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Dario Argento: Panico is available for VOD rental or purchase (or free with a Shudder subscription)

DIRECTED BY: Simone Scafidi

FEATURING: , , , , Gaspar Noé,

PLOT: Dario Argento visits a hotel to write a script, while those who know or admire him praise his movies in interviews.

Still fro, Dario Argento: Panico (2023)

COMMENTS: Dario Argento: Panico gives you exactly what you would expect from this kind of biodoc: choice clips, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and a bunch of talking heads saying nice things about its subject (while awkwardly trying to avoid talking much about his twenty-first century work). The structure is mildly novel in that there is a ‘wraparound’ story: Argento, in the present day, travels to a resort to hole up and write a new script (his usual procedure). The opening cleverly juxtaposes Argento’s ride to the hotel with Suzy’s tempestuous taxicab journey to the ballet school in Suspiria. After this creepy prologue, the film follows Argento’s career chronologically, with select clips and testimony from friends, admirers, and Argento himself (both in the current day and in archival interviews). There are even a few humorous moments where the octogenarian director congenially complains about the heat, the other hotel guests, or the length of the interview.

The filmmakers interviewed here all come from the weird end of the cinema pool (each, in fact, has an entry in our Canon of 366 Weird Movies). Together, they make a case for Argento as a genuine horror auteur—one of the few, in a genre that is more often ruled by commercial considerations than artistic ones. Gaspar Noé even compares Argento’s work to the / films (which is an amazing compliment, if a bit of a stretch stylistically). Guillermo del Toro boils the work’s appeal down to its essence, declaring that Argento’s horror reveals “a cosmic sense of an angry, evil universe. Everything in Argento’s movies is trying to kill you.”

Every fan, casual or dedicated, likely has a particular curiosity about some aspect Argento’s canon. Personally, I’ve always wondered if its merely a coincidence that the director’s greatest decade (1975-1985) coincides almost exactly with his collaboration and romance with actress/writer (who was also the mother of his next greatest collaborator, Asia Argento.) Although Dario credits her as an inspiration, he already was on an upward trajectory before meeting Daria while planning Deep Red. Yet, his work begins a slow decline after their divorce. One clue comes from Asia, who explains that her mother had an interest in magic a lot of books on witchcraft. Before Nicolodi, Argento’s movies were mainly ian thrillers and gialli that had little of the supernatural in them; afterwards, his palette opens up to let in the eldritch and the paranormal. This confirmation of Nicolodi’s underappreciated influence alone made the documentary worth the watch for me.

This sort of retrospective is probably most appealing to viewers with a partial knowledge of the subject. Rabid fans will know most of this stuff already, and total newcomers won’t have the baseline knowledge to see why the connections being made are meaningful. But they perform a useful gap-filling function in the cinematic ecosystem: in this case, reminding me that I still need to catch up on Inferno.


“Throughout, Scafidi (whose 2019 biopic of Lucio Fulci proves he’s no stranger to bedeviled auteurs) presents Argento primarily as a visual artist, emphasizing the surreality of his images and the shadowy menace of his anonymous cityscapes.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: DARIO ARGENTO: PANICO (2023)”

  1. Nice to see someone identify Daria as the secret sauce for Dario’s best period, she providing the magic, he the sadism, resulting in his Grimm’s fairytale flavored masterpiece, Suspiria.

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