Although, to the uninitiated, the frequently used analogy "the Italian Hitchcock" may offer a quick and tidy summation of director Dario Argento's enduring career, this overused comparison ultimately fails to give Argento due credit for his undeniable originality and natural talent as a filmmaker. His often disturbing and horrific films possess a transcendent visual beauty that, in addition to carrying the flame for such Italian cinematic legends as Mario Bava, combines with his talent for weaving supremely menacing mysteries to create waking celluloid nightmares that burn themselves into the audience's psyche.
Born in Rome to prolific Italian film producer Salvatore Argento and fashion model Elda Luxardo, it was obvious from the beginning that young Dario was meant for a career in the film industry. Though, by all accounts, he led a relatively normal childhood, it was his early years that found the future director developing a marked fascination with dark fantasy. Inspired by the works of the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allan Poe, it wasn't long before young Argento's vivid imagination began to run wild. Argento became a critic for Rome's Paese Sera while still a Catholic high school student, and, feeling restricted by having to critique the films of others, he decided to put his knowledge to good use by writing a screenplay. After gaining his initial writing credits with a handful of Westerns and crime dramas in the mid- to late '60s, a collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone resulted in the classic Once Upon a Time in the West and began to open many doors for the ambitious young screenwriter.
Argento penned numerous screenplays in the following few years, eventually adapting Frederick Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi, which he decided to direct. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage proved a highly stylized mystery that scored a box-office hit on both sides of the Atlantic. That film and Argento's follow-ups, The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972), were dubbed the "Animal Trilogy" by fans and critics. Though neither of the latter two proved the box-office draw of his debut, they nevertheless showed an impressive talent emerging.
Taking a break from the giallo to direct the Italian-centric comedy Western The Five Days in Milan (1973), as well as some television work, it wasn't long before Argento was back to his old bag of tricks -- this time finding more success than ever. Released in 1975, Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red) eschewed the melodic scores of Morricone for the all-out aural assault of Goblin. Both unconventional and severely unsettling, Goblin's music would continue to accompany many of Argento's subsequent films, not the least of which was his subsequent film, Suspiria.
Scored before filming even began, it is rumored that Argento blasted the terrifying Suspiria soundtrack as actors played out their scenes in order to create an unmistakable air of discomfort. (As was usual for Italian films of this period, no synch sound film was used, making it easier to dub films for international audiences.) Essentially combining the giallo with supernatural horror, Suspiria was inspired by the writing of Thomas DeQuincey and offered Argento the chance to collaborate on a screenplay with then-girlfriend Daria Nicolodi (who had previously starred in Profondo Rosso). A nightmarish visual and auditory assault, Suspiria terrified audiences worldwide and stood alongside Profondo Rosso as the apex of Argento's career. It was soon announced that Suspiria would be the first installment of a planned trilogy, often referred to as the "Three Mothers" films.
Following duties as producer on director George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Argento returned to the director's chair with Inferno (1980), the second chapter in the Three Mothers series. Inferno proved a worthy successor in the eyes of many fans, and although the title of his next film, Tenebre (1982), may have initially lead fans to anticipate the final chapter in the Three Mothers saga, the effective thriller found Argento returning to his roots in giallo.
Argento produced films for directors like Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, but it wasn't long before he was stepping back in the director's chair for Phenomena (1985). Starring future Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly as a troubled teen who attempts to solve a string of murders by telepathically communicating with insects, the film proved a modest success with international audiences (Argento often cites it as his personal favorite) with its bizarre combination of heavy metal mayhem and menacing monkeys.
Following the success of Opera (1987), the early '90s marked a notable decline in the quality of the director's work. In addition to marking the beginning of a troubled period in the director's professional career, Argento's personal life would also suffer during this time due to both the loss of his father and the breakup of his relationship with longtime girlfriend Nicolodi. Disappointments like Two Evil Eyes and Trauma signified a low point in the director's work, though the latter did provide the director his first collaboration with his daughter, emerging actress Asia Argento. The cinematic duo would once again re-team for the decidedly more effective The Stendhal Syndrome.
His next string of projects proved unsuccessful, including Phantom of the Opera, Non Ho Sonno, The Card Player. In 2005, Argento joined a whole host of genre heavyweights including John Carpenter, John Landis, and Stuart Gordon for the Showtime horror series Masters of Horror. The concept was simple: each filmmaker would direct a screenplay of their choosing, and exercise complete creative control of their own one hour film, with no outside censorship. Argento's contribution was lauded by critics and audiences, and he returned the following season for another installment.
In 2005 Argento solidified the comparisons to Hitchcock in no uncertain terms by crafting the throwback giallo Do You Like Hitchcock? for Italian television. It was around this time, that he had fateful run-in with upcoming horror screenwriters Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, who had recently penned the script for director Tobe Hooper's Toolbox Murders redux. As luck would have it the director and the two young writers made an immediate creative connection, and before long it was announced that the trio would be collaborating on the final chapter of the Three Mothers trilogy.
Released into Italian theaters on October 31, 2007, La Terza Madre found the director's daughter cast as an American art student forced to do battle with Mater Lacrimarum - the most beautiful and cruel of the Three Mothers. Though the critical response to La Terza Madre was mixed and fans debated the film endlessly on internet film forums, few would deny that Argento pulled out all the stops to ensure that the final installment of the trilogy was also the most outrageous. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Argento would soon begin work on the throwback thriller Giallo. A stylish homage to the films that helped launch Argento's career, Giallo told the story of an American flight attendant who teams with an Italian investigator to catch the serial killer believed to be responsible for murdering the flight attendant's sister.