Dario Argento’s “The Card Player” is not his best work. In fact, there were times I thought it had to be someone else’s film. I wasn’t disappointed by it, but nor was I thrilled. If anything, it’s going to be hard for him to top “The Stendhal Syndrome,” despite the fact that many critics and fans disliked it. (It’s actually my favorite film of his, though.)
Argento has inspired plenty of directors around the world, including America’s very own Quentin Tarantino, and I think this admiration is rightly gained. When at the top of his form, Argento is amazing; his vision as unique as David Lynch’s, but with more passion. People expect a lot of him, and knowing what the man can deliver, I say fans have a right. After all, how many other directors could have made “Suspiria”?
One thing that I’ve always found interesting about Argento and his legacy is that many American horror fans have only heard of his movies. They don’t go out of their way to see them even though they are genre classics. I hear the usual excuses from these people; they don’t like them because they are foreign films or can’t tell what they are about from the front of the rental box. Hell, I even had one horror fan tell me, “If Jason or Freddy isn’t in it, I’m not interested.”
That’s kind of sad.
The first Argento film I watched was “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.” I’ll admit that I wasn’t too impressed with it at first. There was an odd quality to the film that seemed to keep me as a viewer at a distance … or so it seemed. The more I played over the images in my mind, however, the more I realized I had been sucked in against my will. I rented it again two weeks later and ended up loving it. After watching more of his films, I’ve come to think that he is one of the few directors to really put you into the death of a character. In other movies you merely witness it. In an Argento film, you experience it with them.
Fans of Argento know I’m not really saying anything new here. They all feel the same way, as do his peers who admire him. Special effects wizard Tom Savini is quoted in Alan Jones’ spectacular book “Profondo Argento: The Man, the Myths, and the Magic” as saying, “I liked Dario immediately because there were clearly no wagons hitched to him and his weren’t attached to anything else either. He was a unique individual. He still is.” All of that is true, but it comes with a price.
Argento has been described as hard to get along with, and it has been said that he has no respect for actors. There are some people who have even more unpleasant things to say about him, but that is the cost of being a genius. Being temperamental and misunderstood often come with the territory. That said, there are still plenty of actors who love working with the man, and many others who would jump at the chance.
In a world where Hollywood horror movies are predominately PG-13, we need Dario Argento. His films, even the bad ones, never really let us off the hook like so many other movies do. When he presents his thrillers or horror spectacles, you know you’re getting on a ride where anything can happen (and usually does). You know that what you are seeing isn’t necessarily what is really happening, and you’ll love him for it. That’s what makes him a master of the genre and someone like Wes Craven seem tired and stale.
When Argento finally stops making films, the entire art form will be diminished somewhat. But until that happens, we know that any film that has his name on it as director, while not always being a hit, will at least be more exciting and artistic than “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” And any horror fan worth his or her weight in gold should know enough to respect that. If you don’t … well, enjoy “Jason X.”
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