For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: 'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage' directed by Dario Argento, 1970
First off, allow me to apologize for the barrage of Terror Tuesday Reports this week. Circumstances beyond my control forced me to play catch up, but I did not want to let a week slip through the cracks this close to the end of the year.
Sam Dalmas is an American writer suffering from a crippling lack of inspiration. A good friend of his suggests traveling to Rome in the hopes that its beauty and, above all, serenity will get Sam's creative juices flowing again. After all, he jests, nothing ever happens in Rome. But while walking by an art studio one night, Sam witnesses an attempted murder and is inadvertently caught up in the investigation. It turns out this is merely the most recent incident in a string of brutal, unsolved murders that have the city in a panic. Concerned that he may be the prime suspect, Sam sets out to solve the case and clear his own name.
'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage' carries a certain amount of clout based on its director: Dario Argento. This is the first feature film for Argento and I would argue one of his very best. I adore Argento, but I would not begrudge anyone who faulted him for being a bit self-indulgent from time to time. Though typically, the arena best suited for his wild flights of exorbitance is that of the supernatural. When the laws of this world no longer hold sway, that's when he tends to lose his mind. But what's so great about 'Bird with the Crystal Plumage' is that it is a very straight-forward giallo. For those unfamiliar, giallos were Italian thrillers based on murder mystery paperbacks with yellow covers; giallo being the Italian word for yellow. There are a few recurring themes that pop up including black leather gloves, menacing phone calls, and a wide assortment of sharp objects filmed with an almost fetishistic lens; all alive and well in this film.
When forced to work within the confines of reality, Argento manages to create a thriller that nearly rivals Hitchcock. The ordinary man in the extraordinary situation, the playful cinematography, and the utilization of iconic theme music all smack of the Master of Suspense. But the inclusion of outlandish ancillary characters and bizarre story elements still manage to grant the film a dream-like tint. While this proves an asset throughout the majority of the film, it gets a bit long-winded near the end. When our hero is chasing the figure he knows to have kidnapped his girlfriend, the urgency of the situation should overshadow the temptation to film each scene with upwards of two dozen superfluous shots. We see him in the hall, the stairs he must climb, him again, the stairs, the wall beside him, the stairs again, the banister, now a different step, etc, etc, etc. It is what really defuses the climax of the film and forces a lull in the pacing.
But overall, a superb horror film that showcases how Argento earned his reputation as one of the greats. I mentioned it in passing earlier, but the music in 'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage' is fantastic. And by all rights the score to this film ought to be impressive considering it was written by none other than Ennio Morricone. It is a strangely upbeat, child-like chorus that hints at a truly disturbed villain. If the tune sounds familiar, as well as the scene it underscores in which the killer takes pictures of lovely ladies, it's because it was ''creatively appropriated" by Quentin Tarantino when Stuntman Mike takes pictures of his latest flock of victims in 'Death Proof'. I also love the scene wherein our hero is charged with picking the killer out of a lineup of degenerates and the detective hollers, "bring in the perverts!"
Lars Nilsen once again led the madness for this Terror Tuesday. His unique sense of humor was particularly on point this evening. I also enjoyed how the print was labeled with the film's alternate title: 'The Phantom of Terror.' Beyond that, this was a rather disappointing evening. A significant portion of the audience had decided that this was the night to get drunk and disorderly prior to the screening. The auditorium stirred with inappropriate chatter, catcalls at all female characters, and idiotic comments. Thankfully, most of these matters were dealt with by the uncompromising Alamo staff, but this kind of thing is so rare at the Drafthouse that when it does occur, it is quite bothersome.