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VINE VOICEon May 28, 2008
I've always loved a good mystery. Last year I became a diehard fan of Italian gialli. They usually involve an unknown assailant, dressed in black, who is killing his/her victims in uniquely gruesome manners while accompanied by a great soundtrack. Dario Argento revolutionized the giallo with his highly successful directorial debut, "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage." What followed was the Italian giallo craze where every popular film director such as Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Emilio P. Miraglia imitated Argento's work. Many of them went so far as to give their gialli animal titles such as "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin" and "The Bloodstained Butterfly."

In the mid to late seventies, Argento directed supernatural horror such as his masterpiece, "Suspiria." eventually, Argento returned to his giallo roots. (Praise the Lord!) What follows is a compilation of his more recent gialli. I will review them in the order of which they were released.

Tenebre (1982) *****

This is the first time I've seen "Tenebre" and my main reason for buying the collection. And I wasn't disappointed. "Tenebre" is pure, 100% Italian giallo. It is the best giallo in this collection. "Tenebre" reminded me a lot of Argento`s earlier gialli, "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" and "Deep Red," in that someone witnesses a murder and they are mistaken as to what they actually saw. There is also a tremendous amount of stabbing and hacking done with knife and ax, respectively. Furthermore, someone's traumatic past comes back to haunt them and motivate them to murder again and again. There are plenty of suspects and red herrings. Never a dull moment.

In "Tenebre," the body count is gloriously high and mostly beautiful women are the victims. Some of the scenes appeared to be taken directly from Mario Bava's slasher fest, "Bay of Blood." Indeed, Lamberto Bava, son of Mario Bava, was an assistant director on "Tenebre."

"Tenebre" boasts a great musical soundtrack provided by Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante and a great cast that includes one of my favorite actors, John Saxon; he has been in numerous box office horror hits including the original "Black Christmas," "A Nightmare on Elm Street, Parts I and III" and "Cannibal Apocalypse."

"Tenebre's" plot is a reflection of Dario Argento's career; his life was once threatened by a fan when he was in Las Angeles. In "Tenebre," a best-selling author of mystery Peter Neal (played by Anthony Franciosa of "Death Wish 2") is harangued by reporters accusing his work of being sexist and exploitative of women. Argento was criticized in the same manner. Also, the author is sent threatening letters each time a serial killer murders a woman. Daria Nicolodi who has been in numerous Argento films plays Anne, Neal's secretary. John Saxon is Bullmer, Neal's agent.

If you are a fan of Dario Argento, you must add "Tenebre" to your collection. It is one of the best gialli ever made.

"Phenomena" (1984) *****

This was the first Dario Argento movie I ever saw. I enjoyed it tremendously though I saw the heavily edited American version, "Creepers." Indeed, this movie was very creepy. Insects give me the creeps. I never could get this movie, or the name of the director, out of my mind.

I rented it on a weekend in the mid eighties, along with the high body count shocker, "Sleepaway Camp," and took it over to my cousin's house to watch. It's a wonder I didn't have nightmares watching these two creep fests back to back.

"Phenomena" stars a very young, very beautiful, and very talented Jennifer Connelly; since then she has starred in a host of hits that includes "Waking the Dead, "House of Sand and Fog," "Inventing the Abbots," and the horror hit, "Dark Water." Donald Pleasance of "Halloween" fame and Daria Nicolodi ("Deep Red" and "Inferno") also star. Nicolodi was Dario Argento's long time girlfriend and mother of their daughter, Asia. If you haven't noticed, Argento likes to keep his relatives employed in his movies. His other daughter, Fiore, also has a minor, but very important, role in "Phenomena" as Vera Brandt; she is the Danish tourist who is the first in the movie to be depicted as a victim of the serial killer.

"Phenomena" is a favorite of mine. It combines elements of "Carrie," "Deep Red," and "Suspiria." Jennifer Connelly is Jennifer Corvino who has a supernatural gift. She is able to communicate with insects and they sometimes come to her aid, especially when she is being tormented by her classmates. When she sleepwalks, Jennifer also shares a psychic bond with someone (or something) who is murdering her classmates. And someone wearing black gloves is committing more murders in order to protect this creature. This film has a lot of action and suspense. And the body count is high! Also, the soundtrack is awesome. It has numerous songs from several heavy metal bands. The fact that it was shot on location in the beautiful Swiss Alps doesn't hurt either. It is a must see for all fans of Italian gialli and supernatural horror.

Trauma (1993) ***

"Trauma" bares many similarities to Argento's masterpiece "Deep Red," one of the most superior Italian gialli ever made. The most gruesome scene in "Deep Red" is the slow decapitation death of the serial killer when a chain is slowly pulled through their neck. This scene is repeated many times in "Trauma" when the black-gloved killer, known in the newspapers as "The Headhunter," leisurely decapitates their victims with mechanically operated piano wire. The viewer learns that the killer suffered an act of "trauma" that propelled them to seek vengeance in this gruesome manner.

