Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

[TERROR AT THE] OPERA

OPERA (aka Terror at the Opera/1987). Director: Dario
Argento.

"Birds on stage! Back projection! Laser beams! This isn't an opera, it's an amusement park!'

An unseen soprano named Mara is trying to sing during a rehearsal of Verdi's MacBeth, when she is unnerved by the lousy "modern" production, as well as by a raven -- "it never takes its beady eyes off of me," she screams, "it's deliberately destroying my performance!" This is entirely possible in this strange movie in which Mara gets hit by a car and must be replaced by a younger soprano, Betty (Cristina Marsillach), a prospect she finds daunting. Worse Betty is tied up more than once by a maniac, has needles put under her eyes so she can't close them [supposedly, although this really wouldn't work], and is forced to watch as the stage manager, Stefano (William McNamara) and later the wardrobe mistress, Giulia (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), are savagely butchered. After the first disgusting murder, one would think Betty would screech for police protection, but all she does is make an anonymous phone call to the police. Most people would be terrified basket cases after their ordeal, but Marsillach only makes Betty seem somewhat upset, which is as much a problem of the script as it is of Marsillach's insufficient acting. Following the first murder, Betty talks calmly to the untalented director Marco (Ian Charleson) about her disappointing sex life and doesn't finally get around to, like, the assault and murder until later -- in other words, this is one of those movies in which the characters' actions make little sense. Other potential victims are the handsome Inspector Santini (Urbano Barberini), and Betty's agent, Mira (Daria Nicolodi); Barberini seems more like a male model in outsized glasses than a cop. Somebody who's just been given her first leading role as Betty has would probably not be able to afford such a gigantic apartment, but a bigger problem is the poor script, the lack of suspense, and the lack of any convincing motivation for the killings. True, there are some good scenes, such as when Betty and Mira are in the former's apartment and are not certain which cop is the real one, and which an impostor, and there's a clever murder in the middle of it, and the climax involving the aforementioned raven is interesting even if it goes on way too long. There are people who think Opera is some kind of art film, a masterpiece (probably people who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare's play or Verdi's opera), but despite some good scenes and touches, this really borders on schlock. Argento's best films have suspenseful and intriguing storylines, which Opera lacks. The operatic music in the background is a plus, but it only reminds one that what you're seeing is pretty much junk in comparison with Grand Opera. With its similarities to Phantom of the Opera, it's not surprising that Argento made a film of the same name later on.

Verdict: There are enough good things in this to make you wish Argento hadn't ultimately muffed it, but he would do worse. **1/2.

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