Monday, 26 June 2017

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Argento Debut on Arrow

The birth of a horror master, and it was a good birth.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Dir. Dario Argento
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Reggie Nalder

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Why do beautiful women insist upon walking home alone at night, especially when the city's been plagued by a serial killer targeting beautiful women walking home alone at night? Well, in the movies, the answer is simple. So we get to watch a potential victim furtively step into occasional pockets of light, surrounded mostly by pitch-black shadows whilst being spied upon and followed by a butcher-knife-wielding psychopath adorned in black leather and an oh-so-stylish wide-brimmed hat until eventually, she's followed home and then, once resting easy in her see-through nightie, the whack-job stalker enters her boudoir and exacts some vicious handiwork.

Why, you ask?

That's why!

And so it is that the entire aforementioned stalk-and-slash sequence is accompanied by the following bon bons:

- a creepy Ennio Morricone score that veers from off-kilter nursery-rhyme tones to discordant jazz riffs;

- the sumptuously scintillating incandesce of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and;

- in his debut feature as a director, the gloriously fetishistic mise-en-scène of Dario (Suspiria) Argento.

Add to all of this, a gorgeous smash cut from the first appearance of the killer to an extreme closeup of the insides of the victim's moist screaming maw as the camera then pulls out of its intimate perch, the lens like some penis withdrawing from a delectable orifice of penetration.

Oh yes, we are most definitely in Argento Land!

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is a first-rate giallo classic of the highest order and though it's a bit light on Argento's later trademark cerebral qualities in favour of more standard mystery thriller tropes, there's plenty of dazzling visual nuttiness on display to signal the arrival of one of horror cinema's true masters. (And, there are plenty of fetishistic Argento closeups of the psycho's black-leather-gloved hands, cradling steely implements of death and performing divinely appetizing acts of violence.)

Loosely based, and oddly uncredited, upon "The Screaming Mimi", a lurid 1949 pulp novel by Fredric Brown, Argento's screenplay details the adventures of American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) who's been residing in Rome with his gorgeous squeeze Julia (Suzy Kendall). When he witnesses the attempted murder of Monica (Eva Renzi), a beautiful (naturally) redheaded art gallery employee, homicide detective Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) scoops Sam's passport, preventing him from leaving the country, not because he suspects any nefarious activities, but because he's convinced our hero might hold a key to the investigation, buried (of course) in his psyche. For his part, Sam's having some troubles in the manly-performance department and thinks he'll be able to get "it" back up again if the murders can be solved. Needless to say, he begins to play detective all on his lonesome. Conveniently, for the film, this places both him and his dazzlingly gorgeous girlfriend in peril.

These are characteristically delightful giallo twists and turns, all served-up marvellously by the tasty side-dishes of Argento's baroque crazy-ass styling. The suspense set pieces are genuinely scary and the whole affair not only signals what was eventually to come from the great auteur, but works perfectly well as a dazzling, horror thriller all on its own. The absurdity of the narrative doesn't disappoint and even offers up some wonderful red-herrings to spice up a few surprising revelations that most of us should see coming from a mile away. (And even if you do, you won't quite spot them coming exactly the way they do.)

Any movie with Reggie Nalder is worth its weight in gold.

As a tasty side note, any film that features the magnificent character actor Reggie Nalder as a yellow-jacket-adorned hired killer who disappears within a convention of former prize-fighters after a scary stalk-and-chase sequence, is almost, in and of itself, worth the price of admission.

Luckily, the movie itself has a lot more to offer.

My first taste of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was on film during a dusk-to-dawn show at a drive-in movie theatre in the late 70s and my memories were fond enough of the picture that I was eventually disappointed and disgusted by the poor video transfer I eventually caught up with on VHS in the 80s.

Now, my life is complete

The Arrow Films Blu-Ray deluxe edition not only serves up a lovely 4K digital restoration, but comes complete with a bevy of superb extra features including a Gold Standard audio commentary from Troy Howarth who jams his sprightly presentation with everything you always wanted to know about the making of this film, and then some - his delightful delineation of every arcane piece of Italian giallo lore is a genre geek's wet dream. It's really a pleasure to listen to someone who knows his shit and displays his "wares" with intelligence and passion.

**** 4-Stars (for the film)
***** 5-Stars for the Arrow Films Blu-Ray.