Asia Argento is a bulimic who must hunt for the person responsible for beheading her two parents. Laurie Piper (who played Carrie White's mother in "Carrie") is excellent as Asia's bizarre mom who is performing a séance on the night she loses her head. Christopher Rydell is the young man who risks everything in order to help Asia track down the serial killer before they can kill their last victims. Fiore Argento has an un-credited cameo appearance as a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital.

"Trauma" takes a serious departure from reality when a decapitated head utters the name of a doctor before "dying" and another head screams as it falls down an elevator shaft. This last scene was almost comical in its implausibility. However, this modern giallo does offer some mystery and suspense even if the murders are repetitious. A nice rock n' roll score would've helped. Perhaps a score from "Talking Heads?"

Card Player (2004) ****

With "The Card Player," the Italian giallo enters the computer age. Argento said poker is an excellent metaphor for life; he spent a great deal of time researching card games and computer technology. He gives us a black-gloved maniac who likes to mutilate and kill his victims while the police watch helplessly via the internet web cam.

Excellent performances are given by Stefannia Rocca and Liam Cunningham. The beautiful Rocca is the no nonsense, professional Italian police investigator who falls in love with Cunningham even though she claims that she ". . . Never mixes business with pleasure." Cunningham is a rogue Bristish police investigator who has an Irish brogue and drinks too much. If you're a fan of werewolf movies, you've seen him in the excellent "Dog Soldiers." Fiore Argento also costars as the police commissioner's daughter who is kidnapped by the Card Player.

"The Card Player" is very suspenseful, especially in the scenes where the serial killer is playing live on-line poker with the police. I feel just as helpless and stressed as the lead characters. Sometimes, I wanted to scream to release the tension. Claudio Simonetti of Goblin has scored many of Argento's gialli. In "The Card Player" he provides a pounding techno score that is superior to that of Argento's masterpiece "Deep Red." It made me want to hit the dance floor and get down like I haven't done in years.

Unfortunately, because I have seen so many Italian gialli, I was able to correctly identify the killer very soon and ascertain their motive. However, this did not prevent me from enjoying the movie.

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) ***

Argento grew up reading Edgar Allen Poe stories and watching Alfred Hitchcock movies. He is often referred to as the "Italian Hitchcock." It only seems appropriate that he would make a movie in homage to his idol. Half the fun of watching "Do You Like Hitchcock?" is finding the scenes that are reminiscent to such movies as "Strangers on a Train," "Dial M for Murder," and "Psycho." In the film, the walls of a video store are plastered with Hitchcock movie posters.

Perhaps Argento, as a young man, saw himself as Giulio, a nerdy film student with an overactive imagination. Giulio also has a penchant for spying on his neighbors; he is often caught in the act and chased away while being verbally threatened with death. One evening, a neighbor lady is murdered and he suspects that her daughter conspired with another girl to have her killed.

"Do You Like Hitchcock?" is a direct to video release. It was originally filmed to air on Italian television as a seven-part series made in homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Lacking big name stars, it has a subdued, made for television feel. The body count is low and the gore and sex are kept to a minimum. The only graphic murder scene is when the neighbor has her head bludgeoned with a candlestick holder. This movie lacks real suspense. The "twist ending" was disappointing.

Of the five movies in the collection, "Do You Like Hitchcock?" is the weakest. It should have been titled "Do You Like Peeping Toms?" Too much emphasis was placed on the lead character's habitual voyeurism. Despite all that happens to him, he never learns his lesson.

Overall, the Dario Box Set is a wonderful collection of Argento's latest works from Anchor Bay. Having preordered it from FYE during a special sale, I paid less for it than some single out of print DVDs. It was worth the money for "Tenebre" and "Phenomena," which I didn't own and had never seen in their original uncut releases. The other three features were considered bonus discs. Unfortunately, the five discs do not have individual slim jewel cases like the Mario Bava collections. Instead, they are placed practically one on top of the other inside a metal box as though they were discs in a box collection belonging to a television series for a single season. There are no inserts. However, each disc is loaded with numerous extras. I wouldn't throw away or sell any individual releases that you may have in your collection. If you are like me and lack "Tenebre" or "Phenomena," or you are a new fan of Dario Argento, I strongly recommend this collection.
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on June 29, 2008
These are not, by any means, the five essential Argento films; of them, the only ones that may make a top five list are Tenebre and Phenomena. However, all five are given first class treatment in terms of presentation, and Tenebre and Phenomena are both the special edition discs released individually at the same time as this collection. The features are acceptable, but the films speak for themselves: Argento is one of the essential progenitors of modern horror, speaking with a unique style and voice. His work is pulp, yes, but it's elegant pulp, placing him in league with Carpenter, Romero, and Craven. They're genre films, but they're good ones.

