An American (Tony Musante) in Rome witnesses the most heinous act to disgrace an art gallery since that “invisible” exhibition.
Dario Argento’s directorial debut (and the first instalment in his Animal Trilogy) leaves his calling card at every finely-crafted crime scene (and not just beautiful murdered women, since a killer’s victims don’t usually count as calling cards): his ability to shoot so vividly even in mist and darkness, a Hitchcockian collision of psychological and physical terror, and twists that keep you guessing and wincing until the end.
This 1970 giallo focuses more on the central mystery than the gory surrealism of Deep Red, prioritising the anticipation of violence and fear of darkness over hyperstylised murders. Waves of anticipation and release flow confidently through the thriller, the tension cranked up through Vittorio Storaro’s (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now) striking cinematography and an Ennio Morricone score that combines Rosemary’s Baby style ‘la la las’ with jazz drumming to mesmerising effect (and brilliantly sampled by Flying Lotus).
Argento keeps replaying the opening attack with subtly different emphasis each time to emulate the protagonist’s memory, like a visual version of what The Conversation does with sound. And then there are raincoats, cosmic paintings and a cat-eating character to rival Rutger Hauer in Buffy, making The Bird with the Crystal Plumage a menacing maiden flight by Argento (especially for the maidens themselves).