By Nicole Venetia
Rather than a triumphant return of one of horror’s greatest visionaries, Black glasses plays like a faded Xerox copy of director Dario Argento’s past hits.
To note: To accompany the release of this film, Nicole Veneto also wanted to salute two giallo classics that celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, All the colors of black and The Case of the Bloody Iris —Editor Bill Marx
Black glasses, directed by Dario Argento. Streaming on Frisson.
When someone tells you their favorite horror director is Dario Argento, it’s with the unspoken understanding that he hasn’t made a good movie in two decades. It is generally accepted that the Suspiria the director’s films fell in quality at the turn of the millennium, starting with his criticized interpretation The Phantom of the Opera in 1998. Others argue that this decline began once Argento began regularly casting his daughter – #MeToo crusader turned industry pariah Asia Argento – in starring roles from 1993 onwards. Trauma (not a bad movie, but watching a then-teenage Asia take off her top and make out with a nearly thirty-year-old Christopher Rydell is crazier than Jennifer Connelly swimming in a pool infested with maggots and corpses) .
Dario’s latest feature, a 3D adaptation by Bram Stoker Dracula starring the late Rutger Hauer, marked a depressing new low for the once-crowned Italian Hitchcock director. Whether Argento lost his directorial eye in old age or simply failed to bring his vision into the 21st century is up for debate, but based on his negative reaction to the masterful and fully realized interpretation. by Luca Guadagnino. Suspiria in 2018 (artistic fuse review), it’s fair to say that both are equally plausible. (It may be sacrilege on my part, but I think Guadagnino’s version Suspiria is better than Argento’s magnum opus. That’s a conversation for another day though.)
In 2022, Argento returns to the industry with a starring role in Gaspar Noé’s emotionally eviscerating dementia drama. Vortex (which I still need to see) as well as his first film in ten years. Premiering at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Black glasses (Occhiali Neri) sees Argento return to black glove basics. A return to his giallo roots, this film is a marked improvement over Dracula 3D, but that doesn’t mean much. Rather than a triumphant return of one of horror’s greatest visionaries, Black glasses plays like a faded Xerox copy of Argento’s past successes. At best, it’s a mediocre slasher that occasionally hints at the director’s former genius. At worst, it’s an uninspired attempt to recapture what made films like The bird with crystal plumage, Suspiriaand Darkness those formidable exercises in visceral yet aesthetically alluring terror.
The film opens promisingly enough with a crowd of park-goers admiring a solar eclipse, some muttering about ancient superstitions and omens while others note that “neither the sun nor death can be watched”. It’s a salient visual motif (albeit a bit on the nose) that sadly never held any narrative significance beyond signaling the twist of fate that befalls the heroine ten minutes later. Italian actress Ilenia Pastorelli plays Diana, a high-end sex worker whose life is turned upside down when she is blinded in a car accident caused by a modern-day Jack the Ripper chasing factory workers in Rome. Along with comically fidgeting occasionally to mimic blindness, Pastorelli does an adequate job in a role clearly intended for Argento’s daughter a decade ago. Instead, an almost unrecognizable Asia plays a stocky life counselor named Rita who helps Diana adjust to life in total darkness. Rounding out the cast is newcomer Xinyu “Andrea” Zhang as Chin, a ten-year-old Chinese boy whose parents were killed in the accident that took Diana’s sight.
Although the wreckage was caused by the killer chasing Diana in his white pest van, it was technically Diana’s car that killed Chin’s parents. Wracked with guilt for the collateral damage, Diana ends up taking on Chin as her new set of eyes despite a) already having a guide dog, Nerea the German Shepherd, and b) still being targeted by a wire-wielding psychopathic killer. of itchy razor finish the job on her. Argento has never been a fan of narrative logic – most of his films can be described as “strange things just occur.” Still, Black glasses works on such a childish level of common sense that pairing a small Chinese child with a blind prostitute works more like a downfall than the emotional core of a movie.
For example, the most confusing scene in the film sees Diana visiting Chin in a Catholic foster home in hopes of making amends for accidentally killing her mother and father in the crash. Now, this could be an emotionally moving moment between two very different individuals forced to come together under extraordinarily horrific circumstances. But this is d’Argento from the late period we’re talking about, so instead Diana gives Chin a Dollar Store version of the Nintendo Switch to reward his deceased family. Again, theoretically stranger things happened in an Argento film (Donald Pleasence’s chimpanzee in Phenomena anyone?), but if this scene accomplishes anything, it’s strictly comedic in nature. I actually had to pause the movie because my ribs hurt from laughing.
And then there’s the fact that a large part of Black glasses looks like an Argento fan movie emulating some of his greatest hits. The climax is simply the attack scene of a guide dog in Suspiria without any interesting camera. On that note, Matteo Cocco’s skillfully shot but lackluster cinematography blunts whatever visual fulfillment Argento might have imagined in his head. The production design also falls awfully short compared to the baroque heights reached in something like Dark red Where Hell. Even the occasional use of neon or chiaroscuro lighting does not save Black glasses to look like a cheap B-movie dumped on Netflix. What is Argento desperately needs is a skilled cinematographer who understands how essential cinematography is to a good giallo. If Marcell Rév isn’t too busy working on the next (and hopefully much better) season of Euphoria then Argento should really consider hitting him. Rév was already skilfully paying homage to Darknessthe famous shot of the crane with the break-in scene in a single take in Assassination Nation – which coincidentally opens with Ennio Morricone’s theme for Plumage. I’m sure a lot of great filmmakers would trip over themselves for the chance to shoot an Argento movie; the director deserves one who will not reduce his vision to a teflon facsimile of himself.
To be fair, Black glasses isn’t that bad. Kills are a gory delight of practical makeup effects reminiscent of Tom Savini’s work on Traumaand BPM Composer Arnaud Rebotini’s score channels John Carpenter trapped in a 90s European nightclub. If there’s anything to be learned from Black glasses it’s that the master of Italian horror hasn’t completely lost touch. The vision is still there, although it gradually fades over time.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with a master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, focusing on feminist media studies. His writings have been featured in MAY Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazineand Boston University hoochie reader. She is the co-host of the new Marvelous podcast! Or, the death of cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Substack.