You will struggle to find a European horror director as beloved as the great Dario Argento. His giallo movies have developed a huge cult following over the decades, and his distinctive visuals and archaic sensibilities have influenced a generation of filmmakers from inside and outside the genre. I’m sure every horror fan has their own favourite Argento movie, and while most people will predictably say Tenebre, Phenomena, Deep Red or Suspiria, it is Opera (also known as Terror at the Opera) that stands alone as mine.
Our stage is set in a prestigious opera house in the heart of the Italian capital. When Mara Cecova, a great opera singer whose face is never seen, is injured in a car accident, the talented but timid Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is asked to step in as the lead in an advent-garde production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Though initially hesitant to take the role, believing she’s not yet ready to make her stage debut, she eventually accepts after much encouragement from the close people around her. Her opening night turns out to be more horrific than she could’ve even imagined, however, when unbeknownst to her, a stage handler is horrifically murdered during her performance.
The violent deaths continue throughout the story as it appears Betty is stalked by a mysterious crazed killer who wishes to torment her. With her body tightly tied and pins delicately stuck under her eye, preventing her from blinking, Betty is forced to watch her friends die in front of her one by one, with each murder being more depraved than the next. As expected from Argento, the movie is filmed with its usual stylish flair and his use of rubbery special effects are still as effective as they ever were. The heavy metal soundtrack which accompanies the killings may put off some viewers, but its boldness only adds to the hyper-surrealism of the picture.
Of course, the plot makes little sense and there is a fatal flaw in the central premise, as even if you do attach needles to the bottom of one’s eyelids, you should still be able to close your eyes, as you can clearly see in the film itself. Those looking for natural performances won’t find it here either, as the acting from all the cast is pretty stilted all around. Plot logic and believable acting are just minor details for Argento, however, as it is horror, the bloodshed and the demonic atmosphere that takes centre stage.