Posts Tagged ‘Dario Argento’

In a recent Indiewire interview, director Peter Strickland requested that he not be compared to David Lynch. His reasoning? It was a limited reference for “strangeness” used, he felt, by the younger constituency of his audience. Strickland, not afraid of comparisons though, seems happy providing his audience is looking for a wider context in which to discuss his films. The Duke of Burgundy, out this week, is the most recent.

Amongst more experienced cinemagoers, the frame of reference used to describe Strickland widens with every film. When the Transylvanian set Katalin Varga was released in 2009, it was received very favourably. In his review, Peter Bradshaw drew comparisons with the Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, citing the film’s environment and cast as similar (although he called Katalin Varga more “taut” and less “indulgent.”) At the time Strickland himself was very keen to highlight his reverence for Georgian iconoclast Sergei Parajanov, particularly the magical Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

When dealing with an interesting first time indie director, such critical connections are not entirely unexpected. Less predictable is the way in which Strickland’s subsequent films seem to have revived a fascination with underappreciated directors of bygone subgenres. This is precisely what has happened with film number two and three. The story for his second film Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is set inside a 70’s Italian dubbing theatre, dedicated to churning out soundtracks for Giallo films; Giallo (Italian for Yellow) refers to the 1970’s Italian horror films, based on cheap paperback novellas.

That Strickland made reference to such a distinct and overly ‘cult’ genre like Giallo helped adorn him with a reputation as a film buff’s director. Owing to the film’s use of underexposure and a heavy sound design, the David Lynch references rolled out, but the key generic touchstones were Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Strickland had traded-off the elegant poetics of Tarr and Parajanov for the visceral retro style of Giallo, meaning bold camera moves, prog rock soundtracks and baroque special effects.

Early on in the arrival of his latest feature The Duke of Burgundy, cinematic references were central to the discussion. The surprising name – less fashionable than the horror directors of the former film – was the late Spanish director Jess Franco. Franco was famed for his bold sex films, known for their exotic locations, stark nudity and unashamedly voyeuristic visual style. His filmography includes such outrageous titles as: Nightmares Come At Night (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). Like Fulci his films reveal a visual flare, which is perhaps limited by the lowbrow genre in which he worked.

In these post-Tarantino years, there is a danger of treating a filmmaker like Strickland as one who exists exclusively inside a framework of intertextual references. This is a problem however, because found within each of his films is an intention not at all in line with that of their respective genre. While the Giallo genre’s major intent was to deal with spectacularly staged murders as Freudian outlets, Berberian Sound Studio is about becoming lost in a celluloid reality; tapping into the very modern theme of media overexposure. While Franco’s films primarily concern sexual stimulation, The Duke of Burgundy predominantly avoids exploitation, in favour of cyclical events that explore the dynamics of manipulation between two people; in fact the dynamic between the two female protagonists is much more reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s radical gay melodrama The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).

But there is something else that has emerged consistently in Strickland’s films that transcends the subgenre trappings: the use of avant-garde film techniques (like those of Stan Brakhage – see Mothlight, 1963) to interrupt the film’s coherent language and assault the psyche of the viewer. Sometimes in Katalin Varga the sound design takes over from the visual narrative, zoning in on pure atmospherics, before proceeding with the story. In Berberian Sound Studio clips from the film that protagonist Gilderoy is working on (The Equestrian Vortex) interject into the story destroying the boundary between film and film-within-a-film. In The Duke of Burgundy there are stunning montages of Duke of Burgundy butterflies and their larvae, which forcefully invade the tense romantic plot between the two female lovers, creating a nightmarish first person experience.

In Strickland’s films there is room for fantasy of a bold and visionary kind too. The Duke of Burgundy is a film made up entirely of female characters that inhabit a lush and isolated world, with the plot revolving around two lesbian lovers. Like the largely male-dominated novels of writer William S. Burroughs (think 1959’s Naked Lunch or 1981’s Cities of the Red Night), the single gender dynamic creates for a reality of an entirely different nature – never banal, rich with conflict, yet somehow utopian. The film, like Burroughs’ books, asks us to look outside the heterosexual normalcy of society; this has a powerful, liberating and otherworldly effect.

Strickland’s films are very much inspired by the ideals of the radical artists of former decades. They may adopt generic blueprints of earlier styles, but only as a means of resurrecting a conscious expanding attitude towards art; an attitude that is often displaced in contemporary culture, by narrow, neat, satisfying entertainment value, which parasitically uses the facade of the ‘radical’ to repackage the familiar as something new (a staple method of advertising.)

Peter Strickland is a director keen to transport us to a place where cinema is a powerful art form that challenges our way of seeing. It is interesting to note that so far he has resisted from setting a feature in Britain. Katalin Varga was set and filmed in Romania, Berberian Sound Studio in Italy (although it was filmed in London’s Three Mills) and The Duke of Burgundy in Hungary. Sometimes you have to travel beyond your own space and time to discover something truly enlightening and cinema is the appropriate vessel for that voyage.

Read our review of The Duke of Burgundy by Rob Arnott here.


