Originally released on a long out of print VHS tape even more rare Japanese laserdisc, and still unavailable on DVD (except for excerpts in the DVDs of Tenebre, Phenomena, and Opera), Dario Argento: Master of Horror is a fairly decent attempt to introduce the popular Italian director to unfamiliars by arranging film clips, interviews, and plenty of behind-the scenes footage in themed chapters: an intro to the director's work in supernatural thrillers and gialli, use of the camera, special effects, music, his role as producer, and the director's love of Edgar Allan Poe.
Directed by Luigi Cozzi (Luis Coates in the English dub version), it's essentially an Italian production with a narrator who also doubles as translator. Cozzi also appears to discuss his own direction of the macro bug effects for Phenomena (1985), while other subjects include film critic/the doc's co-writer Fabio Giovannini, who speaks of an audience's need to ‘ritualistically' purge rage and violent obsessions by seeing violent films by Argento; and one of the director's longtime special effects men, Sergio Stivaletti, who goes through the demands of crafting animal, and monster effects, using clips from Tenebre (1982), The Sect (1991),Opera (1987), and The Church (1989).
The film music section, while brief, has Argento discussing his trip to Greece and purchase of a bouzouki for the Suspiria score, and the differences in music when score is composed before filming, during filming (branded “a parallel birth” with the film), and after a film's editing (where a composer must “glorify the project”). The most interesting moment has Pino Donaggio commenting on the greater breadth of needed score in The Sect, compared to the more sparse cues written for the director's prior films, and while hardly deep or lengthy, it's a rare occasion to see one of Italy's more prolific and active genre composers from the early seventies on camera.
The second-last chapter deals with Argento as producer, and his answer is less rehearsed than the prior questions which he's undoubtedly answered hundreds of times to critics, authors, and fans. Of his own films, he maintains total control, but as a producer, he gives the directors full command of their projects, a view supported by Sect director Michele Soavi.
The final chapter is branded “Pittsburg 1989,” and offers some behind-the-scenes moments of Argento at work on his segment of Two Evil Eyes (1990), and the “fever for Poe” he's had since boyhood. Argento also mentions the film being reduced from four to two stories to save the project from cancellation, and his joy in working in the U.S., as is his wont to travel and work in various countries.
The last ten minutes are montages of clips and behind-the-scenes footage set to score themes, and are pure padding designed to fill out the doc's length, and offer little of note.
Master of Horror is partly a promo-film made by the director's longtime friend and collaborator, Luigi Cozzi (the two co-wrote Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Five Days in Milan, and episodes of Door into Darkness during the early seventies), but it also captures Argento during his impresario days when he was busily involved in writing, directing, producing, and attempting to brand himself beyond Italy's borders, as well as test the waters for some American productions.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan