‘Dario Argento Panico’ Review: When He Says ‘Cut,’ the Scene Begins

by The Technical Blogs

To document the singular life and extensive oeuvre of the revered Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, master of the horror-mystery genre known as giallo, would require many more than the 98 minutes allotted to “Dario Argento Panico.” Yet its director, Simone Scafidi, seems driven to try, assembling a seams-bursting tribute whose cacophony of voices — family, filmmakers and collaborators — threatens to obscure its most tantalizing insights.

Part career profile and part psychological exploration, “Panico” smoothly accomplishes the first but teases gold with the second. A lengthy discussion of Argento’s most celebrated films — especially “Suspiria” (1977), “Inferno” (1980) and “Tenebrae” (1982) — is followed by a swift glide over his later, lesser-known work. Throughout, Scafidi (whose 2019 biopic of Lucio Fulci proves he’s no stranger to bedeviled auteurs) presents Argento primarily as a visual artist, emphasizing the surreality of his images and the shadowy menace of his anonymous cityscapes.

“Everything in Argento’s movies is trying to kill you,” opines Guillermo del Toro, one of the documentary’s most valuable and perceptive contributors. Even more essential is Argento’s younger daughter, Asia, who began acting for her father at 16 and vividly illuminates the porous, unstable border between loving family man and emotionally volatile artist. In vintage interviews, Argento ponders this duality, the depression and suicidal thoughts that have influenced his work as thoroughly as his mother’s stylized photographs of movie divas informed the way he views women.

And it’s the women here — among them a sister, an ex-wife and former partners — whose faces and memories linger. At one point, Scafidi presses Cristina Marsillach, the luminous star of “Opera” (1987), to answer the question “Who is Dario Argento?”

“I don’t know,” she replies, as the camera loiters on her distress. It’s not the only moment in “Panico” that leaves us feeling there is so much more to tell.

Dario Argento Panico
Not rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on Shudder.

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