"I think it's unwise to use movies as a guide for reality. Don't you, Inspector?"
After the demanding lead singer of a new opera production of Verdi's Macbeth is injured in an accident, her young understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach) opens the show to rave reviews. But trouble is only just beginning behind the scenes of this "cursed opera," as Betty becomes the plaything of a murderer. He repeatedly ties her up and tapes rows of needles under her eyelids so she can't blink, forcing her to watch as he murders her friends and colleagues. Strangely, these killings echo the nightmares Betty had as a child after her mother died – nightmares of a sinister man in a black hood. Could the killer be the demanding director Marco (Ian Charleston), who made his name directing ghoulish horror films? Or maybe it's her agent, Mira (Daria Nicolodi), always eager to drum up publicity? Can handsome Inspector Santini (Urbano Barberini) uncover Betty's connection to the killer?
The consensus among many horror and giallo fans seems to be that after a brilliant run of early works, the quality of Dario Argento's films has slowly declined. I strongly disagree and will enthusiastically hold up many of his middle-period films from the 1980's against some of his earlier, more highly regarded gialli. Opera (a giallo paraphrase of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom Of the Opera) is an excellent example, proving that, while he likes to return to certain story elements, he never stopped innovating new visual and narrative devices. Here we're treated to a bird's eye camera swooping dramatically through a theater, a perspective looking up from the bottom of a drain, disorienting 180-degree camera rotations, and a chilling visual "pulse" effect as the killer stalks his prey. Who but Argento could come up with that? Most importantly, though, I find that Argento's middle period films - and especially Opera - have a more mature complexity, mixed in with the giddy anarchic fun of someone who loves making scary movies.
- The soundtrack is a fantastic mix of grand opera, moody synthesizers, and speed metal.
- You will never see a movie with more POV and steadycam shots than Opera.
- The sound effects are also a highlight of the film. From the croaking ravens to the sound of scissors ripping through a woman's sternum, the audio mix is incredibly visceral.
- Just as he did in Four Flies on Gray Velvet and Deep Red, Argento uses the "opening the curtain" effect as Betty storms through the theater after an attack.
- From behind a closed door we hear (but don't see) Betty's young neighbor get smacked by her surley mother. It still counts as a "woman slapped in the face."
Let's say you've just knocked out your assailant while your friend is tied up nearby. Any sane person would: 1.) untie your friend 2.) unmask the killer 3.) grab the gold bracelet that the killer was after 4.) run for your life and call the police. Unfortunately, for some reason Giulia chose to: 1.) go for the bracelet first 2.) unmask the killer 3.) get murdered when the killer springs back to life.
Here's another infuriating situation: After narrowly surviving an attack by a killer who is clearly targeting her, Betty goes home, blinds herself with eye drops, and then leaves the front door ajar when someone on the intercom claims to be her police escort. This moment of stupidity, however, leads to one of the best sequences Dario Argento ever filmed. Someone is in the house and someone else is banging on the front door. Both claim to be the police, but one is the killer. It's a fantastic piece of suspense, lit by pulsing colored lights in the style of Blood and Black Lace.
Betty is saved from the killer by a Deus Ex Machina in the form of a voyeuristic ragamuffin neighbor girl who likes to crawl around the building through the air conditioning ducts.
Why is there a tank of gasoline in the music library? There's also a life-sized, fully-clothed mannequin stashed in the corner, so I suppose the killer could have planted everything there ahead of time.
Betty's Lady Macbeth costume exemplifies the opera production: loud, jarring, gaudy, and anachronistic.
The costume is also a major plot point. When the killer tears it to shreds, he inadvertently starts a chain of events leading to his own capture.