*** out of ****
As the opening credits for "Opera" begin to roll, we get a glimpse of a black bird, a Raven; perched somewhere in an Opera House. We learn that they serve somewhat of a purpose in the production that is at work down below - Shakespeare's "Macbeth" - although if we learned anything from Edgar Allen Poe, we learned that Ravens are instantaneously a sign of danger, or even death. Both are the case in the context of the film; which is one of the last good, watchable movies from the famed, beloved Italian-born master of horror, Dario Argento.
The lead of the in-film Macbeth production is a shy - but talented - young woman named Betty (Christina Marsillach). She is given the role when the original leading lady is unexpectedly injured at random when she's hit by a car; forcing her to become hospitalized since it is mainly her leg that has been fractured. The production director and all those who work alongside him are initially somewhat skeptical of how Betty will do as the replacement actress - and she's crossing her fingers along with them - but much to their surprise, she does quite well, wows the audience, and by the end has herself some adoring fans.
Too bad her biggest fan turns out to be a deranged serial killer! One-by-one, the villain assaults and murders Betty's friends and co-workers. Since this is normally a boring plot element, Argento adds a twist; in the form several needles that are stuck to a piece of tape and placed under Betty's eye when the killer ties her up, thus forcing her to watch as her friends are slaughtered alive. The killer explains that if she closes her eyes, then she can wave goodbye to both of them.
However, the killer seems to derive pleasure from Betty's fear and emotional deterioration. There are several scenes in which he ties her up and puts the tape on; but every time, he never makes an attempt to kill her. It's implied that perhaps the killer is targeting Betty for reasons at first unknown; which means that all shall be revealed in one of Argento's classy twist endings. And while it's hardly one of the best endings Argento has pulled out of the hat; "Opera" is still a wild, deceptive ride. In my opinion, it has all the bare essentials of a good mystery; a plot that keeps the open-minded viewers involved, characters that - while somewhat under-developed and difficult to remember after the movie has been experienced - come off as decent regardless, with the only real twist being the pleasures of Argento's signature visual stylistics.
Through the pitch-perfect combination of what we hear (music) and what we see (the visuals of the film); Argento is able to work with the story and use it as a vehicle for his artistic ventilation. Thematically, Argento doesn't try anything terribly new here; but it's just so goddamn beautiful to look at, to hear, and to experience that you lose the ability to care very quickly indeed. "Opera" demanded my attention and I gladly gave it just that; an early Argento feature, after all, is almost always worth it.
But of course, the film has its minor - and major - drawbacks. In spite of being a delightfully bloody and grotesque visual feast of artistry in a genre that often lacks just that; the plot doesn't always hold up as well as we might want it to, and the film sort of goes over-the-top and beyond within the last ten minutes, which were, in my opinion, just plain unnecessary. Entertaining, just like the rest of the movie; but unnecessary. Also, the acting isn't anything particularly special either; although I'm thankful that it was at least competent and watchable. As usual, attention to detail takes center stage over any real human beings; but I've come to expect that from Argento, so I was not surprised.
The kills are fantastic, the cinematography is beautiful, the gore effects are remarkable, the blood is plentiful, the suspense and build-up is genuinely impressive, Claudio Simonetti's score is energetic and off-kilter, the mystery at the center of the story is thought-out with much skill and consideration, and overall; this is another 80's Argento offering that isn't great; but is nonetheless quite good. If you aren't the director's biggest fan, then you'll probably think differently; but I stick to what entertains me, and among other things, I find Italian horror films with gore and style to boot especially attractive. They may not be critical favorites, but they are often creepy and satisfactory to those who like them the most. If you're like me and you consider yourself to be a part of the Argento-faithful; then you might just want to see "Opera". Good, bad; it's got a voice, and there's no denying that.