Review: The Great Giallo Filmmaker Gets the Documentary Treatment in Dario Argento Panico
As directed by Simone Scafidi (Fulci For Fake), the new documentary about the life and career of the Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, Dario Argento Panico, is about as straightforward and clear a walk through a filmmaker’s life as you can piece together, which is probably for the best. Because once we get to his movies, the surreal nightmare fuel kicks in full tilt, and it’s nice to have some stability in interviews. These include with Argento himself, as well as a host of creatives and family members who worked with him throughout the years, and a small group of modern filmmakers (Guillermo del Toro, Gasper Noé, Nicolas Winding Refn) who simply admire and sometimes “pay tribute” to the giallo king in their own work. Panico takes us a bit through Argento’s early years when he watched his mother work as a studio photographer for Italian celebrities, and when he was old enough to start visiting film sets (his father was also in the business), he did low-level work on local productions, slowly working his way up to directing his first film, the wildly successful The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).
Argento was an admirer of Hitchcock, and paid homage to the genre giant while adding a demented twist to his brand of horror. The filmmaker seems to love discussing his productions, both what made them enjoyable and what made them disasters behind the scenes. He had relationships crumble constantly, but he discusses them as events that happened between films he was writing or shooting, as if those were true benchmarks of his existence. The film begins with him traveling to a remote hotel so he can begin work writing a new film, but this time the doc film crew is hot on his heels, nabbing him every time he emerges from his room. They manage to get comments about every one of his landmark works (Deep Red, Opera, Inferno, Phenomena, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Tenebre, and of course, the masterpiece Suspiria) and even bits about the ones that weren’t so well-received (mostly more recent efforts).
Probably the most fascinating interview is with his daughter and frequent collaborator, actor/director Asia Argento, who is about as honest on the nature of their relationship—both professional and personal—and how they had a falling out when she went on to direct her own films. But she’s been in most of his films over the last 25-plus years, and she seems to be the most like him of all of his children. Dario Argento is a soft-spoken, contemplative artist whose best films are striking, shocking, and simply exist in a world where violence, beauty, and strange occurrences are the way of the world and should not be questioned. Panico seeks to explain the origins of Argento’s way of thinking without judging it and to show how his output should be considered among the finest works in horror and cinema history. That may sound like a tall order, but director Scafidi makes a solid case for Argento being one of the original voices, certainly of the 20th century.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.