So, has Dario Argento finally made a real comeback? Is it any good? Yes, he has, and yes it is.

Just in case you don’t know with whom we are dealing, the briefest possible summary of Dario Argento’s track record is in order. During the 1970s, he became the undisputed maestro of Italian Giallo and horror films with then-hits-now-classics like Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Suspiria, on the way accumulating fortunes and establishing himself both as a national treasure and an icon of popular culture worldwide. By the mid-eighties, however, his films stopped drawing the kind of crowds they used to in Italy, and abroad they were rarely given theatrical releases. Most foreign screenings were reserved for festivals only where diehard fans discussed the good bits then in private shook their heads in sorrow. Not one to rest on his laurels the idiosyncratic Argento nevertheless kept going and also diversified by directing big-budget operas and luxurious fashion shows. In one, he had models walk the runway under an artificial thunderstorm, the water pouring down just like during the opening of Suspiria. Applause and outrage in equal measures.

In 2021, the director unexpectedly appeared as an actor in Gaspar Noe’s old age dementia drama Vortex, surprising everyone, critics included, with a touching performance. The upswing continued this year with the appearance of the long-awaited Occhiali Neri / Dark Glasses, touted as a return to his real Giallo roots. In Italy, it did reasonably good box office, but at FrightFest, where I saw the film, it was going to naturally elicit a different kind of reaction. It wasn’t obviously seen as a multiplex crowdpleaser, despite the extreme gore on offer, as regular cinemagoers there obviously have ‘keine ahnung’ who Argento is.

Dark Glasses Film Review 2022

Dark Glasses focuses on Diana, a luxury call girl targeted by a serial killer terrorizing prostitutes in Rome. Driving madly to escape the maniac giving chase she crashes her car. Waking up in a hospital the woman finds out she’s otherwise ok but due to a heavy blow to the head has permanently lost her sight. This upsetting fact doesn’t keep her from resuming her profitable career once she’s out and about. Of course, the killer means not to give up his work either and intends to finish what he started, so the deadly hide-and-seek game begins anew.

The story does contain the requisite plot holes we have come to expect and a sort of love from the director. After all these decades, he has actually come up with a mostly coherent and tightly plotted narrative, although that doesn’t suddenly lapse into absurdities. This time, there are no severed heads whispering one last important clue which leads to the discovery of the murderer. Also, all performances are solid. Ileana Pastorelli as the blinded lead has the cold mannequin-style allure needed for the part and she dons the dark glasses with panache. Asia Argento – one of the two daughters of the director, an actor, and a director in her own right – may not yet have been able to redeem herself from the me-too scandal she was recently involved in. but here she does a very good job as the social worker sent to help Diana to cope. Most amazing is the child actor Andrea Zhang, playing the kid of the people who died in the car crash near the beginning. Usually, it’s not a good sign to see any child co-starring in any film, Damien of The Omen being one of the few exceptions, but this kid somehow doesn’t irritate one bit.

The all-important look of the film? Visually, Dark Glasses isn’t quite as seductive as his early work. Interiors seem somewhat drab compared to the sleek bachelorette pads right out of Domus magazine seen in Four Flies. The same goes with the fashions. There was nobody in the payroll in the league of Giorgio Armani who provided the frocks and spectacular shoulder pads for Phenomena, so the clothes do nothing much to the eye. Still, the Argento Look that defined his style during his prime is certainly back. The widescreen compositions impress and the pow (point of view) camera slides along corridors and up the walls the way it should. Throbbing colors abound as well. The music by Arnaud Rebotini is great, a timeless synth score, icy, moody and menacing.

Dark Glasses FrightFest

What about the murders and the sex then? For a Giallo, the murder scenes are almost the whole raison d’être. They have to be executed with the utmost care and with leering, fetishistic relish. Political correctness cannot exist in these films. Argento himself once said that in a film it’s more attractive to have a sexy beautiful woman killed than a man. It, therefore, comes as a surprise that the best setpiece in Dark Glasses is not a traditional stalk-and-slash sequence, yet it is a shocker. Coming late in the film, it’s staged in an eerily lit forest shrouded in fog where Diana and the kid she has befriended flee the approaching killer. The long scene climaxes with possibly the most intense segment in any Argento film, all the more effective for not being triggered by a typical jump scare. I confess gasping for air and having my toes curl in alarm. At the screening I attended, a couple of people actually screamed, which sounded quite genuine.

The kills themselves aren’t that plentiful, but they jolt when they happen. Like I wrote before, this film doesn’t skimp on the gore. Blood gushes from gaping throat wounds. There are shootings, vicious stabbings, and multiple garrottings with a wire. It’s not the unhinged bloodbath of The Sadness, but there’s enough to make you want to pat Dario on the shoulder.

As for sex, there really isn’t any apart from a few brief interludes involving the puttane but we do get the minimum amount of nudity needed for this kind of film to be respectable. So, what we do have is a prime example of a Giallo reborn. Get the Blu-ray when it comes out, which should likely be any day now. And, if you haven’t already, do buy the new Diabolik on disc too. It kicks off with a wonderful big-budget homage to the Argento aesthetic. Plus, it’s a bloody good film.

We watched Dark Glasses (2022) as part of FrightFest

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