In the realm of Giallo films, Dario Argento is a celebrated figure. He’s one of the most influential directors of the Italian film industry, but his films have enchanted audiences worldwide and made a lot of cinephiles fall in love with the Italian Giallo films, such as Suspiria (1977), Deep Red (1975), Inferno (1980), and many more. Directed by Simone Scafidi, the Shudder documentary Dario Argento: Panico sheds light on this legendary filmmaker’s life and his extraordinary filmmaking style. Some of those closest to him like his sister, daughter, and ex-wife, as well as some globally acclaimed directors who had always looked up to his work, appeared in this film to share how Dario became an inspiration for the next generation.
The film opened with Dario Argento being interviewed and filmed in a hotel room, where he was supposed to write the screenplay for his next film. Initially a little bit hesitant to talk, Dario gradually opened up, recalling his days when he used to be a screenwriter, starting with Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Dario found his true calling in this film and began to work on his own story. From a very early stage of his career, he showcased his unique vision in films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975). His films often deal with Hitchcockian nightmares, murders, mystery, and the essentially erotic style of showcasing women and men’s relationships. Dario pointed out that his mother, who used to work as a photographer and later quit her career in photography to raise her child, had inspired him to see women from a different perspective, which is evident in his films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Gasper Noe, one of the most famous French filmmakers known for his films like Irreversible, Love, or Climax, admired the way Dario had shown a path to the future generation on how to showcase an erotic scene so aesthetically.
However, apart from eroticism, the murders, surrealism, and horrific aspects of Dario’s movies always hit differently every time you watch them. Each of his scenes has various elements that should be the subject of study. Academy Award-winning director Guillermo Del Toro, famous for his films like Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, and many more, made an interesting remark on the horror aspect of Dario’s films. He admired how everything in Argento’s films tried to kill you. His remark suggests how Dario had prioritized each element in his films and made them look horrific to induce panic amongst the audience.
Dario made a remark on this particular aspect, saying that he didn’t only want to induce fear, but he wanted to work on the “panic.” His films had indeed always caused panic amongst the audience, and a great example of this is his 1977 film Suspiria, which is one of the most famous of his films. Suspiria is still one of his most iconic works, combining his visually stunning cinematography with a nuanced story revolving around witchcraft. Suspiria is indeed a special film in Dario’s life, as his daughter recalled how this story was inspired by all the stories she had heard from her mother and grandmother about their ancestors. Dario’s mother, Elda Luxardo, played an important role in shaping Dario’s vision. Dario came up with such unique storytelling and bizarrely attractive elements in his films, mostly inspired by the childhood stories he had listened to from his mother. Even his ex-wife, Marisa Casale, remarked how she had fallen in love with this extraordinary human who was so intrigued and passionate about stories and his craft. However, with time, the distance between them began to grow, causing them to drift apart. But still, she remained an important part of Dario’s life.
Another intriguing aspect of Argento’s films was the music scores he used, inspired by 70s rock bands such as Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. In Suspiria, the haunting score of progressive rock band Goblin still remains a treat to our ears. His technical innovation in films made his works way ahead of time and even brought an extraordinary dimension to Italian films. Starting from camera work to bold and vibrant colors in his films, he created a sense of mystery throughout his films. These unconventional camera movements and violent yet stylized elements in the films, as well as unique colors, are his signature style, which is appreciated and admired by a lot of filmmakers like Gasper Noe, Nicolas Winding Refn, or Guillermo Del Toro.
Cristina Marsillach, a famous actress known for her role in Dario’s Opera, has also appeared in the film. Christina has a little troubling relationship with Dario, which is not explicitly described in the film, but it makes Dario Argento’s personality more interesting and enigmatic.
Dario Argento has revolutionized Italian cinema and became a pioneer for his next generation of filmmakers. However, in this particular documentary, we came to know a lot about this iconic director, but not in a very engaging way. Too many backstories of the relatives disrupted the rhythm of the film. The film should have focused more on discussing Dario’s unique filmmaking style, which has just been briefly explored by the documentary maker in this film.
However, this film did a great job depicting Dario’s isolated life, his duality in life, and the core theme of his work: panic. Through portraying a little introverted Dario Argento in the hotel room, the film depicts how reserved the filmmaker is in his own life. He isolates himself to bare his soul and mind on his paper, and that’s the reason he comes up with such amazing stories. It’s the discipline and dedication that have always been reflected in his works. His duality is also depicted in a similar way when we saw Dario talking about his overly energized films packed with violence and rapid incidents, while in real life, he’s calm, composed, and a very private individual. The film is successful in depicting this unique side of Dario’s life and personality through these divided chapters, which is pretty admirable. But even after watching this documentary, we are curious to know more about Dario’s filmmaking style and want to hear a lot of discussion about his films, and if this documentary has actually intended to arouse this hunger within us, it succeeds quite well in doing so.