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Dario Argento Panico (2024) Review

Dario Argento Panico takes its title from an old interview where he said he didn’t want to create a sense of fear in viewers, he wanted to go beyond it and leave them in a state of panic. Its form is also taken from its subject’s past, following him as he isolates himself in a hotel to finish his latest script, something he frequently did early in his career.

I’m not sure that you really can isolate yourself with a film crew looking over your shoulder, but director Simone Scafidi (La Festa, Fulci for Fake) uses this to frame his questions for the interview portions of the film. We actually only see about three seconds of him writing, and are never told what script he’s finishing, although it would most likely be Dark Glasses.

The rest of Dario Argento Panico, written by Scafidi along with Giada Mazzoleni and Davide Pulici, both of whom have done other filmmaker biographies including one on Joe D’Amato, taps out long before that film however, simply acknowledging its existence with a still photo, as it does with Jennifer from Season One of Masters of Horror. Everything between the two, Pelts from Season Two, Mother of Tears, Giallo and Dracula 3D are ignored. Mother of Tears is a noticeable and glaring omission given how much time is devoted to Suspiria and Inferno.

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And that’s too bad because the coverage of his early life and career is excellent, featuring interviews with some less familiar subjects, including his sister Floriana who talks about their childhood growing up in the film industry and his ex-wife Marisa Casale who gives a different perspective of his first years as a filmmaker incluing an interesting fact about his first day on the set of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Their daughter, Fiore Argento, is also interviewed. There’s even some time devoted to the one non genre film he directed, the historical comedy The Five Days.

It’s the middle stage of his career, from Deep Red through Opera, that get most of Dario Argento Panico’s screen time. There are plenty of archival interviews from the period mixed in with clips and ads for the films. Unfortunately, while there is a surprising appearance by Opera’s Cristina Marsillach, a lot of the interviews here are with very familiar subjects such as Michele Soavi, Lamberto Bava and Luigi Cozzi who tell equally familiar stories.

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What might have been more interesting would have been to interview them about the films they directed from his scripts and/or with him producing them. While Demons and its sequel have certainly been well covered over the years, The Church, The Sect and Sergio Stivaletti’s The Wax Mask could all do with some attention, as could Argento’s non-directorial film work.

Asia Argento carries much of the later part of Dario Argento Panico, talking about working with her father, including his directing her in Phantom of the Opera’s sex scene as well as her personal relationship with him. Some of the insights she gives into his personality are quite interesting, including the fact he didn’t speak to her for two years after she chose to direct The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things rather than appear in The Card Player.

There are a few interviews with filmmakers who have been influenced by Argento, Guillermo del Toro, Gaspar Noé, and Nicholas Winding Refn who refers to Suspiria as “the ultimate cocaine movie”. Noé tells us that one doesn’t watch Argento’s films to be sexually excited, to which all I can say is thank you, Captain Obvious. He does later offer a few interesting observations about casting Argento in Vortex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, del Toro is the one who has the most relevant things to say about the man and his movies.

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Like many filmmaker documentaries, long term fans of the director will find much of Dario Argento Panico familiar, with only the occasional new bit of information. Even the interviews with Argento himself produce little new information, apart from the fact he suffers from intrusive thoughts about suicide. Those just discovering him, or who haven’t sat through hours of Blu-ray and DVD extras, will learn a lot more, however.

In the end, while Dario Argento Panico isn’t a bad film, it is a somewhat disappointing one. It delivers a few new insights into its subject, but it spends too much time rehashing things we already know. If you already subscribe to Shudder and are interested in Argento, it’s certainly worth a watch, but I wouldn’t subscribe just to see it either.

Dario Argento Panico will debut on Shudder on February 2nd.

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