Opera diva Mara can’t stand working with a bunch of live crows that the director in a new, avant garde production of Macbeth insists on using. She storms out of the theatre and is promptly hit by a car. The theatre contacts her understudy, Betty, to take her place. Betty is great, but she comes with a lot of baggage, namely baggage in the shape of a black-hooded masked man with murder on his mind. Except his murderous intent seems to be focused on those close to Betty. To make matters worse he forces her to watch his ghastly deeds, tying her up and taping needles right under her eyes, preventing her from looking away as he butchers his victims. As the murders get more and more vicious, Betty has to figure out who the killer is before he sets his grisly sights on her.
Believe it or not, this is my first time watching Opera. I’ve come close several times, including once earlier last year before realizing that someone pulled Amazon’s license to air it with no forewarning (this seems to happen a lot with Amazon, sadly.) Luckily for me that loss seems to have been short lived and they brought it back. After finally seeing it, I can say I very much enjoyed this macabre tale of horror that almost feels like a gory retelling of Phantom of the Opera, but it was not without its faults.
Most of its issues fall into the ‘story’ category. The killer’s motivation, and thus the main point of the plot, doesn’t make sense if you stop to think about it for more than two seconds. Similarly, most of the other characters and their motivations and actions seem to strain believability as well. For instance, Betty seems terrified being forced to watch the horrific murders of all these people she knows, yet as soon as they’re over her first instinct is to just…get the hell away, I guess. She doesn’t stay to see if the victims are still alive, she just books it out of there as fast as possible. And while she does stop to call the police the first time, she doesn’t seem too inclined to contact them any more than that. She mentions it after the third murder encounter, but she doesn’t actually do it, nor does she stick around. She claims that she just wanted to get as far away as possible, which sure, I guess, but that still doesn’t explain not going to the police and not reporting the deaths. Hell, with a crazy person tormenting her you’d think she’d want to be closer to people with guns, not further away. If it were me, I’d have set up a tent in the middle of the station after the second death.
She is good at running, though. I will give her that.
Strangely, the police don’t seem to find this behavior of hers odd in any way, as if running from the scene of the crime is a perfectly logical thing for anyone but the killer to do. But the lead and the police aren’t the only ones to act in such baffling ways. Other characters are just as bad. Two of them walk into the room to find Betty gagged, tied up and in obvious distress and then just stand there like gaping fish, not doing anything and considerately giving the killer ample time to sneak up and murderize them. I will admit, there is a least one instance where the characters act self aware, but that scene also involves a gun and a peephole and ends about as well as you’d expect.
But at least they were smart enough to arm themselves.
There are also a couple of scenes that I felt went on a little too long, the choice example being the one where the crows are released into the theatre with the hopes of finding the killer. It starts off with a bang, but at some point you risk crossing the line between “Sweet! Search the crowd and find the killer!” to “Hurry up, you beaked bastards!” and Opera jumped over that line and collapsed on the other side of it like a dead weight.
Those small complaints and irritating discrepancies of normal human behavior aside, the rest of Opera is pretty much pure Italian horror fun. Dario Argento is known for his death scenes and by god he delivers here. The murders are brutal and bloody, with the one involving the peephole probably being the most memorable. There isn’t a lot of nudity, but there’s probably just enough to keep most satisfied.
And the visuals? The visuals are a splendor. As far as horror movies go, you will find few that have ever looked so good. Just about each shot looks to have been carefully and skillfully considered. Everything glistens with focused attention. There are detailed close ups, sprawling tracking shots, impeccable lighting and the whole thing is done with a stylistic flair that perfectly mirrors and complements the opulent opera going on within Opera.
Opera is an entertaining movie that revels in its suspense and spectacle, while disregarding its characters. The plot has some very large holes in it, various motivations seem obtuse and the dialogue leaves much to be desired. But it’s a beautiful film to watch, even as people are being brutalized. There’s also a very nice underlying theme of voyeurism in the film, one that is simultaneously visually obvious (needles in eyes, anyone?) and subtle, offering an underlining commentary on the emotional disposition of the horror-watching public the film was meant to cater to. It’s quite clever to those who notice it, but not necessary to the enjoyment of those who don’t. If you’re just in it for the gore and the extravagance, then you’ve come to the right place and won’t be disappointed.
Opera is currently streaming on Amazon Prime (Unless it gets pulled again without warning).