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Dario Argento Panico

The new Shudder documentary “Dario Argento Panico” is a brief but illuminating look at the life and work of an Italian horror master.

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Italian horror has seen its influence spread worldwide. Directors like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci left an indelible mark with movies like Black Sunday and 1979’s Zombie becoming genre classics. But when people think of Italian horror movies, the first name that comes to mind for most is Dario Argento.

Women have always been an important part of Argento’s films, with many led by female protagonists. This may not come as much of a surprise since one of the characteristics of Giallo is their sexuality.

Argento was different, however. As director Gaspar Noe (no stranger to provocative films himself) points out, Argento’s filmography resides in a limbo that is almost asexual.

One of the running themes of Panico is how the relationships with the most important women in Argento’s life affected his filmmaking. It starts early on with his mother, a famous photographer, and continues his entire life. Interviews with his ex-wife and daughters paired with moments from his filmography highlight this.

Comments from his daughter Asia are especially illuminating.

The two have collaborated for decades, and both are open about their work together. Asia is very candid and speaks openly about her mother and father. It is a nice change of pace since most of Panico is spent (rightfully) praising Argento’s many positive contributions.

Along with family members, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) and Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon) are just two of the directors who discuss Argento’s influence on genre filmmaking.

However, the real stand out is composer Claudio Simonetti.

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Music has been integral to Argento’s works since 1975’s Deep Red, and Simonetti and Goblin are a big reason for it.

Surprisingly, the whole film runs just over an hour and a half. Documentaries about movies tend to be longer — especially ones about horror. At first, it is a little worrisome since there is no way a career as brilliant as Argento’s can be covered in ninety minutes, especially when one of Panico’s conceits is that a film crew is with him as the director is writing his latest work.

Director Simone Scafidi (Fulci for Fake) tries to overcome this by putting the focus on Argento and using his films more as background for his life.

This does lead to a high barrier of entry; Panico does not talk in detail about any of Argento’s releases. The documentary seems to assume anyone watching is highly familiar with his catalog.

Thankfully, you do not have to be a Dario Argento aficionado to appreciate Panico (though it definitely helps).

It would have been nice to see more time devoted to who one person describes as “the greatest Italian director,” but at times, it is easy to see why someone would refer to him as such.

Still, even though this will be a great watch for fans, it may be a little too obtuse for those trying to familiarize themselves with the director’s work.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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