The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DARIO ARGENTO PANICO | The Movie Waffler


Dario Argento Panico review
Dario Argento's life as told by his family, friends, collaborators, admirers and the filmmaker himself.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Simone Scafidi

Featuring: Dario Argento, Asia Argento, Guillermo del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gaspar Noe, Cristina Marsillach, Claudio Simonetti

Dario Argento Panico poster

Italian auteur Dario Argento has already been the subject of several documentaries, so what can director Simone Scafidi – who previously profiled another Italian horror icon with 2019's Fulci for Fake – offer with Dario Argento Panico that we haven't seen before?

While previous films about Argento have focussed on his filmmaking, Dario Argento Panico is more concerned with getting inside his head, asking who is Dario Argento the man rather than the filmmaker.

Dario Argento Panico review

It's a question it never entirely answers. That's not a slight against the film, as Argento is a supremely enigmatic figure who has practically been consumed by his own myth. Scafidi does get the iconic filmmaker to bare his soul at points. At one stage Argento recounts having suicidal feelings that almost drove him to jump from his hotel window. So convinced was he that he would make the fatal leap at some point that he placed a heavy wardrobe in front of the window, surmising that in the time it took to remove the wardrobe his dark feelings would pass. Asked if he would feel guilt about leaving his daughters fatherless, Argento replies that he felt so low that they would be better off without him as he had so little to offer. It's a heartbreaking insight into how those struck by depression can view themselves and their impact on those around them.

For much of his career Argento was reductively labelled a misogynist by critics who assumed that he must hate women because he killed so many in such elaborate ways in his films. Thankfully such limited ways of viewing genre cinema have largely passed, and most of Argento's biggest cheerleaders today are women critics like Maitland McDonagh and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. It's a shame Scafidi couldn't have enlisted such voices, as his talking head triumvirate of filmmakers Guillermo del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn and Gaspar Noe (who cast Argento as the male lead of his devastating drama Vortex) gives the impression that Argento has only influenced men. Argento himself is aware of his films' effect on women, recounting an anecdote about how a male distributor dismissed one of his movies as trash while his female secretary considered it a powerful piece of work.

Dario Argento Panico review

Argento has often been accused of being one of the prime proponents of "the male gaze," so it's ironic to hear him speak about how his way of filming women is primarily inspired by his mother, a photographer who specialised in capturing images of Italy's most famous female stars. The director claims that being around his mother's work and her glamorous subjects made him want to use his filmmaking to make women look beautiful. The filmmaker may not seem like the most obvious ladies' man but all of the female talking heads here, including ex-wives and collaborators, speak of him in a way that suggests an infatuation that still smoulders. When asked "Who is Dario Argento?", Opera star Cristina Marsillach breaks down in tears, clearly saddened that she never really got to know the man she obviously adored.

So much professional and personal adoration towards Argento can make the film feel a tad hagiographic. The closest we get to anything negative about Argento comes when his actress/filmmaker daughter Asia Argento (a much more controversial figure than her father at this point) discusses the awkwardness of some of the sexual situations Dario put her in as the lead actress of several of his films.

Dario Argento Panico review

The documentary was filmed as Argento was working on a new script in a hotel on the outskirts of Rome. We're treated to footage of him pottering about and complaining about his dislike of the hotel his agent has chosen. He seems like a typical elderly Italian man, and a far more mellow figure than the obsessed to the point of madness young filmmaker we see in archive footage. Hagiography it might be, but Dario Argento Panico doesn't try to pretend that Argento's best work didn't end in the 1980s. Some interview subjects suggest that it's that very mellowing of Argento that made his films far less successful. A striking final shot sees Argento looking contemplative, mournful even, before a wicked grin emerges. Perhaps he's still got some madness within him.

Dario Argento Panico
 is on Shudder from February 2nd.

2024 movie review