There was a time—entire decades, if we’re being honest—that the name Dario Argento meant horror films that would be suspenseful, terrifying, bloody and inventive. Works like Suspiria, Opera, Deep Red, and Tenebre remain staples and building blocks of the giallo movement. But that time is gone, and the 82-year-old filmmaker now makes things like Dark Glasses, a pale reminder of what Argento was once capable of, with all of the hallmarks of his earlier works but none of the creative spirit.
Dark Glasses is set in Rome, where a serial killer has murdered at least three prostitutes with cello strings, earning him the name The Cellist. He sets his sights on a stunning, high-priced call girl named Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), who visits her clients in high-end hotels around town. She escapes his grip at one point, but he catches up to her in a spectacular car crash that kills a Chinese couple in another car, leaving their young son, Chin (Andrea Zhang), an orphan, and leaving Diana blind. She receives help from a seeing-eye dog and Rita (Asia Argento), a woman from the Blind Society who helps Diana take her first steps into this new life. At some point, Chin shows up at her doorstep, initially mad that Diana has taken everything away from him, though he eventually changes his tune and wants nothing more than to help Diana with her day-to-day activities.
Before long, the serial killer is back on her trail, and he clearly has no issues knocking off anyone close to Diana. Keeping the killer’s identity a secret for much of the movie makes no sense, since it’s not someone the audience knows well. Nor does the movie give any substantial clues as to who the psychopath might be, so from who exactly is his face being hidden? Co-written by Argento and Franco Ferrini, Dark Glasses is something of a meaningless mess. The presence of a serial killer in their midst gets the local authorities involved, in the form of Inspectors Bajani (Maria Rosaria Russo) and Baldacci (Gennaro Iaccarino), who aren’t on the case long but they offer a little levity to the proceedings—which is exactly what a murder investigation needs.
There are flashes of Argento’s signature style and pacing throughout Dark Glasses, and admittedly, there’s some comfort in spotting the maestro’s handiwork. He still has a flare for the bloody, but his sense of pacing and tension feels completely off kilter. And by the time Diana and Chin end up in the middle of a marshland stepping into a nest of snakes with the serial killer in hot pursuit, I was ready to proclaim the film a noble effort without much payoff for veteran horror enthusiasts.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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