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By Jeremy Knox | August 15, 2004

What happened to Dario Argento? Of all the modern horror directors he was the most creative and artistic. Now look at him. It is with a profound sense of disappointment that I have to say this, but the movie sucks. It’s beneath him to be making such drek after so long a career. He’s better than this.

“Card Player” is yet another giallo in Argento’s repertoire. It’s about a serial killer in Rome who plays games with the police over the Internet. He kidnaps a girl and will kill her unless they play poker with him. Yes, you read that correctly. All the big tense scenes are built around games of freakin’ video poker. If they lose a hand, he cuts a piece off of her. If they lose a game, he kills her. However, if they win, he lets her go.

It stars Stefania Rocca as the detective who gets the killer’s email telling the police about his twisted game and Liam Cunningham as a forensics expert sent by the British consulate to help out the local law (since the first victim was an English tourist). Liam is easily the best thing in the movie and secured a full star for this review all by himself. He’s naturalistic and gives a nice respite from most of the turgid, dubbed performances.

Oh, and one little thing.

I know I haven’t been making movies for almost forty years like Dario, but may I make one little suggestion? Could we not have that tinny upbeat videogame music playing during a brutal murder scene? Thank you. There’s nothing like the sound of Super Mario Brothers to break my suspension of disbelief.

Argento’s strength always used to lie in three specific elements: The gore, the music and the cinematography. Well, the gore is non-existent, the music by Claudi Simonetti (of Goblin fame) is strangely subdued and the cinematography never jumps out from the screen except for one or two scenes and even then we’re far far away from the Argento of “Suspiria” fame.

So what does that leave us with? An okay story, a tepid and convoluted plot, no logic and silly dialogue. Of course, these were always the cornerstones of old Dario Argento films, just watch “Inferno” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just that twenty years ago he could make the movies work despite the flaws. Now, he’s got nothing to offset them with and the film sinks on the sheer weight of its mediocrity.

In the end it commits the worst kind of sin. It’s forgettable. This isn’t Argento, this reminds me nothing of the Argento we know. In fact, at times it almost looks like a parody of giallo. It’s just sad.

NOTE: I can’t end this review without mentioning the short film “Les
Drujes” which accompanied it during the FantAsia festival. Drujes was made by local filmmaker Izabel Grondin for probably not a lot of money. Despite the budget and short running time it manages to be moodier and more coherent than the Argento film. It even manages to beat Argento with a better musical score and cinematography. As I watched “The Card Player,” I kept thinking about how much kinder it would have been for everyone present to see a two hour version of this short and a fourteen minute version of Argento’s film.

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