera, another beautifully shot giallo/horror film that reminded me somewhat of Suspiria with its rich visuals. The movie itself centers around the decadent world of the opera, with its high drama, intricate stage sets, elaborate costumes, and inflated egos. Argento's stylish shots perfectly frame this opulence while he also builds dread with the dream-like atmosphere.

Opera is about Betty, a soprano understudy for the Lady Macbeth role in Verdi's infamous opera, Macbeth. The lead diva is hit by a car, and so Betty is brought in one hour before showtime to fill her place. This is her one big opportunity to make her debut, but she is nervous since the particular opera is said to be cursed. Nonetheless, she has a wonderful performance, except when a set of stage lights comes crashing down. The killer has arrived! He tried to watch the opera in peace (he seemed specifically interested in Betty), but an usher disturbed him. After a struggle in which the stage lights were sent flying, the usher ends up impaled on a coat hanger. The performance goes on, and it isn't until much later the usher's body is discovered.

After the performance, Betty gets a strange vibe from a police officer who gives her a rose and asks for her autograph, but he's only there to inspect the lighting accident. Later, Betty goes over to the stage manager's house, which is as big and cavernous as a museum. After some hanky panky, which doesn't lead to sex (the funniest line in the movie is spoken by him, which I can't recall word for word, but goes something like, "I thought all opera stars were always horny...some even have sex before every performance to relax their voice." Oooooh that was a hoot!), the masked killer shows up. When the stage manager leaves the room, the killer grabs Betty from behind, binds her to a column and tapes razor-sharp needles below her eyes. If she doesn't keep her eyes open, those nifty needles will poke her eyeballs out! When the stage manager boy returns, he is stabbed repeatedly while Betty is forced to watch with eyes open wide. After the killer is finished, he fondles her a little, for funsies I 'spose, and cuts her loose.

Betty, not wanting bad publicity, doesn't call the police. She instead walks the rainy streets in a daze, until her director, Mark, spots her and takes her home. She tells him what has happened and after she feels safe, he leaves.

Meanwhile, the killer goes back to the theater, where he slices up one of Betty's costumes. Ravens that are used in the opera are also housed there, and create quite a ruckus when the killer arrives. The killer delights in killing some of the birds, until the other birds begin attacking him. All the noise attracts a night watchmen, and the killer flees the theater.

The next morning at rehearsal, the same strange police officer from the first performance shows up. Turns out he's an inspector and is questioning everyone about the deaths of the usher, the stage manager and the ravens. Betty avoids him, not wanting to answer any questions about her whereabouts the previous night.

The killer shows up again at the theater, binding Betty and forcing her to watch another very bloody murder. We also start to see flashbacks of another woman being murdered while another bound woman watches nearby. Betty hiding something? Well, we learn that Betty actually had childhood dreams of the masked killer. Instead of dreams, could these be repressed memories?

These flashbacks as well as the lighting, sets, camera angles and high goriness factor add to the surreal aspect of this film. The dream-like atmosphere makes us doubt everyone and suspect everyone of being the killer. I even suspected Betty to be the killer, among with many other characters.

Many other killings follow, all done in different ways, but Betty is always forced to watch, wearing the needles under her eyes. The ending does not disappoint, with the ravens being set loose during a performance of the opera to attack the killer, who is sitting in the audience. It doesn't end there, though, but I'll just say the ending is very satisfying to watch, even if you guess who the killer is by the finale.

This film is highly recommended, especially if you already appreciate Argento's work. Even if you don't, the stunning visuals, beautiful shots and especially the gory kills make this a classic. Not as good as Suspiria, but Opera still delivers the screams.

Order it on Amazon!

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