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Terror at the Opera (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000127284
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 19/3/2010 17:00
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    Terror at the Opera

    8 / 10

    Dario Argento is one of the most prolific horror directors alive and the Italian maestro has been working his magic for decades, going back to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970. In this giallo, he centres the story on a young operetta, Betty, who is given the starting role in the performance of Macbeth (the 'Scottish play') when the star is hospitalised following a car accident.

    Betty believes the play is cursed and her fears prove right when she is terrorised by someone who devises elaborate ways to shock and scare her. Each scheme involves tying her up and forcing her eyes open with needles so she must watch when someone is tortured and killed in front of her. The question is, as always with a giallo, who is the killer and why are they committing the murders?

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    Opera is well placed in Argento's canon, coming after Phenomena and before Trauma, with his segment in Two Evil Eyes immediately following this one. It finds Argento near his creative peak and contains every necessary ingredient for a top horror. In academic literature it has been highlighted as the centre of the debate over misogyny in horror films, particularly gialli, but Argento is strident in his defence against such a charge. Certainly, as Hitchcock observed, women, particularly blondes make the best victims, and Cristina Marsillach's Betty is a terrific character who is both strong and vulnerable - who wouldn't be freaked out if a deranged fan was tying you up and brutally murdering your friends?

    The central narrative exists purely to allow the violent set pieces to take place but there is enough substance to allow for characterisation, relationships and tension to develop whilst keeping you wondering who is targeting Betty and who will be their next victim. The police's theory that Betty may be involved in the killings as everything seems too convenient and some evidence points to her participation is an added bonus.

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    The film is trademark Argento with a psychotic killer on the loose, a plucky target who is trying to find out who it is and incredible visual style. Ronnie Taylor's cinematography certainly helps the mood with some bravura camera moves, twisting and spiralling around, and the film is so well lit and designed that it comes close to Argento's best, displaying his aesthetic prowess.

    The cast is quite well picked with a variety of nationalities on show, all dubbed into whatever language you wanted so the film could reach a number of countries. I don't have a problem with dubbing on these films and am quite used to the sounds not matching the lip movements - the actors need to act and emote convincingly first and foremost and, for the most part, that's exactly what they do.

    As gialli go, this is an impressive and suitably bloody offering from Argento who sucks you in and delivers the shocks and gore scenes with aplomb. Opera isn't up there with Deep Red, but it is close.

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    The Disc

    Extra Features

    This set not only contains the international version but the American cut, some ten minutes shorter, and a different sound track that was used for its outing at Cannes.

    The features include trailers and a gallery, a montage of the top six gore moments, a music video and the discs come nicely housed in an amaray which contains a poster, a double sided sleeve so you can choose which one you want and a personal, insightful and revealing booklet by Argento expert Alan Jones.

    The Picture

    The quality varies slightly throughout the film with some print damage still evident but the standard is high, the cinematography is excellent and the murder scenes suitably bloody and not for the faint of heart.

    The Sound

    Given the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 English or stereo Italian with subtitles I went for the English which is a fine track, easy to follow thanks to the clear dialogue (even the dodgy accents don't spoil the film) and excellent score by an uncredited composer - the film somehow blends Verdi's music with some heavy metal which signifies the killer's presence.

    There is also a stereo English option which works well despite lacking the punch of the surround track which comes into its own when the raven is swooping around the theatre.

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    Final Thoughts

    Terror at the Opera, or Opera as it is more generally known, is a demonstration of what a sophisticated director Argento is and it is all the more surprising that this remarkably good film was made with Daria Nicolodi on set after their acrimonious split several years earlier. This shows Argento's fascination with theatre years before he would make Phantom of the Opera and that he has lost none of the magic with which he made his reputation as one of the world's foremost horror directors.

    This set is very good and a better release than the Blue Underground DVD because of the Italian soundtrack, alternate version and packaging which more than compensate for the lack of a DTS ES or Dolby Digital EX track.

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