DARIO ARGENTO AS A DESIGN INSPIRATION

I grew up obsessed with Dario Argento’s handiwork. Curiously, it wasn’t another video shop fixation…they had ‘Inferno’ and ‘Demons’ (in which Dario had a hand) but much of his works were butchered by the BBFC, meaning I never got to enjoy, say, the joys of a severed arm leaving a glorious technicolour arterial spray on a wall in ‘Tenebrae’ unless I liased with some odd individuals with doubledecker VCRs.

And then I had to contend with third generation quality and a lack of sleeve…that was a crying shame, because, for my money, in trying to capture Dario’s dizzying blend of visual showboating, balletic violence and a blahzay attitude to vast, Grand Canyon sized plot holes in the name of grand setpieces to rival De Palma’s ’80s handiwork, artists and poster designers, plus those on charge of opening credits often had a damned good try at channelling Argento’s demented worldview with a certain grace in line with his artistic approach to orchestrating utter mayhem. Then there was Goblin, the prog-rockers (I foolishly missed their London show earlier this week – hence Dario’s on my mind) who scored much of the ultimate slasher stylist’s finest pictures. A killer combination indeed.

I honed this fixation during the making of ‘Opera’ circa ’87 (later released over here under the terrible title, ‘Terror At The Opera’) when, in all honesty, his finest work was behind him. Still, he got a hard time for ‘Opera’ when it was just more of his stock-in-trade. You didn’t watch ‘Suspiria’, ‘Deep Red’, ‘Inferno’ or ‘Phenomena’ for character development or acting. It was about the red herrings, sudden shock and ferocity of a killing – ‘Opera’ had a carving knife through the chin visible through the mouth – it built on ‘The Prowler’s bayonet scene and most recently, was administered by Thomas Jane in his brief tenure as Frank Castle. And a shot following a bullet down a peep hole into an unsuspecting woman’s head? To a gore-obsessed child, it was Valhalla.

The poster and VHS design dropped off after ‘Opera’s classy visuals. The covers for ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’, and his useless ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ were as bland as the films within them. Previously, in line with the many, many cuts and variations of each film and dependant on the permisiveness of the region, each country had a go at illustrating Argento in their own particular way. For my money, the graphic design on the ‘Tenebrae’ art, French ‘Suspiria’ one sheet and some ‘Four Flies On ‘ pieces, highlighted to me in a ‘The Dark Side’ magazine career retrospective are some of the best I’ve ever seen. And on defiantly genre flicks…it’s pretty unsurpassed.

As the third part in the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy last year’s ‘Mother Of Tears’ was scuppered by an ending so abrupt, it was easy to assume that someone just forgot to print out the last five pages of shooting script. The teaser poster however, was something of a return to the restrained ‘Opera’ style, rather than the lurid halfarsed presentation of the previous decade. That’s providing it’s official…writing ‘Suspiria’ as ‘Susperia’ was a bit suss. But then again, ‘Tenebrae’ is apparently meant to be ‘Tenebre’ so what do I know? ‘Giallo’ apparently isn’t all that either, but the posters are attractive too.

Whatever your opinion of the films depicted below, Dario’s work on ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ alone cements legend status. This is a man, who like ‘Menace II Society’s A-Wax, doesn’t have to bang any more based on his brutal past achievements. UK doyens of the printed tee Gimme 5 and Silas have nodded to Argento’s work, mainly focusing on those natty letters and logos. Alongside ‘Spraycan Art’, this is the imagery that changed everything for me from a design standpoint. Pay homage.

Oh, and ‘Vice’s Andy Capper making an Argento pilgrimage of sorts is worth your time.