The 17 Horror Films of Dario Argento, Ranked From Worst to Best
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria hits theaters very soon, and while it’s a magnificent creation with its own story, visual highlights, and meaning, it’s also all the reason you need to revisit Argento’s filmography. The man’s name is nearly synonymous with the giallo sub-genre, but as evidenced by films like Suspiria (1977), he also found time for more unnatural tales. He directed 18 features between 1970 and 2012 along with a TV movie (Do You Like Hitchcock?, 2005) and one half of an anthology film (Two Evil Eyes, 1990).
His 18 features are the focus here – well, 17 as his 1973 comedy The Five Days is not only his sole non-horror/thriller title but also incredibly difficult to find with English subtitles – and to that end I’ve given them all a re-watch recently for two reasons. One, I wanted to re-watch them, so I did. And two? Why a ranking of course!
So keep reading for a look at Argento’s 17 genre efforts as ranked by me, from the highs of my number one pick to the lows of…
17. The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Plot: A policewoman who suffers dizziness and hallucinations in the presence of classical paintings pursues a serial rapist/killer with no such ridiculous illness.
That’s So Argento! After stabbing her rapist in the neck, Anna (Asia Argento) gouges out his eye, shoots him, pummels his head, and dumps his body in a raging river.
Thoughts: Where to start with this offensively stupid film. How is this woman a police officer what with her bouts of amnesia, hallucinations, and general awfulness at her job? Why does the early wig that’s not supposed to be a wig look so much worse than the later wig that’s acknowledged as a wig? Why is there a CG shot of pills going down her throat and why does it look so utterly horrible? Why is rape leaned on so heavily as lazy terror beats? Are we really supposed to view her shift into becoming a deranged serial killer as a commentary on the effects of trauma when she was clearly bonkers before the multiple rapes even occurred? Are you really committing to the idea given voice in the final moments that crimes committed by past victims aren’t their fault? How do you open with her hallucinating an underwater swim in which she kisses a large, human-ish fish and then not revisit that absurdity in the lake of bullshit that follows? Ugh, this movie.
16. Giallo (2009)
Plot: Only an FBI agent (Adrien Brody) based in Italy can stop a killer (Adrien Brody) whose skin resembles the lurid covers of old giallo novels.
That’s So Argento! A man falls through a skylight and holds tight to a broken piece of the frame layered with glass shards. Gravity pulls him down, slicing his hand in the process, and it’s all for naught as he falls to his death anyway.
Thoughts: There’s not a damn thing here to make Argento proud. Not a single interesting visual flourish. Not one memorable kill. These are the things that normally make an otherwise lesser Argento film watchable when the story itself isn’t cutting it, but here we’ve got nothing. He’s been making giallo films all his life, but oddly, the one he actually titles Giallo is the least fitting for the format. No gloves, no mystery as to who the killer is, no elaborate set-pieces. Instead, we just get cruelty, endless whimpering, and the precedent for Tilda Swinton’s purposeless and latex-covered dual role in the new Suspiria remake.
15. The Phantom of the Opera (1998)
Plot: A man raised by rats beneath the city of Paris falls for an opera singer, but his efforts to woo her are complicated by his murderous tendencies and her indecisive heart.
That’s So Argento! Christine (Asia Argento) awakes after being raped by her on again off again beau, the Phantom, and discovers him frolicking in another room with rats crawling playfully over his bare skin.
Thoughts: Eleven years after updating the classic tale with the stylish thriller Opera, Argento goes back to the literary well with a proper adaptation. Psych! As a non-musical the film is reliant on the strength of Gaston Leroux’s original story and the atmosphere of the period setting. The latter’s a lost cause as the film’s budget precludes anything impressive on the visual front from cinematography to production design, and the former? Well, let’s just say this isn’t the Phantom you’re familiar with. The tragic love story is gone as this Phantom isn’t even disfigured – he lives in the sewers because that’s where the rats raised him (and taught him to speak, dress properly, and use product in his hair) – meaning the only real obstacle in life for him is the fact that he’s an asshole.
14. Argento’s Dracula (2012)
Plot: The legendary count feasts on locals in a small village until someone finally realizes they should probably send for Van Helsing.
That’s So Argento! A man doing a horrible job at guard duty is surprised by a giant praying mantis that rushes him and pierces his torso with its oversized insect arm. Leg? I don’t know. It’s Dracula. Sneaking in as a giant bug for some reason.
Thoughts: You saw where I mentioned the giant CG praying mantis right? Argento’s final film suggests pretty definitively that he’s lost his mojo, and at the very least he should stay away from period films. Budget limitations once again mean underwhelming visuals, and their awfulness is magnified by the use of ocularly offensive CG, random green screens, and underwhelming bloodletting too often co-opted by more CG animation. The upside consists solely of absurd moments (giant praying mantis!) and the presence of Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing.
13. The Card Player (2004)
Plot: A killer with a modem taunts police by making them play online poker hands, and if they lose he kills a victim live on the webcam.
That’s So Argento! An extended and dialogue-free sequence involving the female police officer sees her home alone when she notices a masked man outside her window. He disappears – she thinks – but she soon realizes he’s entered her house, stolen her gun, and dumped some severed fingers in her purse. Then she discovers he has yet to leave. It’s an effectively suspenseful set-piece pairing the killer’s home invasion with her capable cop action.
Thoughts: This one’s as lifeless as the pixelated corpses that show up throughout as it delivers a story that’s both flat and uninspired even with these “cutting edge” online shenanigans. The poker games lack energy and suspense despite the stakes, and the repetition doesn’t help. The final minutes are devoted to a game between the killer and the cop as they lay on railroad tracks, and it’s just a trainload of who the hell cares. Events are just as uninteresting offline as the killer’s identity is clear from the first act and Argento seems disinclined to do anything intriguing with his camera. Oh, and a big old electronic woof to the normally reliable Claudio Simonetti’s score, too.
12. Trauma (1993)
Plot: An anorexic teenager sees her issues magnified after witnessing the murder of her parents and being drawn into the mystery surrounding the decapitation-prone killer’s identity.
That’s So Argento! Our killer only strikes when it’s raining, but the skies are clear as they target their latest victim. What to do? They sets off her apartment’s fire alarm and dispatch her as the sprinkler splashes water upon them both. Our hero arrives moments later to find her head separated from her body… a physical obstacle that doesn’t stand in the way of her whispering the killer’s name. I repeat, the decapitated head mumbles out the killer’s name with its dying breath before slumping lifeless to the side – as if the neck was still holding it up!
Thoughts: This one’s a little convoluted – surprise! – as lost memories, psychic phenomena, and an obsession with anorexia fill the screen, but honestly, the bigger obstacle for some viewers will be seventeen-year-old Asia Argento’s topless scene in her father’s movie. If you can accept all of that the film delivers some effective POV camerawork, several heads detached from their bodies, a lot of time spent with a neighbor boy that ultimately pays off, and a drawn-out ending that slowly reveals the twist you’ll only see coming if you pay attention to the cast order. It’s merely okay, though, and is a film that ultimately feels forgettable as nothing about it, from visuals to score, finds a home in your brain (and that includes ending with a weird music video during the end credits).
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