Special note: Phenomena is far and away the best of these five. It is notable as an Argento classic, as an early Jennifer Connelly film, as a non-Halloween Donald Pleasence picture, and as one of the most delightfully (and most twisted) unpredictable thrillers I've ever seen. It's a slasher flick, a supernatural fantasy, and the ending hangs it squarely in a third horror sub-genre that I wouldn't dare reveal here. If you don't buy the set, buy the Phenomena special editon. If you're interested enough to read this far, trust me: it's worth it.
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on June 7, 2008
This is a great 5 dvd collection of Dario Argento's films. It comes in a very nice slim tin holder. This could be a primer for new Argento fans. If you love Italian cinema Argento films are a must!! Tenebre and Phenomena are the headliners here. Tenebre was unavailable on dvd for quite a few years and demanded top dollar on eBay ( I paid $35.00). Tenebre and Phenomena are my favorite films in this collection and Tenebre is my favorite Argento film next to Suspiria. Trauma is decent and boasts some great performances. The Card Player is tense and well-made. Do You Like Hitchcock? is very good considering it was made for Italian TV. All have been remastered and cool extras. Oh and I have to mention Argento has a penchant for having some of the best soundtrack music too!! Pick this set up you will not be disappointed. Then pick up all of his other films too!!!
Can't wait for his newer one to hit dvd, Mother Of Tears! I get to see it in the theatres late June : )
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on June 24, 2008
This box set is totally worth it. Tenebre is the jewel of the crown , but the four other films are really underrated. I've always been fascinated with Jennifer Connelly's performance in Phenomena and Argento's artistic risks are great and profound. The Card Player is not typical Argento shock and gore, but a thriller with gore and plot. I've seen Trauma many times and it has always been ignored and slandered. However, can't ignore Asia Argento's presence. Finally, Do You Like Hitchcock ? is the biggest suprise of all, I really digged it, This film is a total homage to Hitchcock films and if you have seen Hitchcock, this movie will bring a big smile to your heart.
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on April 12, 2006
I love horror movies...just can't get enough of them, so when The Card Player became available on dvd, and being a Dario Argento film I had to add it to my collection.

It was not as much of a horror, but a thriller. There was much more implied horror/gore, than visual effects.

The movie is about a serial killer who taunts the police by an on-line poker game, known only as "the card player"...you lose the game the victim dies, pure and simple.

There are some twists to the plot and a couple of gore effects but these are few and far between.

If you are looking for the blood and gore of horror you will fall short in this movie. If you are looking for a thriller in the Hitchcock flare then I would highly recommend viewing this one.

For the die hard Argento fans you really should add this one to your collection if not rent or borrow from someone.