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Kicking off our shorts column, we turn to the giallo inspired horror Yellow by Berlin based Brit director Ryan Haysom. Looking specifically to the 70’s horrors of Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria) and the violent contemporary thrillers of Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson), Yellow revels in the violent lineage of European cinema as an elderly man looks for an elusive killer of women.

Adhering to the giallo genre more rigorously than Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, Yellow feels like the first film to truly capture the highly stylised spirit of giallo in some decades. Perhaps it is ironic that the shooting location is Berlin, not an Italian city, yet the city’s architecture affords an eerie timelessness.

Surprisingly the film was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR by cinematographer Jon Britt (camera assistant on My Brother The Devil­). Yellow’s rigorous colour palette looks patently separate from many films shot on the 5D, displaying the benefits of a bold approach to lighting for the camera.

The music by Antoni Maiovvi is a real shot in the arm for the film’s giallo stylings. Sounding like a meeting of Goblin (Argento’s staple composers) and Kavinski (who performed ‘Nightfall’ on the Drive soundtrack), it brings the paranoid atmosphere found in Argento’s films to a contemporary audience.

Like much of the giallo genre the plot is not entirely of the essence, which becomes frustrating at times. However, in the tradition of the genre set pieces are key and Haysom handles them well making this a very satisfying short for fans of art house and horror.

See here also for the film’s stunning poster by designer Graham Humphreys (designer of posters for El TopoEvil Dead 2.)

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A halloween themed top 10, with a world cinema angle.


At number one Santa Sangre is an exhilarating, wacky horror made by one of the worlds most extraordinary directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. This film was inspired by a real life encounter that Jodorowsky had with a reformed serial killer in a Mexican bar. The film uses the killers story as its basis, but the film is very much a product of Jodorowsky’s imagination. A unique piece of world cinema and a unique horror film at the same time.


Angst is a seriously cold and disturbing piece of European filmmaking. While not for the faint of heart this film pushes the boundaries of the horror film. Angst takes both performances and gore to an unparalleled level of realism while, using an unconventional style of camera work to create a sense of mania. Director Gerald Kargl largely shoots from extreme high and low angles using a rig whereby the 16mm camera seemingly floats above and around the action. This implants the audience in the mind of the serial killer, whether they want to be there or not. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Angst bankrupted the filmmakers, leading them to never make a film again.


The ultimate cross over between the art film and the horror film. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is without question his masterpiece, at least in visual and sonic terms. This film has one of the most powerful scores ever composed for a horror film (by Italian progressive rock band Goblin) and its expressive and colourful cinematography complement it perfectly. Perhaps the only downside to this film is its script, but Argento’s strong direction still manages to maintain huge levels of suspense regardless.


This is a fairly classical and very spooky Spanish horror made back in the early 1970’s. It features ghostly figures on horseback carrying out satanic rituals and generally murdering attractive young Spanish ladies. Let’s be honest, what more do you want for Halloween?


Canadian director David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror stars James Woods as a seedy television producer who stumbles upon a strange television channel (videodrome) seemingly dealing in nothing but torture and violence. This disturbing film deals with the effect that increasingly disturbing viewing habits have on the public. This idea manifests itself in the film as a tumor created by videodrome which gradually alters the subject’s perception of reality. This is an intense type of psychological horror unique to Cronenberg’s very particular sensibility.


The Eye is an intensely effective Hong Kong horror. Superbly directed for the majority of the film it falls down in the last act. This said the subtle handling of suspense and scares for the first two thirds makes this film one of the most effective horrors for the last decade or so. It is perhaps even scarier that Hideo Nakata’s The Ring series, which treaded into similarly freaky territory.


Roman Polanski’s French made The Tenant sees him on top form as both director and star. This film sees Polanski working in a claustrophobic setting, which nearly always guarantee’s success for this auteur. Polanski’s ability to show a character slipping gradually into insanity rivals his American made Rosemary’s Baby, but in a sense this film is even darker as the threat comes almost entirely from within. For this reason this is a very European film, as it suggests that sanity is a thin layer that hides our potential madness beneath.


This film by maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike is as nonsensical and probably as much fun as any Halloween party I’ve been to in recent years. Perhaps not strictly a horror film, it is a crazy mash up of genres with elements of the gangster film and road movie blended together with a good dose of surrealism. While I’m still not quite sure what happened here, it’s definitely one to watch for the moment a reindeer (at least I think that’s what is it!?) appears from nowhere and licks a man in the face.


A super spooky silent film from Sweden, 1921. This film uses primitive filmmaking techniques, such as double exposures and high contrast lighting to tell the story of a legend told between a group of drunkards. The story goes that the last person to die each yeah, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive the grim reapers carriage for the whole of the next year collecting the souls of all those who die. One of the drunks dies at the stroke of midnight and it all goes a bit Christmas Carol from there. Scary stuff!


Before he became one of the most insanely powerful filmmakers in the world Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, Tintin 3D, The Hobbit) made films in his native New Zealand, involving men massacring hundreds of zombies with a lawnmower. I know which part of his career I enjoy the most.

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