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November 19, 2005

Two by Dario Argento

Dario Argento - 2005
Showtime cablecast

The Card Player/ Il Cartaio
Dario Argento - 2004
Anchor Bay DVD

Except for the first episode which I missed, I've been watching the new Showtime series, Masters of Horror. The title is kind of generous considering the range of directors involved. As much as I liked
May, it's way to soon to declare Lucky McKee more than a promising new filmmaker. While Stuart Gordon's revisiting of H.P. Lovecraft was an intriguing series entry, but Tobe Hooper put me to sleep with a tale of punks after the apocalypse. I was very much looking forward to Dario Argento's American television debut. For those unfamiliar with Argento, his episode is not the best introduction.

Unlike Argento's other films, this is one project he did not originate. Visually, this film does not resemble Argento's other films with their extended, gliding camera work. Upon further research, Jenifer is shot to resemble a filmic version of the comic book story. The actual story is somewhat predictable, as well as supportive of the cliche that hot sex trumps everything else with some guys. Argento's frequent composer, Claudio Simonetti, contributed a score which strongly resembles Bernard Herrmann's music used in the opening credits of Psycho. While Argento pushed the limits of sex and gore on cable, there are still nine more episodes of Masters of Horror to go, and one is by the consistently transgressive Takashi Miike.

The Card Player is, by Argento's standards, a very restrained film. The film is closer in type to Argento's early features, a mystery thriller rather than a horror film. Some of the scenes play like a particularly graphic episode of C.S.I. The scenes of violence are shot and edited elliptically. The film concerns a female police detective who is seeking a serial killer who kidnaps young women. The women are potentially able to be freed if the detective wins at games of on-line poker. Argento spends more time with his characters doing detective work out in the streets, unlike some films involving computer shenanigans. While I'm not buying the "poker is life" metaphor that is expressed by the detective, The Card Player is engaging, and certainly better than Argento's previous film, Sleepless.

In addition to not dwelling on the violence, The Card Player visually is different from other Argento films. In one of the several supplements, Argento discusses shooting with available light, and using specially created street lights for some of the night time shoots. Even the narrative is stripped down with a brief psychological explanation for character motivation, without the childhood traumas of Deep Red or Tenebre. There is a history on the development of The Card Player at Dark Dreams. Argento's trademark black gloves are used once again as what the viewer sees identifying the killer. Unlike Jenifer, The Card Player has enough fingerprints to be a recognizable Argento film.

A postscript here: The Fangoria article title is a little joke. Michael Brandon next starred in Argento's Four Flies on Gray Velvet.

Posted by peter at November 19, 2005 03:24 PM