"Argento outdoes himself! A very tense thriller...highly recommended!"-DVD TImes
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VINE VOICEon September 8, 2008
Folks may gripe about Argento's output over the last decade or so, but he certainly hasn't lost the knack for a good concept. I don't expect another Deep Red or Tenebre, and why should I? With a ton of great movies under your belt over more than 30 years, not everything is gonna be primo.
Do You Like Hitchcock? is a little murder mystery Argento made for Italian television. No, it's not the most original of concepts because the whole theme is based on another director's ideas. But at the same time, that's also what makes it original. It's both an homage as well as an Argento film.
The film follows a kind of dorky film student(is there any other kind?) who becomes suspicious of a sexy neighbor. At a local video store he witnesses a meeting between his neighbor and another attractive woman who both come to rent the Hitchcock film, Strangers On A Train. He suspects that these two woman have come to a similar arrangement as the two male characters in the Hitchcock film(and if you haven't seen Strangers On A Train, shame on you!). And in the Argento(and Hitchcock) tradition, our protagonist plays detective and snoops and spies, getting in over his head when he finds out that there is indeed a murder plot going on. No one believes him of course and he finds himself a target.
This is a relatively common type of scenario with Argento, but this time the Hitchcock influence is cited. It's the actual catalyst for the mystery. Argento also mixes in a bit of Rear Window and even a tad of Vertigo. For a made for T.V. movie, it's very above average. Not as violent as the average Argento film, but it is a bit bloody for the first murder. Like I said before, don't go expecting Deep Red, but Argento fans should get a bit of a kick out of it.
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VINE VOICEon February 17, 2006
I love old school horror movies, so I'm obviously a big fan of Dario Argento. They simply don't make horror movies the way they used to, and Argento has been faithful to this credo. Remember when rated R movies earned their rating, unlike the bubblegum-edited R-rated movies of today? Sadly, the "Card Player" is barely watchable, and it shows us Argento being "experimental" (to his standards) by showing us a laughable script, even more ridiculous acting, and a soundtrack that is mind-blowingly bad. The premise is the oh-so-chilling concept of online poker where the killer disposes of someone if the cops lose (the killer plays online with the police). Of course, the cops lose in the beginning and the people die: not that you would know other than their screaming and wailing. That's pretty much it in terms of plot. The acting is atrocious, but this is forgivable as thespianism has never been a strong point of Argento's films. Which leads me to the music. WOW, is this bad. Argento claims in an interview on this DVD that he wanted "techno" music in the score. Sorry, Mr. Argento, but as a techno music fan I can confidently say this is most definitely NOT techno. This is a Britney Spears trance nightmare hosted at the MTV music awards. Nothing takes away the suspense of being hand-cuffed to a train track than having to hear Italo-disco blaring away in the background. This doesn't make a movie "modern", it simply makes it annoying and just like every other run-of-the-mill schlock flick.
We come to expect quality from Argento and, admittedly, I have expectations when I sit down to watch one of his films. Perhaps this is unfair. The "Card Player" has none of the things that Argento fans love to see. Where is the blood and gore? Is this not an Argento film? Where are the fascinating color arrangements and other-worldly dialogue we're accustomed to? I don't depend on having to see blood sprays in order to be scared, but come on, is this not why we love Argento and his movies? I completely appreciate Argento wanting a change of pace and to try something new, but I hope this is just a phase. He didn't gain his popularity for editing himself and certainly didn't garner our respect for inexcusable flops like the "Card Player".
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on August 26, 2005
The movie started off ok and has a good premise to work with, but my wife's comments sum this movie up perfectly. "I feel like I walked out of the room and came back to a completely crappy movie." I agree with some of the other comments made as well. Some of the oddball characters tend to distract from the movie even when it is still worth watching. The ending and everything leading up to the ending was horrible. There just came a turning point while watching this movie that there was no way it could save itself.

I also agree with the sound factor. The entire cast seems to mumble through lines and the sound needs to be turned up during conversations, and then immediately turned back down when the music kicks in, etc.

I love horror/thriller movies. I even love cheesy B movies. This movie fails to fall in to either category for me.
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on August 23, 2005
Definately not one of Argento's best films unfortunately. I was very excited to get this movie today on its first day of release because I am a big Argento fan but I think he strays away from everything that made him so good in the first place. It was all to predictable. He has some really absurd characters like the coroner and the computer genius trying to catch the killer. The characters speak really bad english and the sound is terrible. You have to concetrate to listen because of this or you might miss something. And the Goblin sountrack is nothing like the one in Dawn of the Dead or Demons. All in all I think it is a bad effort. I feel he needs to get back to his roots like in his other classic movies Demons, Suspiria and Tenebre.
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on January 29, 2007
I'm very surprised to see some of the positive reviews this has gotten and I feel it's a duty to offer an honestly negative counterpoint for anyone considering spending money on this who might have high expectations based on Dario Argento's reputation (though I expect some uncritical fans will consider this sort of thing sacrilege and hit the not helpful button immediately). Argento's best work from the 70s in both the giallo and the supernatural horror genres is truly some of my favorite filmmaking of all time, which makes the undeniable decline in quality of his work since Opera all the more painful. I actually, despite their failings, do like certain things about Stendahl Syndrome and Sleepless (and the subsequent Do You Like Hitchcock?); the Card Player, however, just falls short in too many different ways to ignore and make any excuses for.

There are very few striking visual flourishes here, almost none of the amazing camerawork and staging that mark Argento's classics; the look of the film is strangely generic and undistinctive, without the strong personality and drive Argento used to convey through his material. The violence here lacks the truly inspired perverse qualities that characterize many of the classic murders and extreme outbursts driving earlier films. The acting by the female lead is compromised by her obviously limited abilities with English, which extends to other members of the cast; the dialogue is not particularly well written but far worse when rendered badly by non-native speakers (though the guy who I think is actually English doesn't actually fare much better). There are numerous scenes throughout that are even poorly staged and ineptly exected and only two that strike me as genuinely suspenseful in any way; where other Argento films have a hypnotic dreamlike rhythm, this film just feels clumsy and meandering. The ending is weak and the cumulative impact of the film on the viewer is about none at all. As a police procedural by anybody, this does not compare favorably with other much better films in a fairly crowded field; if anything, it feels like a made for TV production or an extended R-rated episode of a routine cop show.

Like many people, I keep hoping for a return to form from Dario (Terza Madre anyone?). With almost every project, rumors fly that this one is the one. Well, the Card Player definitely was not it. If you are a fan of Argento's past work, better to skip this completely.
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