Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Stick A Pin In An Understudy's Eye: Opera (1987)

Opera (Italy, 1987) (AKA "Terror At The Opera")
Rating: ***
Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini

In a way, I understand the cult following this late 80s Dario Argento giallo made for itself as the film is a lowkey mad masterpiece visually, but this isn't to say I have my own set of reservations about it.

Taking cues from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of The Opera, the film sets off when the leading lady of a production of Macbeth gets into a car accident after ranting about the opera's experimental direction. (Apparently she's not a fan of ravens. Or laser beams) This leads to a young understudy, Betty (Christina Marsillach), to step into the role, something she's not entirely thrilled about as she sees this as an omen of terrible things to come. The Macbeth curse, if you may.

And surely enough, as Betty sings her part that night, we see a gloved individual sneak into one of the closed off opera boxes to get a better view of the show and we know this creeper is up to no good when they start to reminisce about that one time they attack a woman while another is bound and forced to watch. Their little impromptu private viewing gets interrupted, however, when a staff finds them, leading to the gloved fella to brain the man dead against a coat hook, their struggle causing a set of stage lights to go hurling down.

Despite this fiasco, the show is a somewhat success, much to Betty's and the rest of the production team's delight, though the incident with the lights did lead to the police and an attending inspector to investigate and find the murdered staff. Freaked out by this, the young starlet opted to cool off by hanging out with her stagehand boyfriend and make love with him at his apartment later that evening, only for it all end with Betty getting tied to a pillar and have pins placed under her eyes by the gloved and now-hooded prowler, forcing her to watch them brutally dispatch her lover before simply cutting her loose and exiting the scene.

In shock, Betty wanders off into the rainy night and gets picked up by the production's director, Marco (Ian Charleson), who happens to be driving by. As she confides with him of what just happened, Betty also vaguely recalls a nearly-forgotten childhood memory of the same hooded killer murdering her own mother some time ago, which may mean that the killer knows her and it won't be long before they target her once again, killing anyone who gets in the way.

By the 1980s, a decent lot of Italian giallo films start to resemble less like crime pulp fiction as much of their focus swayed more on keeping up the splatter and kill count high, a response towards the rising popularity of American slashers around that decade. This is evident in Opera's vividly bloody murder set-pieces, which is undoubtedly among director Dario Argento's most memorable contributions in giallo horror for their nightmarish nature and strikingly creative execution. While not overly gory, the bloodletting is generous and the attacks are simply ferocious, done with the key extravagance of a creative eye only the likes of Argento possess as his signature visuals of color tints and expressive camera work make their way into brutal close-ups of a stabbed jaw or an amazing gun murder involving a slow-mo shot of a bullet going through a door's peephole, through an unfortunate victim's head and finally to a nearby phone, destroying it.  

What doesn't work, however, is the overall quality of the film's mystery; with the way the plot flows through its run, Opera indefinitely shows little care about the suggested whodunits as there are hardly any police presence and very little of the characters introduced got any further development than a single (and often strange) note. (Though, I got to say I love the fact that we never saw the original leading lady's face. Makes me chuckle for reasons) This meant that our killer could have been anyone among the crowd, which cheapens the story halfway into an exploitative slasher flick, all the way down to its ridiculous climax of using vengeful ravens to out the killer and a mountain of mad ramblings and expositions in an attempt to piece things together and look smart or dramatic. 

I'm also not a big fan of some of the murders being clashed with heavy metal for what I take is symbolic chaos. It's too obnoxiously on-the-nose and it just doesn't work for me, but even that's vanilla compared to my biggest gripe about the movie; you see, Opera could have ended in, well, the opera, as Betty is forced at gunpoint by the killer to enter a room filled with paperwork. The killer ties her up, locks the room and douses everything in gasoline, intent on ending both of their lives in what's best described as a lovelorn murder/suicide. A fire broke, an intense escape happens and then we're suddenly in the alps. The fucking alps. Weeks later. Without spoiling much, we have ten to fifteen minutes to spare (depending on which release you got), the killer is still out there and then we're treated to one of the most convenient endings I've seen in a giallo, ruining whatever gruesomely gothic atmosphere this movie had before we're in the fucking alps.

Opera is as standard as any late 80s bodycounter is and I'm willing to accept it as a flawed cult classic seeing all the best things about it is undeniably enjoyable. what it lacks in intrigue and a satisfying ending, it makes up with an eloquent aesthetic and carnal display of brutality and madness. See it if you like and maybe you'll enjoy it enough to compel somebody else to see it, hopefully without taping pins under their eyes...  

1 male repeatedly beaten against a coat hook
1 female killed, method unknown (flashback)
1 female killed with a dagger (flashback)
1 male gets a dagger through the throat, stabbed to death
1 female strangled, stabbed in the chest with a pair of dressmaker shears
1 female shot through the head
1 male found knifed in the gut
1 female mentioned strangled
1 female shot
1 female found knifed on the chest
1 male knifed to death
Total: 10

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