Dark Glasses (Occhiali Neri, Black Glasses) marks Dario Argento’s return to filmmaking after a string of disappointments culminating in his disastrous version of Dracula. Now at age 81, he’s returned to his roots, not just with a Giallo but one he originally wrote with frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini (Phenomena, Opera) in 2002.
Interestingly, the basic structure of Dark Glasses’ story seems like a gender-flipped version of one of Argento’s first films, 1971’s The Cat O’ Nine Tails. Coincidentally that was the first actual horror film I saw in a theater, so I was particularly interested to see if he could pull off a comeback.
Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli, They Call Me Jeeg, Four to Dinner) is a high-priced call girl having a very bad night. She has to pass by the body of a murdered colleague on her way to a client who turns out to have some extreme demands and a dislike of hearing the word “no”. After having to mace him to get away she finds herself pursued by a cargo van and slammed into another vehicle leaving one of its occupants dead, one in a coma, and their young son unharmed. Diana is left blind.
Argento certainly gets Dark Glasses off to a great start with a graphic garroting, a hotel room trashing struggle, and a well-staged car chase and crash. That makes the scenes that follow seem a bit slow. Diana with the help of Rita (Asia Argento, Alien Crystal Palace, Land of the Dead) learns to adjust to her condition. She also ends up playing guardian to Chin (Andrea Zhang) the young boy in the other car. For those unfamiliar with Argento’s early works, this is where it mirrors The Cat O’ Nine Tails which had a blind man played by Karl Malden who lives with his young niece become involved in the hunt for a serial killer.
Thankfully after the second act, Dark Glasses picks back up again as the police come looking for Chin and the killer comes back to finish what he started with Diana. It’s not nearly as complex a plot as Argento’s best films have featured but it’s well ahead of most recent attempts at reviving the Giallo as well as Argento’s own later efforts such as Trauma and Giallo.
Similarly, Dark Glasses lacks much of the over-the-top violence and jaw-dropping camera work that defined Argento at his best. That I suspect was due to a budget that appears to have been higher than his last few films, but well below what he had to work with in the 70s and 80s. That’s not to say there aren’t some standout moments. The opening murder and the final kill, which feels like a nod to Fulci’s The Beyond, are both gruesome examples of Sergio Stivaletti (The Church, Crucified) at the top of his game.
Cinematographer Matteo Cocco (On My Skin: The Last Seven Days of Stefano Cucchi, Hidden Away) does give the film a nice look and atmosphere, especially during a nighttime chase through the woods complete with an attack by water snakes. Arnaud Rebotini (Curiosa, Blair Witch) provides Dark Glasses with a soundtrack reminiscent of Goblin while not simply cloning their sound.
While it’s not a return to the glory days of Deep Red or Suspiria, Dark Glasses proves Argento still can deliver a film that’s well worth watching. Given a bit more budget to spice up a few more of the film’s deaths and maybe a bit of fancy camerawork who knows what he could have delivered.
Dark Glasses made its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and has been playing festivals and, I believe, opening in some countries since. It will be available via Shudder in North America, the UK & Ireland, and Australia & New Zealand sometime in the fall. And while you wait, FilmTagger has a few suggestions for what to watch while you wait.